Thursday, April 06, 2006

What's a blog, Daddy?

I hate the term "blog", it reminds me of the old Scottish term, "bog", which means toilet. The old Scots built their towns and villages on bogs. This is why I left Scotland as soon as they invented public transport (around 1980) and went to England, where I studied ye Olde Arte of Computering and Statistical Calculationes. I graduated, when I finally understood that computers were easy, so long as you had natural talent, twenty hours a day, infinite coffee, and no social life. To forget my sorrows I joined the Belgian foreign legion, then set-up home in Antwerp, city of vice and fritjes. I got a good job, a house, girlfriend, car, and cats, in that order. The cats lasted longest - 17 years before the last one died. I then moved to Brussels, city of cafes, and built a company, iMatix. One day, after the dot-com crash passed us by like a distant motorway accident, I found myself fighting software patents, first philosophically ("that's not credible!"), then in writing (see, then in person (debates in the EU Parliament), and finally with committment (I became president of the FFII).

Let me describe the FFII. You take a big bag, you fill it with ten cats. These are the FFII activists. Nice, friendly, but they have claws and killer instincts. Now you put a dog in the bag. This represents the professional lobbyist. Smelly, subservient, and willing to do anything for a piece of meat. Close bag, listen to the noise, open bag. That is what the FFII does to the normal cosy process in which big business defines laws, lobbyists explain these to politicians, who then wrangle the laws into existence.

There is something about working with brilliant individuals who have a total, unshakeable, systematic conviction that they are on the side of right. You can't buy them, you can't bully them. Every threat just makes them more stubborn. Every underhand manoever makes them more angry. For every one that burns out, five more appear, angrier and better informed than ever.

Anyhow, this is my blog. I can't promise it will only be about software patents. My life is fairly complex and I might sometimes have to explain stuff about my daughter (two and a half, beautiful, and clever), my business (we write software), or other things that happen.

It all comes together, in one way or another. We fight against software patents because they are bad for business and we care about business because building a little wealth, through hard work and investment, is the only way to look after a family.

So, this is my blog. We'll see how it goes.


Blogger Axel H Horns said...

I've written a text which might be somehow understood as being something like a comment on your Blog here.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Pieter Hintjens said...

"Would you please tell me where is the borderline between unfaltering determinedness governed by a responsible personal conscience, on the one hand, and some kind of closed-minded self-righteousness like the behaviour of fundamentalists, on the other hand?"

This is a good question. I think the answer is the same as the borderline between belief and science. There are always unknowns, whatever method we use to understand the world, but science gives us tools that are more likely to predict these unknowns that belief does.

When you stand on the beach, and you watch the ships disappear over the horizon, science tells you that that the earth is round. There are other explanations. Perhaps all ships sink into the ocean if they go too far off land.

When you work in the software industry and you watch software patents upset and worry the grass roots developers, science tells you they are bad for the industry. There are other explanations. Perhaps all innovation in IT is done by large firms.

It is sometimes hard to look at the facts, especially when we have a history that tells us the opposite. A round earth conflicts with so many realities. Similarly, patent systems appear to have succeeded in so many industries. Why is software special?

And this is the crux of the matter. Are we arrogant to think that software is special? Or are we just complaining like luddites, unwilling to accept change and improvement in our industry?

Well, I think if there is any industry that lives on change and improvement, it is this one. You do not choose a life in software because you enjoy stability. We reinvent ourselves, as an industry, every ten to twenty years, and we have done this successfully for four decades before software patents were permitted.

So the answer is, we don't need software patents in order to prosper, and this determinedness comes from, indeed, a responsible personal conscience. You will notice that the resistance to these private monopolies comes from exactly the people who are supposed to want them: SMEs and individual software developers. And you will notice that the FFII is massively supported by donations of time and money from such small developers. it is a huge sacrifice: there is no profit at the end, and the bulk of the industry is content to sit back and let the activists do the work.

Software patents are not sustainable. They will make some people very rich, for a while, and the cost will be the ruining of an industry and possibly the stagnation of our economies. Luckily, the fraudulent promise ("software patents equals innovation") is easily exposed. Innovation thrived in the software world before software patents came onto the scene. Copyright, open standards, and free competition are what the software industry needs.

Anyhow, it is very kind of you to pay attention to my feeble ramblings, which gives them a credibility that I'm sure is unwarranted.

7:33 AM  

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