Why the FreeBSD license will not be changing

Mark Linimon linimon at lonesome.com
Thu Jan 10 07:47:38 PST 2008

The FreeBSD license will not be changing.

How can I say this even though I am not an official spokesman for the
project?  Let me explain.

(a disclaimer first: I am on both the bugbusting team and the ports
management team, and have been for several years.  However, I'm not
using either of those as a basis for the above claim.  Thus, everything
here is my _own opinion_.)

FreeBSD is 3 things.  You understand 1.5 of those things.

 - FreeBSD is a codebase.

 - FreeBSD is a community of users and developers.

 - FreeBSD is a *culture*.

It's easy to see FreeBSD as a "codebase".  There's a web page, and CVS
scripts, and it all comes together as all these bits on a disk.  It
_looks_ like a regular product.  But it isn't.  The software is a
byproduct of a process.

In that process, a community of users and developers works together.
Mostly they share two key goals:

 - To create something "really neat"

 - To have fun.

That's the *culture*.

To the extent that culture exists, we will continue to attract new users
and developers, and retain the old ones.  If it doesn't, we won't.

And: ***every attempt that has been made in the past to change that
culture has failed***.

As well it _should_.

Because once the culture goes away, all we have is the pile of bits.  If
forced to sign something that said "you _must_ contribute back", my firm
belief is that most of the current developers would walk.  I certainly
would -- and I say that as someone who has contributed a great deal in
the past.  I simply won't put myself in a position where I feel _compelled_
to do so.  It's my free time, and I'll do what I want with it, TYVM.

Our *culture* is a very delicate dance between self-interest and
altruism.  (I'm not familiar with anything other than Open Source that
has this unique balance, but possibly amateur radio comes close.)

The FreeBSD community has always vehemently protested any attempt to
change the culture by e.g. turning the development process into something
directed by companies.  This is a feature.  Frankly, if people want to
get told to do something they don't want to do, it just starts looking
like work, and there's a lot better-paying jobs out there than Open Source
will ever be able to generate.  Letting some outside entity direct the
project would break the culture.  We would be killing the goose to get
the golden egg.

Having said that, there is increasing interest from some companies in
funding individuals to work on specific projects.  To the extent that
this work can be integrated without hurting the existing culture, I'm
all for it.  If we can have some kind of hybrid model: fine.  But if
anyone wants to take FreeBSD and make a commercial enterprise out of
it, fine, go ahead and do so, but please do it somewhere else.

Now, with that background, let me return to my original point.

I don't have the power to go change the bits that define the license.
Even if I did, I wouldn't.  Even core, who I suppose theoretically
could, wouldn't.  If they did, they'd all be kicked out on their butts
in the next election -- if there were any developers left who hadn't
already forked and started a new project with the bits and the original

So, the license isn't going to change -- and even if it did, the people
that changed it would be left behind as the community simply moved over
to a new name that reflected the original culture.

I said earlier that you understood 1.5 things.  You see the codebase.
You have a poor understanding of the community -- which is why you
feel you've been badly received to this point -- you simply don't
understand how we work together as it is.  But the thing you have
absolutely no concept of, for whatever reason, is the culture.

Our culture is fine.  Our license is fine.  If you don't like them:
start your own.  The bits are there for the taking.

Now please, go away and stop putting your plans for whatever project
under whatever culture you're trying to establish, under our banner,
on our mailing lists.



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