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Free documentation updates. Last week's LWN talked briefly about the need for free documentation. This week, we're happy to report a couple of positive developments in this area:
Free documentation is currently in a state similar to that of free software in the 1980's. There is not much around, but what's there is already showing its strengths. The coming explosion of free documentation is going to be fun to watch.
Salon's Free Software Project launched this week. It's another online book, but with a difference. This book is being authored by Salon writer Andrew Leonard, who has been responsible for much high-quality coverage of the free software world over the last year or so. It's a work in progress, with only the first chapter being currently available. The idea is to develop the book interactively, taking and incorporating feedback from readers as things progress. The process, thus, looks very much like that adopted by Eric Raymond for his The Art Of Unix Programming, which also remains at chapter 1.
The full outline for the Free Software Project is available now, though the site warns that everything is subject to change. The book starts with an introduction; drops back to the early Berkeley days (free speech and free software both); passes through GNU, Perl, and then Eric Raymond; then finally gets into Linux in chapter 6. Subsequent chapters look at the motivation of hackers, "Death to Microsoft," freedom issues (i.e. DVD), free software worldwide, and the new economy.
The site lacks any information on licensing for the Free Software Project, leading to the conclusion that it will remain proprietary, at least through its development. Either way, it's likely to be a strong contribution to the history of our community.
Caldera Systems is scheduled to go public on March 16 or 17. As such, it will be the first in the next round of Linux IPOs, and many will be watching to see how it goes. The market has not been so friendly to Linux stocks in recent times - see the LWN Linux Stocks Page for details. It may well be that the peak of "Linux Mania" has passed, and a more rational view is now being taken of these securities. If so, those hoping for another VA-style runup in prices may be disappointed this time around.
Caldera's "directed share program" was quietly rolled out last week. Selected people who have been through the steps will have the opportunity to buy up to 500 shares at the IPO price. We have received a few complaints from people outside the U.S. who feel that the Caldera program overly emphasizes U.S. developers over those in the rest of the world. Caldera has, however, made a substantial effort to include developers worldwide, as is appropriate. People who feel they were unfairly overlooked or who have other issues are encouraged to contact Nancy Pomeroy, email@example.com. Bank of America, which is handling international participation, can be contacted at 415 627 3115, 600 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA. Account forms are due to them via fax (415 913 5530) no later than Friday, March 10th, so move quickly if you have this opportunity. There is still time to get the paperwork in for those who hurry.
[Note that the above paragraph has been corrected from the original, which included some incorrect information. LWN regrets the error.]
In general, the inclusion of non-U.S. developers is a problem that needs to be solved. Linux is a worldwide phenomenon - nobody could ever stamp "made in the USA" on it. Code written outside the US is just as important, and its developers are just as deserving to participate in these directed share programs. The problem, of course, is that securities laws are complicated, twisted, extremely unforgiving, and different in every country. Doing a worldwide directed share program is a difficult undertaking. Many of the smaller companies going public can not easily invest the effort needed to make such a program work.
There is a real market opportunity here for a suitably enlightened securities firm. Assuming that open source continues to grow, there will be more and more companies going public that will owe part of their success to open source software. One would think they would welcome assistance from a company that could make a directed share program work smoothly on a global scale. Here is hoping that somebody tries.
Those wishing to monitor news on upcoming IPOs can find some useful information on Ostman's Alert-IPO site (thanks to Rick Richardson). Information pages on upcoming IPOs include:
Amazon.com patents, continued... Tim O'Reilly had a phone conversation about patents with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos. His writeup of the talk is interesting and worth a read. "To cut the suspense short, while I don't think that we're all the way to a happy ending, we had an extremely productive conversation. We each made some important points that resonated with the other, and while our central disagreement remains unresolved, I think that we've laid out the issues in a way that will lead to fruitful further discussion."
It is good that they are talking, though it appears that a solution is not currently in sight. Meanwhile, LWN's decision to withdraw from the Amazon.com affiliate program has drawn a substantial amount of positive feedback from our readers. We have sent a message off to Amazon explaining our reasons for our withdrawal, but have gotten no response back. If they tell us anything interesting, we'll let you know.
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March 9, 2000