PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Free the Windows NT four!
April 1998

The reason that the commercial world looks down its nose at the free software and shareware fraternity is simply the name.

    "No one ever got fired for buying shareware". Nope, I don't think so. Do you?
Such are the ways of the world that the more you pay for something, the more you expect to get. Those of us who have observed the computer business realise that this is the only business in the world where the laws of commercial rationality get suspended, and some of the best things in life are indeed free. But no one else believes us.

But there are now sufficiently large numbers of people who have learned that software that costs nothing frequently delivers commercial solutions, that organisations like SUSE in Germany ( and Caldera ( take "freeware" bundles and configure them with installer shells, sell them for money and then support them for money.

Many people (including me) happen to like this model of selling support for money. It sends a more concise and wholesome message to the users that the software is incidental, it's what you do with it and how you manage it that actually counts. Developers of software that has become freeware are generally very happy that their babies have been brought up in a loving and caring relationship, with users who are willing to help build its character and support subsequent generations.

The accountants and lawyers that run baby farms that have effrontery to sell software for money frequently just abandon their charges at the steps of the baby brokers, and then rush back to count their cash while the support phone rings off the hook.

Caring parents like Linus Torvalds, father of the freeware Unix called Linux, now has several million of his offspring in the world, and the world is not a poorer place for this movement, even if the big software step parents (remember, nearly everything Microsoft sells was built on bought-in third party developments, including the original DOS) might one day be the poorer for the growing interest in freeware.

But "Freeware" still scares corporates (who are run by the close relatives of the step parents of software that gets sold for money.), so how can this be addressed..? In a blinding flash of inspiration, the decision to let Netscape free from the shackles of proprietary software was supplemented by the move to change the name of the game from "freeware" to "open source software".

Bingo! I don't mean HP or ketchup with no lids on, but software whose source code is open to inspection, development and maintenance by the whole world of talent that's now out there - just a few milliseconds away - on the Internet. The idea that a product can be managed and kept sane with a thousand developers all beavering away tweaking it may seem unlikely to those of us who have to try and manage development projects with more than 5 software developers, but using the tools provided by the Internet (and Netscape in particular) the opportunities for on-line collaboration and development are already in place.

The site where Netscape is making the first tentative steps outside the closet of the nasty "closed source" software community is at

" is an arm of Netscape Communications Corporation whose mission is to provide open and common software for network client applications, by co-ordinating, building, and guiding the public sharing of the Netscape Communicator source code. "

The ethos is simply explained

"How can you participate? Simply by doing so! We believe in "deeds, not words." We operate as a meritocracy, so the more good code you contribute, the more you will be allowed to contribute: that is, the better a developer you prove yourself to be through your actions, the more responsibility you will be given. This is not a "Consortium." There is no such thing as membership. If you contribute code, then you're a member. It's as simple as that."

Netscape plans to make the Netscape Communicator 5.0 source code available later this quarter, alongside the first developer release of the product, the company said.

There is little doubt that closed source software business will now get into protective mode and rake over all the old chestnuts to scare corporate purchasers away from the idea that anything that costs nothing has no intrinsic value. After all, they have nowhere else to go unless they too change the charging model, and not only give away the software (after all, Microsoft has been doing this in selected marketing efforts for a long time) but open up the source code to sell themselves as consultants and systems integrators.

The notion that the operating system and fundamentals like browsers should be open to all is very powerful. It directly addresses the very core of the problem that has left us all at the mercy of the wicked step parents like IBM and Microsoft. The Open Source name has been snapped on for web sites, and at you'll find the most enthusiastic adopters of the concept doing their pieces:

"Open Source is a marketing program for free software. It's a pitch for `free software' on solid pragmatic grounds rather than ideological tub-thumping. The winning substance has not changed, the losing attitude and symbolism have."

And now the wires are also buzzing with the rumours from Apple circles that capabilities of the Mach 3.0 microkernel, allow developers to replace much of the workings of Rhapsody's core OS with code from MkLinux. This reminds us that Unix is the original cross platform operating system with built-in multitasking and networking capabilities, and once the futile commercial objective of taking on Microsoft in a head-to-head clash has been abandoned at long last, and replaced by the objective of simply creating the best user solutions, all things change for everyone.

Interesting times lie ahead.