FEB
13
2001

"Business Ethics" in the Open Source Community?

What do we do when one of our own, a company with long-time roots in the Open Source community, rejects our code of ethics and resorts to deceitful tactics for the express purpose of undermining an Open Source project? It appears that the newly-named Ximian is doing exactly that.
This open letter (authored by Kurt Granroth and Andreas Pour) describes how Ximian is hoping to create and capitalize on a new user's confusion for the express purpose of "tricking" them into buying Ximian products over downloading KDE.
Is this what we are reduced to? Unethical (and potentially illegal) tactics so that we can win at all costs? Update: 02/13 03:36 AM by Andreas Pour: I am happy to report that this dispute has been put to rest. After discussions between Nat Friedman, CEO of Ximian, and me, Ximian has resolved to revise its advertisements on Google to eliminate the possibility of confusion, and not to create new advertising campaigns based on KDE-related keyword searches. The full details are available here. Thanks to Ximian for helping to resolve this issue amicably and promptly.

Comments

This is confusing the market, and hence very bad.

KDE != Ximian GNOME

Not even close as my experience with Mandrake 7.2 has taught me. GNOME has ways to go and should not dirty the good name of KDE, meanwhile.


By KDE User at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

For the record, Mandrake has had a history of shipping with positively awful bundlings of the Gnome desktop. That's why I ended up going back to Red Hat. Hopefully this will change, now that Mandrake has joined the Gnome Foundation and seems to be working very positively towards better Gnome support (and Gnome/KDE integration) in their distribution. They've done some great work.


By Jamin P. Gray at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

For the record, we don't support Mandrake 7.2 yet.
If one installs Ximian GNOME for Mandrake 7.0/7.1
on a Mandrake 7.2 system, one gets some weird errors due to several changes in the login manager for Mandrake 7.2

We expect to support Mandrake 7.2 soon.

Sincerely,
Aaron Weber
Ximian, Inc.


By Aaron Weber at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Mandrake 7.2 is fux0red, don't waste your time:)

I like it, and use it at work, but it's hos3d:)

- James


By James L. Morton at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

even if you put theKompany it shows ximian.


By cmena at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

Thx for the hint, cmena. I just checked that myself and couldn't believe my eyes what I saw. Oh well, Ximian got the money, theKompany got the code and the apps - guess wich one is about vapour...
And BTW, what Ximian did proves they are acknowledging our name as a brand - what more could one wish from his competition (oh, we can hardly call Ximian 'our competition' *g*) ? :)


By Catalin Climov at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

This is just plain absurd. I cannot characterize this as anything except grasping at straws. In fact, it's almost infuriating to read.

IMNSHO, the authors of this open letter should be held in no higher regard than the common troll on Slashdot.

This is advertising. It makes perfect sense to advertise GNOME w/ any Linux-related project. This is the way advertising is done. It is by /no/ means unethical. The article purports that a 'new user' would be confused by the link. That's the stupidest argument I've ever heard. Firstly, give people some credit. You dont have to try and be their fathers. They all know thats it's an advertisement, not a search result.

Secondly, if the user already knows enough about Linux to search for KDE, or Kword, or QT for Christ's sake, they almost certainly realize that Ximian GNOME IS NOT KDE...ESPECIALLY IN THE CONTEXT OF CLICKING ON AN ADVERTISEMENT.

Anyway, I don't mean to post irrational sounding rants, but I would hope you would give people some more credit.

Oh, and as a sidenote, if you would really like to talk about a story with REAL unethical behavior, let's talk about how theKompany forked Magellan. The Magellan folks are NOT happy about this. They realize thats a possibility with open source software, but NOT something they wanted to happen. They were promised contributions to their project in return for access to their CVS code base. theKompany agreed to those terms, were granted access, then took the code, forked it, and contributed nothing. And they have the arrogance to try and shift blame in posts on this very messageboard.


By James L. Morton at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

Well put! This letter is just going to paint the KDE community as a bunch of whiners. Grow up guys·


By Rick Salts at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

I think it is ridiculous that Ximian is saying that its sponsoring KDE or KDE links. I don't see them giving KDE any of their $15 million, so this is very misleading.

Someone who hears of KDE should not be made to think that GNOME has anything to do with KDE, because it does not!

What are Open Source developers to do? The only thing they can do is write articles, and let justice happen. They are being hurt and do not have millions of dollars like Ximian to do anything about it.


By ac at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

Hellloooo, it's just a banner ad. Do you actually think that this excersise will reflect well with KDE community?

"I don't see them giving KDE any of their $15 million, so this is very misleading."

Tisk, tisk. If one group is doing well, does that prevent another from developing good software?


By Rick Salts at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

Do you have a link or message board reference on the Magellan port thingie? I'd be interested to see that from the mouths of the Magellan developers. Also, theKompany has only been working on Aethera for a little while, they may yet port code back to Magellan. Finally, a new user may have simply heard any of those buzzwords, without knowing what they are, and seeing that GNOME link there might (as seems to be Ximian's intention) lead them to believe that KDE and GNOME are the same thing. However, I agree with you that it isn't really all that bad, and we would be better off flaming the big advertising idiots on the net, email spammers.


By Carbn at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

From the Magellan FAQ:

9. Are you affiliated with theKompany?

No. In late August 2000 theKompany has promised to support the development of Magellan with 2 or 3 developers. Unfortunately,
after gaining access to the cvs tree they have ceased collaboration and forked the project.

Don't feel like searching for the message board comments, but feel free to do so yourself:-) They're there:)


By James L. Morton at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

Thanks for scheding some light, James. I can't believe it how clueless and ignorant I was before reading your post. And since you seem to know so much about Magellan and Aethera, could you please a couple of questions that are not included in the FAQ:
1. When exactly had theKompany ceased the collaboration, and how long did the collaboration last ?
2. What was the advantage of "gaining access to the cvs tree", given that both source tarballs and anon cvs access to the Magellan source code were avail at that time ?

TIA :)


By Catalin Climov at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

You can find Shawn Gordon and Teddy's reaction to the beta release in theKompany's press release on dot.kde.org in the past articles. A lot of it is laid out there, but is still a little foggy.


By Christopher Felton at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

a friend pointed this out to me and i found it so outrageous that i decided to post it. i am in no way related to theKompany.
one more thing, read the article again before you go on ranting like a lunatic.


By cmena at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Magellan has always been a very mismanaged project. They created a lot of hype over a slow developing crappy Microsoft Outlook clone (like Evolution, ugh), and drew interest away the Kmail project. They also used vaporware tactics to keep any project aiming to compete on the same level for KDE from starting (similar to MS in the late 80s, see Caldera lawsuit for more). And their closedness would have never been for KDE or Linux in general. theKompany has made a good project with a good UI and should be commended for giving us something real to get our hands on, and for creating a well managed project out of the mess that Magellan has always been. I think they've largely replaced their code that was derived from Magellan, and if so, this can be in no way construed as a shot against Magellan.


By David Walser at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Take a look at the source tree for Aethera, the src/ directory has maybe 5 or 6 source files and the rest of the 99% of the source is in the MAGELLAN/ directory ;-)


By Anonymous Coward at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

From a project point of view we first fixed the bugs so that the program would run. We then modified the UI into something that we found more appealing. We are almost done with a complete rewrite of the UI code, which will be in the next beta release. Very little Magellan code will survive the next 6 months.

In reality the license of Magellan allowed us to simply take it and not say a word and even close source it. Instead of that, we tried working with the Magellan crew, it didn't work out for various reasons. We then made it very clear that Aethera found it's roots in Magellan and praised Teddy for his work. No one seems upset at a project like Empath which is trying to gather various bits under another user interface. It isn't so very different than what Aethera did.

No one was upset that we did Kamera, no one was upset that we did Kivio from Queesio, no one was upset when Metaphrast became Kugar. Why are people upset about this? We are simply trying to finish projects that aren't getting finished, and so far we are giving them all away. I really should probably just concentrate on our commercial endevours and stop working on free code. What do you think?


By Shawn Gordon at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Thanks for clearing this up Shawn. I didn't know the details on Magellan's license. That's very interesting.

I don't think anybody has any practical grounds to complain about what you've done. The only ones who will complain are the ones who have no interest in using your products anyway. I think almost every KDE user loves what you're doing, has interest in using your products, and is quite ready to support you by buying stuff. I know I am.

I know originally Magellan wasn't open-source, and that's one of the reasons I couldn't really support it. But I have no problem with creative extensions (like stencils for Kivio) or documentation being proprietary. These are thing value-adds I think you can sell. As well as tech support and other services.

Good luck with everything!


By David Walser at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Don't do it, Shawn!!! Geez, it feels like every other week or so these (and related) issues come back up. GOD people - theKompany is very well within the proper limits of the licensing... if you keep flaming their contributions, we will be left with nothing... and Ximian will just *keep* accelerating to the various desktops (as the default setup). People like me are very excited about theKompany and KDE, and are counting on them to help us acquire the solutions we need for real-world computing. I'm sure someone could take all of theKompany's wonderful _GPL'd_ products and package them up, call 'em something else, and make a fortune. They are taking an enourmous risk, and need all the support we can muster. Please, let's not attack our biggest allies!!!

May peace be with you,

Eron


By Eron Lloyd at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

As I've said in the past, I think theKompany makes good, quality products. I'm thankful for the contributions you've made in the past and continue to make.

I do however take offense to comments such as "I really should just concentrate on our commercial endevours and stop working on free code." If that's really the way you feel, so far as I'm concerned - and Im sure most everyone else will not agree, good riddance. It's not about 'free' code. It's about Free code (Notice the capitaliation.) The code being Free is it's single most important feature. I won't get into this much deeper, as nearly everyone in these circles disagree with me on this fact.

You mention other projects where you have used code provided by other open source projects: The difference is those developers were more than happy w/ your decisions. The Magellan developers were not. It has nothign to do with licensing issues, as I originally said. It has to do with common courtesies afforded to those in the community. I am mindful of the irony of that statement in the context of my original post, btw.

Anyway, my post was not directed at you or your company. It was more of an analogy...A knee-jerk reaction to the rediculous whining of the letter to Ximian.


By James Morton at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

James you are still confusing things though. The point of open source and gpl and all that fun stuff is that the source is out there for anyone to do whatever they want with. I didn't need to try to work with magellan, I could have just used the code and hide the fact. It's not like we sell Aethera. No one that complains about what we did with Aethera can point out why it was wrong. This goes on every hour of every day in our community. Why is there even a hint of outrage over this? It would have been a bit different had I taken Magellan, closed it, rebranded it, sold it and pretended it was our original work. However, the Magellan license did not preclude this.

We followed courtesy, and we always follow courtesy. We tried to work with the author to help finish something that was stagnating. That didn't work out, so we told him our intentions and we made the situation obvious. I would say the fork has been good for magellan, they seem to be getting more done now that there is a perceived competitor.


By Shawn Gordon at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

I was not aware of the project being stagnant:) That does cast things in somewhat of a new light, but here's my point (Bare in mind I don't have first-account knowledge). You are of course free to fork any open source project:) Its not necessarilu a BadThing. But the Magellan developers were not under obligation to give theKompany access to their CVS tree. From what I understand, they did it under the impression that theKompany would develop on the same source tree, working on the same project.

So (Again, I am merely an observer) whether or not you made your intentions clear when you first forked the code, the Magellan developers were not aware of your intentions /before/ they granted you access to their source tree. That's the issue.

But anyway, it's not a big issue. This is always possible with open source software. And aside from that, they seem calm about it, so who am I to fan the flames. As I said, I was originally just trying to post an analogy.

- James


By James Morton at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

I appreciate that you are making an analogy, and now that I understand your perspective I need to clear up some more misconceptions. The Magellan project source was open and available to anyone who wanted to pull it down. We didn't do anything special to get access to it. What was controlled were CVS commits to the source, but not read access.

Magellan was supposed to have a preview release in December '99, it still hadn't happened in August 2000 when we started working on it, and that was only the most recent delay. I'm glad to see Teddy and his crew making progress now, they are sharp guys and I'm sure they will turn out a fine project.


By Shawn Gordon at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

If this is indeed the case, then I am just completely wrong and should apologize. So granting you the benefit of doubt, consider some of my words eaten.

The Magellan FAQ implies that you, after promising to devote 2-3 developers to the project, were granted access to CVS, period. It didn't clarify whether they were speaking to commits or checkouts.

Anywho, I'll take your word for it, so I'm sorry for any added stress I may have caused you:)

- James


By James Morton at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

The problem is not that Ximian advertised next to KDE links. As far as I'm concerned it would be perfectly okay for Microsoft to have a link next to a GNU or FSF google search.

The problem is that Ximian is targeting KDE searches with a link titled "Free Linux Desktop". It doesn't say "Ximian Gnome". To a newbie (or to a lot of people, considering that Ximian is only a month-old word) it seems like a link to a KDE related site. Now take that Microsoft example above and change it to a specific targeting of GNU and FSF with a link titled "modern desktop operating system" leading to www.microsoft.com. Wouldn't you be pissed?


By David Johnson at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Also, I would like Kurt Granroth to explain to me how this could POSSIBLY be construed as "potentially illegal."

This is of course absurd, and he can't. Anywho, maybe Kurt would like to search for "Compaq" or Dell on Google:) He would be presented with a link at the top of the page to "uBid.com" with the text "Save 40% or more on Compaq's at uBid.com!"


By James L. Morton at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

I don't know about the situation in the US but it is definitely illegal in Germany and other European countries. As the article mentions it is even considered illegal here to use brand names/trademarks in HTML-Meta-Tags to lead potential customers to a site that does not belong to the owner of the trademark.


By anon at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

They are not putting HTML-Meta-Tags in their site, they are simply paying Google to place ads, not in the results, but on the side as an advertisement. Do you get mad when you type in linux at google.com and find a Sun ad for dotcombuilder that looks more like a link then anything Ximian has done. Sun program is not open source or even linux.


By Christopher Felton at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

They are not putting HTML-Meta-Tags in their site, they are simply paying Google to place ads, not in the results, but on the side as an advertisement. Do you get mad when you type in linux at google.com and find a Sun ad for dotcombuilder that looks more like a link then anything Ximian has done. Sun program is not open source or even linux.


By Christopher Felton at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Also, I would like Kurt Granroth to explain to me how this could POSSIBLY be construed as "potentially illegal."

It says so quite plainly in the article, that it quite possibly violates trademark law, which is designed to protect consumers from confusion. You might not think anyone would be confused by this, but bear in mind that not everybody looking for KDE is knowledgeable in the area. This may be less of a concern today, but what about in 1-2 years when KDE is mainstream? Not reacting now sanctions what Ximian is doing and it may be too late to complain later.

This is of course absurd, and he can't. Anywho, maybe Kurt would like to search for "Compaq" or Dell on Google:) He would be presented with a link at the top of
the page to "uBid.com" with the text "Save 40% or more on Compaq's at uBid.com!"

This is totally different. If Ximian were in fact offering KDE (like uBid is offering Compaq), it would be another issue. It would also be another issue if the ad were clearly labeled as not a link to KDE (like the uBid ad you quote -- there is no confusion that uBid *is* Compaq). But if you look at the Ximian ad, they deliberately do not include the word Gnome in it (like they do in their ads when you search for Gnome) -- so obviously they intend to confuse people. Maybe you think they will be unsuccessful, but don't overestimate the knowledge of newbies.


By Dre at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Are you really unable to see the difference between a ximian add:

"GNOME is 40% better than KDE" and "This is what you are looking for" ???


By wa at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Your missing the point, Ximian is not selling/distributing KDE at all, so you can't compare it to a search with compaq, resulting in links to vendors of compaq.

Rinse


By rinse at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

Why, is uBid.com trying to take away business from Compaq by confusing potential Compaq customers? No. Ximian on the other hand...


By Anonymous at Wed, 2001/02/14 - 6:00am

If you set your preferences in Google to a non-English language, the Ximian ads are gone.


By Kingo at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

I get google in Arabic which i don't need. Please help.


By Mohammad at Sun, 2003/08/17 - 5:00am

I dont know, i have the same problem.


By Chubs at Thu, 2004/02/19 - 6:00am

Same problem here


By chris hawks at Sun, 2006/04/30 - 5:00am

I don't see anything wrong with Ximian's actions. They are a company and are using logical demographics for advertising. Those who are searching for KDE and KDE related things might also be interested to know about Ximian. If KDE wants its piece of the pie, perhaps a company with a vested interest in KDE (theKompany, Suse, Mandrake?) can invest in Google's Adwords -- and why not use "gnome" as one of the ad words?

Honestly, the tone of this open letter is immature. "See You In Court?" I do agree that there are certain ethical bounds that shouldn't be overstepped in our community, but Ximian's advertising this way with Google doesn't even come close.

Jason.


By Jason Tackaberry at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

It's hypocrisy on the part of Ximian.
As a "Free Software Company" they hold a higher
standard than just, "hey, it's business, all's
fair."

I don't know about the illegality of it, but
it's just not nice.


By bastard at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

If Xamian had not modified their ad specifically for KDE search words. Then I would not have much problem with it...

Why couldn't they have kept the word GNOME in their ad when linked to KDE words - are they ashamed of it?

Maybe it is Google that should demand unconfusing ads...

Hey I found a open spot - search for Microsoft - no ad! Which distributor will dare (and win - or loose in court)?

/RogerL


By Roger Larsson at Mon, 2001/02/12 - 6:00am

"Hey I found a open spot - search for Microsoft - no ad! Which distributor will dare (and win - or loose in court)?"

Well said! This little sentence brings out important points about the diffence of the Open Source community and the cut-throat tactics of the commercial world.

I challenge Ximian to put their ad next to Microsoft keyword searches.


By ac at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

I must admit you are right about the ad being modified for KDE search terms. That was just a little freaky and weird. But as a whole, this is a non-issue, and the authors are simply trolling:)

I may have taken a more open-minded approach had the letter they wrote not been so childish.

- James


By James L. Morton at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

Hi Jason,

Ximian is deliberately trying to mislead users
into thinking that Ximian is in some related to
KDE. It is not.

How do you explain that they don't put "GNOME"
in their advertisement when it shows up for 'kde'
but that it does contain "GNOME" when it shows up
for 'gnome'?

Maybe you call this acceptable, I don't. I call
this misleading advertising.

Cheers,
Waldo


By Waldo Bastian at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

The explanation is that people who are searching for GNOME probably know that GNOME is a free desktop environment while people who are searching for KDE may not have heard of GNOME, nor might they know that it is a free desktop environment.

I think it makes sense for them to have different ads in different contexts, but I do think they should include "GNOME" in the ad targetted for non-GNOME related searches. Maybe something along the lines of "Ximian is a company that distributes a Free Desktop Environment called GNOME." I will grant you that leaving out the mention of GNOME in this ad could be construed as questionable, but I still maintain that it is not unethical. I think an appropriate response by Ximian would be for them to make this change.

The notion of a conspiracy theory makes for juicier headlines, but I believe Ximian never would have anticipated this sort of outlash from the KDE camp. Let's see their response ...

Regards,
Jason.


By Jason Tackaberry at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

I will grant you that leaving out the mention of GNOME in this ad could be construed as questionable

More than questionable, it borders on the fraudulent. It should have at least said "Gnome Free Linux Desktop". "Ximian" is a brand new word, less than a month old if I recall. Even the old timers might not know that Ximian sells only Gnome. I certainly don't expect newbies to know.

But even given that, the most damaging evidence is that only on the KDE and Qt related searches to the remove the word "Gnome" from their ad.


By David Johnson at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

It makes perfect sense, to me, really. If you're doing a Gnome-related search, you're going to want Gnome related stuff, so it makes sense to have the word "Gnome" in the ad. If you're searching for KDE related things, the point of intersections becomes "free linux desktop" rather than "Gnome." This is basic, 101, extraordinarily simple business demographics. It is done on a daily basis in the advertising industry. I see it all the time in the developers magazines I read. There's no false advertising or fraudulent misconceptions. It's finding a point of intersection with your demographic and marketing your product, and it's perfectly in line with the free software business model.


By Jamin Gray at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

>>It makes perfect sense, to me.<<

Well, you're certainly not the only one ;-)
I find such advertising tactics "immoral" (just to state my point of view), but...

[Another poster wrote that] the Ximian "Free Linux Desktop" ads only appeared in the [I suppose american] english search results version.
We can suppose a, e.g., german google visitor _will_ get the german version of the google web page - and won't see these ads. While misleading advertisement, in the way described by Kurt Granroth and Andreas Pour, is in fact illegal in Germany (maybe elsewhere too, but I'm not so familiar with european union laws), the fact that the ads don't appear in the german version makes them legal, because IMHO german law would be unapplicable to a different language version, if there is also an appropriate german one reachable.

By the way, testing it I found out that you could not even errantly get a foreign language version if you didn't explicitly choose that language in the google preferences (to be saved with a cookie).
This makes the word "illegal" stand on weak legs.
Also, the "Free Linux Desktop" ads must have been taken out of the K[...] related search results, which I discovered doing my "tests".
There are different ways of interpreting this, but I am not going to judge.


By Andreas Leuner at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

>>It makes perfect sense, to me.<<

Well, you're certainly not the only one ;-)
I find such advertising tactics "immoral" (just to state my point of view), but...

[Another poster wrote that] the Ximian "Free Linux Desktop" ads only appeared in the [I suppose american] english search results version.
We can suppose a, e.g., german google visitor _will_ get the german version of the google web page - and won't see these ads. While misleading advertisement, in the way described by Kurt Granroth and Andreas Pour, is in fact illegal in Germany (maybe elsewhere too, but I'm not so familiar with european union laws), the fact that the ads don't appear in the german version makes them legal, because IMHO german law would be unapplicable to a different language version, if there is also an appropriate german one reachable.

By the way, testing it I found out that you could not even errantly get a foreign language version if you didn't explicitly choose that language in the google preferences (to be saved with a cookie).
This makes the word "illegal" stand on weak legs.
Also, the "Free Linux Desktop" ads must have been taken out of the K[...] related search results, which I discovered doing my "tests".
There are different ways of interpreting this, but I am not going to judge.


By Andreas Leuner at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

it's really simple. KDE is a trademark. Ximian is infringing this trademark. pure and simple.

Hetz


By Hetz at Tue, 2001/02/13 - 6:00am

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