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Culture

An interview with...myself

Glyn Moody took time to interview me on the trajectory of my career and my views on a range of hot topics in open source. What surprised me was just how coherent the last ten years of my life sound, though they were anything but that as I was living them

OK. This feels a bit odd, referencing an interview with myself. (Actually, Glyn Moody did the interview the last time I was in London.) I only include it because, reading back through it, I can't help but be grateful for the serendipity that led me to where I am right now. Glyn noted before that I've "had what amounts to the perfect career in open source."

But I had nothing to do with it. i never consciously set out to do anything with open source. It just happened to me. Despite my best efforts, at times.

Talking through my last 10 years, it all flows with a unifying trend toward an appreciation for freedom in code at its heart. But I didn't start there (I was a mixed source zealot of sorts), and I never intended to land where I am today. It felt chaotic living through it. Only hindsight reveals the theme.

Anyway, in this interview I comment on the Microsoft/Novell patent deal, the dilution of the meaning of "open source," Alfresco's shift from MPL+Attribution to 100% GPL, the founding of the Open Source Business Conference, my departure from Novell, and my law studies under Larry Lessig.

On this last/first point, here's a snippet from the interview:

How did your work with Larry Lessig come about?

I had what started off as a summer internship at Lineo, and I loved it almost from day one. It turned into a full-time job which I continued doing for the last two years of law school. [Larry Lessig] was teaching a class "open sources", and I thought: "Well, I work for an open source company; surely I'm qualified to take the class."

I read his book [Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace] and thought it was fantastic, and ended up in this class with him, where I found out that he was much more persuasive in the book than he was in the class. In the class, all of these grand-sounding things about freedom and whatnot, and how good it was for the industry, didn't sound as good to me when I was trying to make a living selling the stuff: Lineo went through the first year of being just phenomenally successful, to the second year of collapsing.

At the time, what I was hearing was: "This open source software is great. Everybody loves it." And the "everybody loves it" was true, but that didn't translate into people paying for it, at least in my experience. And so I had a fundamental disagreement with him that open source had a long future ahead of it. When you can only rely on the developers to scratch their itches, and their itches may not be the itch of these big companies that buy software, how could open source have any sort of a future ahead of it?

And so we just battled constantly. But that turned into a grudging respect on my part....

You see, I went through the same process that many in the open source business community are currently working through: how to respect freedom but also make money. I spent years "in the wilderness" trying to figure that one out. If I seem very emphatic on the need to put freedom first, it's because I eventually learned that this is the best way to make money in open source. Freedom sells.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed giving it. It helped me to connect the dots in my short "career" and see that there really has been a guiding principle all along.

Updated note: I think I make this clear in the interview, but just to be sure...I don't take credit for Novell's Linux strategy. There were others - Chris Stone, Greg Collier, Peter Woodward - before me at Novell who originated the thinking around it. I was not responsible for the Ximian or SUSE acquisitions. Smarter people than I can take credit for those. My early interest was simply in getting ISVs to take Novell seriously, so I started pushing the company's support for Linux (eDirectory, etc.). But I didn't originate the strategy. Just want that to be clear. No sense in getting credit when it's not due to me.