Sunday, April 22, 2007

the Right to Fork

Leon Brooks blogged about the Right to Fork (an essential right for free software development) but notes that governments of countries don't permit such a right.

One of the criteria for the existence of a state is the ability to control it's own territory. Lose control of the territory and you lose the state, lose some of the territory and the state is diminished. Therefore preventing a division of the territory (a split after a civil war) is the primary purpose of a state. The other criteria of a state are the ability to tax the population, impose civil order, and to administer all other aspects of government. All of these operations are essential to the government and lead to the destruction of the state if they are lost.

It's not that governments want to prevent forking, it's the fact that the existence of the state (on which the existence of the government depends) demands that it be prevented in all but the most extreme situations.

With free software forking is not a problem as multiple groups can work on similar software without interference. If someone else works on a slightly different version of your program then the worst that they can do is to get the interest of more developers than you get. This competition for developers leads to better code!

With proprietary software the desire to prevent forking is due to the tiny marginal cost of software. Most of the costs of running a software company are in the development. The amount of work involved in development does not vary much as the user-base is increased. So doubling the number of sales can always be expected to significantly more than double the company's profit.

One thing that would benefit the computer industry would be to have all the source to proprietary programs put in escrow and then released freely after some amount of time or some number of versions have been released. If Windows NT 4.0 was released freely today it would not take many sales from the more recent versions of Windows. But it would provide significant benefits for people who want to emulate older systems and preserve data. I expect that current versions of MS-Office wouldn't properly read files created on NT 4.0, I'm sure that this is a problem for some people and will become more of a problem as new machines that are currently being designed are not capable of booting such old versions of Windows.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The other criteria of a state are the ability to tax the population, impose civil order, and to administer all other aspects of government. All of these operations are essential to the government and lead to the destruction of the state if they are lost."

Only one of those operations is essential to government: maintaining civil order.

etbe said...

Wrong.

A state that can't control it's own borders is a failed state (Palestine is a good example of this).

A state that can't tax the population can't pay for maintaining civil order - having another country pay for internal police work leads to a failed state (Iraq is an example of this).

A state that can't arrange to supply water, markets to buy food, and facilities for removing sewage and other waste is going to be replaced by whatever organization can do so.

Leon Brooks said...

Thanks, etbe, good comment.

Not sure that everyone in favour of Gummint as we have it would agree with you, but I do. (-:

Matt Brubeck said...

One of my friends hopes that floating platforms can change this somewhat.

etbe said...

The link claims that capitalists want sea platforms to avoid paying tax and other regulations. To avoid piracy ports need naval protection, this is expensive and requires some sort of tax revenue to fund it.

Floating platforms can be sunk by terrorists or state military organizations with little difficulty. Destroying an island is significantly more difficult.

If you want your own country then the easiest thing to do is to take one from someone else. It worked well for Israel!

There are a number of small island states that are rapidly diminishing due to rising sea levels and storms. If you have a decent amount of money then paying the remaining people to leave would not be difficult...