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The dichotomy of open standards
In the industrial automation business, everyone agrees that standards would make a life a lot easier - everything would work together...

Automation List :

In the industrial automation business, everyone agrees that standards would make a life a lot easier - everything would work together.

End-users continue to ask for interoperability as a means to achieve vendor independence. But, this the exact opposite of what all the primary suppliers want. Standards turn proprietary products into commodities, with lower profit margins.

The conflicting objectives continue to cause endless debate. To help clear the confusion, we must understand that technology developers need to recoup their investment through one of the following rules:

Rule 1
Licensing the technology. This may be through up-front fees for technology transfer, or per-copy sales of ASIC chips, hardware, software or firmware.

Rule 2
Making everything open and free, to expand involvement. The developer is far ahead on the learning curve and followers contribute to the leader's leadership.

Rule 3
Introducing "free" open technology to combat the entrenched position of a dominant market leader.

Read my latest article : Dichotomy of Open Standards on AutomationTechies.com at :
"http://www.automationtechies.com/sitepages/art451.php":http://www.automationtechies.com/sitepages/art451.php

See how Siemens (Profibus) and Rockwell (DeviceNet, ControlNet) utilize these three rules to expand their own market position.

Can you find any exceptions?

Your feedback is appreciated.

Cheers::

jim
----------/
Jim Pinto
Tel : (858) 353-JIMP (5467)
email : jim@jimpinto.com
web: www.JimPinto.com
San Diego, CA., USA
----------/

By Anonymous on 12 March, 2002 - 9:40 am

Let's not forget FOUNDATION Fieldbus - an open protocol based on an open standard developed by a not-for-profit organization (Fieldbus Foundation). Can a standard be considered more open than this? How do developers recover their investments? By either licensing chipsets, hardware, etc or by providing "added benefits" to their devices (such as setup and diagnostic routines, better sensors, etc).

By Bob Pawley on 12 March, 2002 - 2:17 pm

If Foundation Fieldbus is the ultimate in "open" systems, I would expect all other fieldbus systems to melt away leaving 'Foundation" alone in the market place.

Is this happening??

Bob Pawley
250-493-6146

By Lou Heavner on 12 March, 2002 - 4:02 pm

While I am an advocate of open systems, I'm not sure that "open" is necessary, let alone sufficient to guarantee market success or
domination. "Open" does change the business model, which is effectively another lag on the adoption rate. Remember how long it took to change from 3-15 to 4-20 and from minis to PCs.

Regards,

Lou Heavner

By Curt Wuollet on 15 March, 2002 - 12:58 pm

Hi Lou

I'm not too sure about there necessarily being a lag brought on by a change in business models. If the new model allows much lower costs and less vendor interaction to provide a solution, uptake could well be much quicker than the norm for yet another functionally identical proprietary scheme that requires you to change out all your equipment to take advantage of very dubious benefits. I would argue that the present business model results in stagnation by making any vendor change financially unfeasible. It also sets a lower limit on the size of projects because of the cost of tools and time required are a lump sum that requires a certain size ROI to justify. With a lot of the potential automation projects below that threshold, the economics of a new business nodel that lowers cost and provides greater flexibility should enhance change rather than retard it. In the case of FF, even if it's the best thing since ladder logic, if the major players refuse to support it because their business model excludes anything NIH, no measurable benefit accrues. If however, a change in business model provides an actual benefit to users instead of simply an increase in revenues for the business, I think the rate of adoption would surprise everyone in the industry. It's easy to yawn at new developments when they are only usable with one vendor and often only one product line. And it's easy to not even bother to yawn when new developments carry the enormous burden of massively duplicated effort. That particular business model is about the most inefficient one can even imagine. I can't see how any alternative wouldn't generate more uptake.

If you're looking for industry wide growth and expansion into new markets, the current typical business model is wrong from any reasonable point of view, being crafted to maximize individual company profit and support and enforce duplication of effort on a large scale. The user's motivation for jumping on bandwagons and innovating is minimized. Commonality and standardization are the obvious solution. Open Source, protocols, and cooperation may not be the whole answer, but I firmly believe they provide the least disasterous means of getting there. The other alternative is massive shake out and monopolization to enforce standardization like we have in the general computing industry. Which do you see as most beneficial?

Regards

cww

By Lou Heavner on 15 March, 2002 - 1:03 pm

Curt,

I'm not arguing that business/ technology adoption looks like a FODT process. But it is widely accepted that most products and technologies go through some kind of cycle where sales/acceptance increases from initial
introduction through maturation and declines from maturity through obsolescence. There are many factors that will contribute to the overall
adoption rate. All I intended to say was that all other things being equal, which they never are, that a change in business model is a factor which will impede adoption. Even if the benefits are compelling, businesses must learn and apply the new model.

Bob P suggested that if FF was open and open was the best way, then FF should be dominating and other fieldbusses should be melting away. I think
FF is open, although I'm sure there are purists who would gladly debate the point. It is a standard though that can only be changed through specific mechanisms, which is different than GNU. I believe FF is having some good success. It is geared for the process industries and is complementary in many ways to other standards like Profibus-dp and DeviceNet. My point was
that even though FF is open and open is good, the adoption rate will not occur overnight. I recently visited a plant that still operated profitably with pnuematic instrumentation. It's industry is almost completely converted to DCS. DCS has been available and offered quantifiable benefits and good returns since the 1970's.

FF does offer potential benefits that are significant. However, if somebody expects to see a easonable return from simply swapping out 4-20ma wiring with FF and doing nothing else differently, they will be disappointed. It
reminds me of the story of the railroad (Union-Pacific?) who could have bought what became United Airlines when it was only a few barnstormers delivering mail, but they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business. In the case of automation, fieldbusses offer the potential of exploiting intelligent instrumentation and field devices in ways that were not possible before. Fieldbusses alone aren't enough. Field devices need to be designed to provide more useful information for the
digital busses to exploit. Host systems or HMIs need to be improved to more intelligently filter the additional data to make sure that information
overload doesn't create more problems than it solves. Fieldbusses are little more than a technology enabler. The economics of a retrofit are different than for a grass roots project. Most suppliers have a business to run and limited budgets for development. Some may find it in their best interest to preserve the status quo, but I think most suppliers to the process industries are not refusing to support FF. The reluctance you observe may be NIH or it may simply be a case of inertia and business
economics.

Automation is kind of a funny business. One view is that the better we do it, the less need there is for it. There is no doubt that some kinds of
jobs are eliminated by automation. The key is to look at it as allowing us to do more with our limited resources rather than just doing the same old thing with fewer resources. That is why automation professionals are moving into areas like supply chain management and looking at moving from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance and creatively looking for
opportunities with flexible manufacturing and economic optimization. Similarly, plants are looking at the potential for increased employee
empowerment. They don't necessarily want to get rid of employees, the want their employees to do more.

I am not omniscient enough to know how the industry will shake out or even how it should shake out to maximize benefits. I can speak from personal experience that growth in this business is possible, even in these difficult times. We are expanding into markets we didn't address or serve very well in the past. We don't have enough of the market to force anybody to do
anything. We embrace "open" to the extent that it facilitates our ability to expand our market by cooperating with complementary suppliers. It is inevitable that this also increases the potential for competition in some areas. We probably follow Jim P's rules for the most part, electing to share technology when it expands our markets (rules 2 & 3?) and protecting our technology where it is a competitive weapon for us (rule 1?). We make no apologies for seeking profits in the market place. I believe our ability to make profits is tied to our ability to serve our customers, not our ability to control our customers. Even if we aren't able to serve our customers as well as they or we would like, I think it is a lack of a compelling alternative rather than our ability to control them that keeps
them coming back. They have shown the willingness and ability in the past of switching when there was enough incentive. Frankly, I'm not trying to sell an open system or a closed system or even a fieldbus. I'm trying to sell an investment with an attractive financial return which just happens to incorporate some of those things.

Regards,

Lou Heavner
Emerson Process Management

By Jay Kirsch on 13 March, 2002 - 11:11 am

See

"http://www.fieldbus.org/About/FAQs/Answers/#WhatisFoundationFieldbus?";:http://www.fieldbus.org/About/FAQs/Answers/#WhatisFoundationFieldbus?

This is nonsense. Is there a better link the question "What is Fieldbus"

Jay Kirsch

Bob Pawley:
> What really happened is, the citizens of the United States of America,
> through their government, built and then gave away the rights and
> infrastructure of the Internet to the rest of the world.

Don't feel that bad about it - because it was US-based, for a long time (and possibly still) all international (trans-oceanic) links were paid for
by the other end.


Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Bob Pawley on 13 March, 2002 - 2:41 pm

I'M baffled, of course, I am easily baffled, by the underlying sense of some postings to this list, that one should not have to pay money for the use of goods and services that they deem important enough to use.

There is nothing in this world that is free.Every aspect of life costs somebody something. Those who want 'free' goods and services, at least free for themselves, are merely expressing a desire to transfer the cost of these item onto other people.

Of course, others have paid for the explosive expansion of the net. Why should they not? After all they are the true beneficiaries of the benefits for which they are paying.

Money that we use to pay for these goods and services is merely a common, widely held method of conducting transactions. Money, in itself is neutral. It is neither good nor evil. If we didn't have money, cash, dollars, euros we would be forced to transact business by the number of cows that we could put on the counter.

The last empire that discredited money as a means of reward, dramatically failed. It continues to surprise, that all in the rest of the world hasn't learned this most basic of lessons. Most citizens of the old Soviet Empire - have - taken the lesson to heart. Cuba and China are merely laggards.

Surely a persons lifestyle would improve, if they worried more about making positive contributions to this world instead of spending so much time
looking for ways of living on the work and sweat of others.

Bob Pawley
250-493-6146

By Jiri Baum on 14 March, 2002 - 3:21 pm

This is getting off-topic.

> > Bob Pawley:
> > > What really happened is, the citizens of the United States of
> > > America, through their government, built and then gave away the
> > > rights and infrastructure of the Internet to the rest of the world.

Jiri Baum:
> > Don't feel that bad about it - because it was US-based, for a long time
> > (and possibly still) all international (trans-oceanic) links were paid
> > for by the other end.

Bob Pawley:
> Of course, others have paid for the explosive expansion of the net. Why
> should they not? After all they are the true beneficiaries of the
> benefits for which they are paying.

What an amazingly colonial attitude! There's nothing in Australia or the Old World that could possibly benefit Americans, so it's Right and Proper for Them to pay to connect to Us...

In reality, a trans-oceanic net link benefits both ends, so it would make sense for the cost to be shared by the two ends.

It is precisely this kind of refusal to meet others half-way that breeds a lot of the resentment against the US. Most people get over it, especially if they already speak the language, share the background etc. But it's still annoying.

> Money that we use to pay for these goods and services is merely a common,
> widely held method of conducting transactions. Money, in itself is
> neutral. It is neither good nor evil.

It presupposes a certain world-view. Anyway, I'm not really interested in arguing the ethics of money, others have made cogent arguments on the topic before me (see eg the Gospels, if you're Christian).

> If we didn't have money, cash, dollars, euros we would be forced to
> transact business by the number of cows that we could put on the counter.


This is a fallacy known as `strawman argument'. No-one has ever proposed replacing coinage with cows. The usual proposals centre around replacing money itself with something else (service to God, bettering oneself or society, egoboo through generosity, whatever).

Indeed, your last paragraph would seem to contain exactly such a proposal:

> Surely a persons lifestyle would improve, if they worried more about
> making positive contributions to this world instead of spending so much
> time looking for ways of living on the work and sweat of others.


Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Ralph Mackiewicz on 15 March, 2002 - 3:35 pm

> I'M baffled, of course, I am easily baffled, by the underlying sense
> of some postings to this list, that one should not have to pay money
> for the use of goods and services that they deem important enough to
> use.
>
> There is nothing in this world that is free.Every aspect of life costs
> somebody something. Those who want 'free' goods and services, at
> least free for themselves, are merely expressing a desire to transfer
> the cost of these item onto other people.

...snip...snip...

I've enjoyed your recent posts. The postings you are alluding to above have long since worn me down and I don't normally respond to them anymore. It is never explicitly stated, and there are always claims to the contrary, but the underlying attitude is hopelessly mired in the mistaken belief that profit is evil. Therefore, any company that undertakes an action that prevents others from using their property without paying because of a motivation to maximize the
profit generated by that property is really engaged in some kind of nefarious conspiracy to defraud users of their wealth. The theory is
that companies undertake these efforts (which most people call "commerce") motivated by a desire to "lock-in" customers, eliminate customer choices, destroy competition, and force the customer to pay exbortitant fees with complete and utter disregard for any concern for the customer. If these companies were only motivated by a desire for community instead, users would have all kinds of choices for virtually no cost (or little cost). Pursuing the "open" path becomes more of a religious crusade instead of a business proposition. This attitude is always just under the surface and is a real turn-off for
most users (and myself) who are also engaged in the nefarious pursuit of profit. Tragically, it distracts from a potentially useful effort.
John Dvorak of PC Magazine recently wrote "Is Linux Your Next OS?" and boiled it down to a simple one paragraph dilemma called "minimizing the cult factor".
( "http://www.pcmag.com/article/0,2997,s=1500&a=23172,00.asp":http://www.pcmag.com/article/0,2997,s=1500&a=23172,00.asp .

There. I knew it would only be a few posts before cww and I would disagree again.

Regards,
Ralph Mackiewicz
SISCO, Inc.

By Curt Wuollet on 16 March, 2002 - 4:08 pm

Hi Ralph,

Yes, we do disagree again but mostly because you mischaracterise the principles involved and like almost all of these types of posts, you exaggerate to paint us black. No one disagrees with capatalism, I believe we all expect to get paid for a days work. I run a business for profit occasionally, I am a republican, although I don't register these days. I am far from a socialist or communist. Profit is not evil. The whole thing is more about value. If you run out of gas, out in the middle of noplace, you walk to the only station for miles, and the guy charges you $50.00 for a gallon of gas and a can, I suppose you would smile and congratulate him for being a shrewd businessman. I suppose he would be even shrewder if he arranged for you to run out of gas or if he put a cup of water in the gas so you could experience his towing service and car repair service. Profit is not at all evil, any good or evil is all in how you earn it. And this sense that there are lines that should not be crossed is certainly not mine alone, it is present in almost everyone. Some people lose track of it when they are the guy getting the $50.00, yet find it again if they run out of gas.

I merely think we should be consistant in the view that someone is getting ripped off. We can then argue about whether it's right or wrong. It should be easy to gain a consensus.

It seems what we have is simply a disagreement in how much manipulation and extortion is allowable. You see, I think a person should have a free choice to buy or not buy additional products from a vendor based on their merit and value. Most customers think that way also, and can be quite disappointed when they find out that they have been locked in. You might change this to protecting their profits or some other crisp business euphemism, but the fact remains that the customer was intentionally wronged. You might even pretend that you don't know what I am talking about or change the subject to attitude or attitudes or even hint at political persuasion rather than accept that someone is doing something less than honorable in the name of profit.

If you wish to discuss the issues that's fine, but it quickly boils down to the fact that I think some of these tactics are just plain wrong and I'm trying to do things another way. Rather than flag waving or questioning my motives, why don't you explain what makes them right? The view that they are right because we wish to give
away software is illogical. The view that it is right because it makes them money is, well........

Regards

cww

By Ralph Mackiewicz on 21 March, 2002 - 5:42 pm

> Yes, we do disagree again but mostly because you mischaracterise the
> principles involved and like almost all of these types of posts, you
> exaggerate to paint us black.

I'm not using any colors that aren't provided for me by posts just like this one.

> No one disagrees with capatalism, I believe we all expect to get
> paid for a days work. I run a business for profit occasionally, I
> am a republican, although I don't register these days. I am far
> from a socialist or communist. Profit is not evil. The whole thing
> is more about value. If you run out of gas, out in the middle of
> noplace, you walk to the only station for miles, and the guy
> charges you $50.00 for a gallon of gas and a can, I suppose you
> would smile and congratulate him for being a shrewd businessman.

I certainly would not be smiling. But if you don't recognize that a gallon of gas is worth more in the middle of no place than it is on a street corner with 15 other gas stations within a 1/4 mile then you certainly do not understand what you claim to agree with: capitalism.

This is not a shrewd businessman either. He is stupid. That is why places that do this will remain dirt poor dumps in the middle of
nowhere. A shrewd businessman would try to make his customers happy by giving him good service at a fair price. In that case, the next time I drove by that out of the way place I would stop and fill up even if I didn't need gas. If I was charged $50 you can be pretty darn sure that guy would never get another penny from me as long as I lived.

> I suppose he would be even shrewder if he arranged for you to run
> out of gas or if he put a cup of water in the gas so you could
> experience his towing service and car repair service.

No. Putting water in my tank is criminal. You are attempting to insuate an equivalence between companies that aren't smart enough to see how open systems benefits their bottom line and companies that purposely sabotage their customer's equipment in order to extract
money from customers in a criminally fraudelent manner. You are the one making these equivocations between legal consensual commercial
activity and criminal behavior. I'm simply pointing out that for this to really be true you must be assuming that profit is morally wrong
if it is obtained by consensually selling proprietary technology. If you don't like me pointing this out, stop making these assertions.

> Profit is not at all evil, any good or evil is all in how you earn
> it. And this sense that there are lines that should not be crossed
> is certainly not mine alone, it is present in almost everyone. Some
> people lose track of it when they are the guy getting the $50.00,
> yet find it again if they run out of gas. I merely think we should
> be consistant in the view that someone is getting ripped off. We
> can then argue about whether it's right or wrong. It should be easy
> to gain a consensus.

Just because you don't personally agree with a consensual commercial arrangement involving proprietary technology doesn't make it wrong.
You continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was trying to make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and much
briefer, is that putting it in moral terms when everybody else wants it in technical and economic terms is not an effective way to get your message across. You are simply distracting people from looking at the very useful technology you claim to be promoting.

> It seems what we have is simply a disagreement in how much
> manipulation and extortion is allowable.

I'm not the one painting this picture black. These are your words here. Once again you state the underlying theme: a company that develops some property and charges what people are willing to pay is involved in manipulation and extortion. This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that is what I would call "cultish" and "anti-profit". The
idea that companies that sell proprietary technology and actually charge for it are "extorting" (a criminal activity) money from their unwitting customers. This is pure BS. The companies that charge for their proprietary technology are doing so becuase their investors
demand that they show a profit. To continue using the rhetoric of criminality when discussing what most normal people refer to as "commerce" indicates to me that you must somehow think profit is bad. You don't claim that it is simply overpriced. The claim is made that this is bad and you imply criminal behavior. If you don't think that this is criminal then don't use the words. And just for the record, I don't think ANY extortion should be allowed...period. If you think that any level of extortion should be allowed then that is another area that we disagree with.

> You see, I think a person should have a free choice to buy or not
> buy additional products from a vendor based on their merit and
> value.

Everybody has that choice. Nobody is forced through a threat of violence (ie. extorted) to buy any automation products. People that buy proprietary systems are making completely voluntary economic decisions to do so.

> Most customers think that way also, and can be quite disappointed
> when they find out that they have been locked in. You might change
> this to protecting their profits or some other crisp business
> euphemism, but the fact remains that the customer was intentionally
> wronged.

No euphemism is needed. If the customer doesn't like buying proprietary products he shouldn't buy them. They were not intentionally wronged (in a moral sense) in any way shape or form.

> You might even pretend that you don't know what I am talking about
> or change the subject to attitude or attitudes or even hint at
> political persuasion rather than accept that someone is doing
> something less than honorable in the name of profit.

I'm not going to pretend anything. Up until this post I had no idea what your political affiliation was. I never thought you were a
communist because I had no personal first-hand knowledge (frankly, if you "own" anything at all then you are obviously not a communist).
All I know is the words posted here which to me indicates excactly what I said in my previous post. I see no problem at all from a moral perspective with companies selling proprietary technology nor do I have any problem at all from a moral perspective with customers buying proprietary technology. I think open technology makes a heck of a lot more economic sense. When my customers ask me why, I reply with technical and economic justifications, not moral ones.

> If you wish to discuss the issues that's fine, but it quickly boils
> down to the fact that I think some of these tactics are just plain
> wrong and I'm trying to do things another way. Rather than flag waving
> or questioning my motives, why don't you explain what makes them
> right? The view that they are right because we wish to give away
> software is illogical. The view that it is right because it makes them
> money is, well........

I'm not questioning your motives, I am questioning your assertions. I know that you feel passionately about the rightousness of your cause. That is obvious. I think that by trying to couch proprietary technology in a moral blanket of evil (their profit is bad...mine is good) will only prevent people from seeing the true technical and economic benefits of what you are doing.

Sincerely,
Ralph Mackiewicz
SISCO, Inc.

By Jiri Baum on 25 March, 2002 - 4:09 pm


Curt Wuollet:
> > If you run out of gas, out in the middle of noplace, you walk to the
> > only station for miles, and the guy charges you $50.00 for a gallon of
> > gas and a can, I suppose you would smile and congratulate him for being
> > a shrewd businessman.
...
> > I suppose he would be even shrewder if he arranged for you to run out
> > of gas or if he put a cup of water in the gas so you could experience
> > his towing service and car repair service.

Ralph Mackiewicz:
> No. Putting water in my tank is criminal.

So's misusing a monopoly.

> You are attempting to insuate an equivalence between companies that
> aren't smart enough to see how open systems benefits their bottom line
> and companies that purposely sabotage their customer's equipment in order
> to extract money from customers in a criminally fraudelent manner. You
> are the one making these equivocations between legal consensual
> commercial activity and criminal behavior. I'm simply pointing out that
> for this to really be true you must be assuming that profit is morally
> wrong if it is obtained by consensually selling proprietary technology.
> If you don't like me pointing this out, stop making these assertions.

You can't argue morality of existing laws by referring to existing laws, that's petitio principii. You're also a bit shaky on the negations there.

If you go by laws, then certain kinds of consensual trade is illegal, particularly where one party is in a much stronger position than the other.

> > Profit is not at all evil, any good or evil is all in how you earn it.
...
> Just because you don't personally agree with a consensual commercial
> arrangement involving proprietary technology doesn't make it wrong. You
> continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was trying to
> make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and much briefer, is
> that putting it in moral terms when everybody else wants it in technical
> and economic terms is not an effective way to get your message across.

The same point works in reverse - if everybody else wants it in moral terms, then your technical and economic terms are not effective.

FWIW, the technical and economic terms are that Adam Smith's hand breaks down under monopoly conditions. This results in a net destruction of
wealth. Society suffers by more than the guy on top gains.

> > It seems what we have is simply a disagreement in how much manipulation
> > and extortion is allowable.

> I'm not the one painting this picture black. These are your words here.
> Once again you state the underlying theme: a company that develops some
> property and charges what people are willing to pay is involved in
> manipulation and extortion.

No, Curt is claiming that it may be involved in manipulation and extortion, depending on how it conducts itself.

> This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that is what I would call "cultish"
> and "anti-profit". The idea that companies that sell proprietary
> technology and actually charge for it are "extorting" (a criminal
> activity) money from their unwitting customers. This is pure BS.

Some companies have indeed crossed the line to what counts as manipulation and possibly extortion. You can't deny it.

> The companies that charge for their proprietary technology are doing so
> becuase their investors demand that they show a profit.

That is irrelevant. Why they do it is irrelevant to the fact, and in this case doesn't counter any reasonable claims of mens rea.

> > You see, I think a person should have a free choice to buy or not buy
> > additional products from a vendor based on their merit and value.

> Everybody has that choice. Nobody is forced through a threat of violence
> (ie. extorted) to buy any automation products. People that buy
> proprietary systems are making completely voluntary economic decisions to
> do so.

Curt wasn't claiming extortion here, merely lack of freedom; and voluntary decisions are shaky between two parties of significantly different power.

> > Most customers think that way also, and can be quite disappointed when
> > they find out that they have been locked in. You might change this to
> > protecting their profits or some other crisp business euphemism, but
> > the fact remains that the customer was intentionally wronged.

> No euphemism is needed. If the customer doesn't like buying proprietary
> products he shouldn't buy them. They were not intentionally wronged (in a
> moral sense) in any way shape or form.

Planning to do this, however, does count as an intentional wrong.

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Ralph Mackiewicz on 26 March, 2002 - 5:20 pm

You guys are starting to wear me down again. I don't know how you can keep up this pace. I'm calling it quits after this.

> > You are attempting to insuate an equivalence between companies that
> > aren't smart enough to see how open systems benefits their bottom
> > line and companies that purposely sabotage their customer's
> > equipment in order to extract money from customers in a criminally
> > fraudelent manner. You are the one making these equivocations
> > between legal consensual commercial activity and criminal behavior.
> > I'm simply pointing out that for this to really be true you must be
> > assuming that profit is morally wrong if it is obtained by
> > consensually selling proprietary technology. If you don't like me
> > pointing this out, stop making these assertions.
>
> You can't argue morality of existing laws by referring to existing
> laws, that's petitio principii. You're also a bit shaky on the
> negations there.

Throwing Latin at me, eh? I'm just a stupid uni-lingual (poor upbringing). I have no idea what this means. I'll leave the legal arguments alone. However, I will maintain that selling somebody
proprietary technology even if it locks in the customer is NOT extortion by any legal definition of extortion that exists in a modern liberal society.

> If you go by laws, then certain kinds of consensual trade is illegal,
> particularly where one party is in a much stronger position than the
> other.

Sorry. That is just not true. The very definition of "consensual trade" means that both parties agree to it without force or the threat of force. Just because one party is stronger than the other
doesn't change the fact that the transaction is still voluntary on the part of the weaker party. How you could possibly guarantee that all parties are always equal in all trades is beyond the capability of my simple mind to comprehend. OSS only changes who the stronger party is from the owner to the developer. By this reasoning, then the developer becomes the evil upper hand holder with OSS.

> > You continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was
> > trying to make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and
> > much briefer, is that putting it in moral terms when everybody else
> > wants it in technical and economic terms is not an effective way to
> > get your message across.
>
> The same point works in reverse - if everybody else wants it in moral
> terms, then your technical and economic terms are not effective.

Yes, but hardly anyone wants it in moral terms.

> FWIW, the technical and economic terms are that Adam Smith's hand
> breaks down under monopoly conditions. This results in a net
> destruction of wealth. Society suffers by more than the guy on top
> gains.

Thats an assertion that I haven't seen any facts to support. In the case of Microsoft, the government never even claimed that they hurt
"society". The only people hurt were the idiots at Netscape who thought that the browser would replace the O/S.

> > This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that is what I would call> > "cultish" and "anti-profit". The idea that companies that sell
> > proprietary technology and actually charge for it are "extorting" (a
> > criminal activity) money from their unwitting customers. This is
> > pure BS.
>
> Some companies have indeed crossed the line to what counts as
> manipulation and possibly extortion. You can't deny it.

Some companies? Which ones? Be specific if you are going to make charges of extortion. I do emphatically deny that the act of selling
proprietary technology to a user, even if that technology "locks" them in, is extortion unless that user was threatened with violence. If users buy proprietary technology and then are surprised that their future choices are diminished then they need to start buying open technology. They are not victims of extortion.

> > > You see, I think a person should have a free choice to buy or not
> > > buy additional products from a vendor based on their merit and
> > > value.
>
> > Everybody has that choice. Nobody is forced through a threat of
> > violence (ie. extorted) to buy any automation products. People that
> > buy proprietary systems are making completely voluntary economic
> > decisions to do so.
>
> Curt wasn't claiming extortion here, merely lack of freedom; and
> voluntary decisions are shaky between two parties of significantly
> different power.

Maybe. I can't read minds. The word extortion was not written originally by me. If he meant lack of freedom then he should have said it.

> > No euphemism is needed. If the customer doesn't like buying
> > proprietary products he shouldn't buy them. They were not
> > intentionally wronged (in a moral sense) in any way shape or form.
>
> Planning to do this, however, does count as an intentional wrong.

To do what? Plan to sell proprietary technology that locks users in? If the user buys it then the only wrong committed was by the user. It is a wrong in an economic sense: they could have lowered their long terms costs by buying open technology.

And from somewhere else:

> > Just because you don't personally agree with a consensual commercial
> > arrangement involving proprietary technology doesn't make it wrong.
> > You continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was
> > trying to make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and
> > much briefer, is that putting it in moral terms when everybody else
> > wants it in technical and economic terms is not an effective way to
> > get your message across. You are simply distracting people from
> > looking at the very useful technology you claim to be promoting.
>
> But moral terms are why a lot of things get done. Some of us think it
> is unethical to charge a sap $50 for a can of gas. Much of the open
> source and standards movement is advancing because of ethical
> concerns.

1. Don't pay $50 for a can of gas if you think it is wrong.

2. If being able to make a business case for OSS is predicated on someone having ethical concerns about non-OSS solutions then it will be a long time (if ever) that OSS becomes mainstream. Put away the harp and take out your calculator. Business decisions are normally made on economic terms, not on dubious claims of immorality made by ompetitors.


Ralph Mackiewicz
SISCO, Inc.

The opinions given above should be attributed to me and not my company because my company did not write them...I did.

By Jiri Baum on 29 March, 2002 - 3:58 pm

> > You can't argue morality of existing laws by referring to existing
> > laws, that's petitio principii. You're also a bit shaky on the
> > negations there.

Ralph Mackiewicz:
> Throwing Latin at me, eh?

The Oxford dictionary of English:

*/petitio principii/* /n./ a logical fallacy in which a conclusion
is taken for granted in the premiss; begging the question.

> However, I will maintain that selling somebody proprietary technology
> even if it locks in the customer is NOT extortion by any legal definition
> of extortion that exists in a modern liberal society.

Like I said, you can't argue morality of existing laws by referring to existing laws.

> > If you go by laws, then certain kinds of consensual trade is illegal,
> > particularly where one party is in a much stronger position than the
> > other.

> Sorry. That is just not true. The very definition of "consensual trade"
> means that both parties agree to it without force or the threat of force.

Sometimes the difference between the parties is such that there's basically a presumption of force. In fact, it's reasonably common - for instance, all the consumer protection laws make this assumption, so it applies every time you step into a retail store.

> OSS only changes who the stronger party is from the owner to the
> developer. By this reasoning, then the developer becomes the evil upper
> hand holder with OSS.

Except that anyone may become a developer with no qualifications or other requirements, simply by downloading the code.

> > FWIW, the technical and economic terms are that Adam Smith's hand
> > breaks down under monopoly conditions. This results in a net
> > destruction of wealth. Society suffers by more than the guy on top
> > gains.

> Thats an assertion that I haven't seen any facts to support.

Read an economics textbook?

> In the case of Microsoft, the government never even claimed that they
> hurt "society".

It was implicit in their claim that they abused a monopoly. That's what abusing a monopoly means. If it wasn't for that, the government would have
no business prosecuting them - it'd be a civil suit between MS and NS.

> > > This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that is what I would call
> > > "cultish" and "anti-profit". The idea that companies that sell
> > > proprietary technology and actually charge for it are "extorting" (a
> > > criminal activity) money from their unwitting customers. This is
> > > pure BS.

> > Some companies have indeed crossed the line to what counts as
> > manipulation and possibly extortion. You can't deny it.

> Some companies? Which ones?

The above-mentioned Microsoft, for one...

> > > No euphemism is needed. If the customer doesn't like buying
> > > proprietary products he shouldn't buy them. They were not
> > > intentionally wronged (in a moral sense) in any way shape or form.

> > Planning to do this, however, does count as an intentional wrong.

> To do what? Plan to sell proprietary technology that locks users in?

Yup. Particularly if it's ``industry practice'' to do so.

> And from somewhere else:

> > > Just because you don't personally agree with a consensual commercial
> > > arrangement involving proprietary technology doesn't make it wrong.
> > > You continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was
> > > trying to make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and much
> > > briefer, is that putting it in moral terms when everybody else wants
> > > it in technical and economic terms is not an effective way to get
> > > your message across. You are simply distracting people from looking
> > > at the very useful technology you claim to be promoting.

> > But moral terms are why a lot of things get done. Some of us think it
> > is unethical to charge a sap $50 for a can of gas. Much of the open
> > source and standards movement is advancing because of ethical concerns.

> 1. Don't pay $50 for a can of gas if you think it is wrong.

And if the only alternative is to die in the desert, do you believe that a threat of violence is not present?

> 2. If being able to make a business case for OSS is predicated on someone
> having ethical concerns about non-OSS solutions then it will be a long
> time (if ever) that OSS becomes mainstream.

The two are intertwined. Using morality without economics is folly; using economics without morality even more so.

> Business decisions are normally made on economic terms, not on dubious
> claims of immorality made by competitors.

As it happens, you already provided the economic arguments :-)

To quote:

proprietary technology that locks users in? If the user buys it
then the only wrong committed was by the user. It is a wrong in an
economic sense: they could have lowered their long terms costs by
buying open technology.

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Alex Pavloff on 4 April, 2002 - 10:28 am

Ralph Mackiewicz wrote:
> 2. If being able to make a business case for OSS is predicated on
> someone having ethical concerns about non-OSS solutions then it will
> be a long time (if ever) that OSS becomes mainstream. Put away the
> harp and take out your calculator. Business decisions are normally
> made on economic terms, not on dubious claims of immorality made by
> competitors.

From a recent post on the linux-kernel mailing list from Linus Torvalds (guy who started Linux, #1 guy doing the development).

http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=linux.kernel.a68edn%24jjp%241%40penguin
.transmeta.com&output=gplain

(re: a big long argument about Linus using a non-open-source source control system for the Linux kernel)
---
"And I personally refuse to use inferior tools because of ideology. In fact, I will go as far as saying that making excuses for bad tools due to ideology is _stupid_, and people who do that think with their gonads, not their brains."
----

As it stands, there are no tools for Linux that compare to those for Windows. If you pro-GPL people want people to use your stuff, fine. Stop arguing with people on the automation list and use the saved time to write code and give us tools for automation that beat those available for Windows.

Alex Pavloff
Software Engineer
Eason Technology

By Mark Blunier on 4 April, 2002 - 10:29 am

> From a recent post on the linux-kernel mailing list from Linus
> Torvalds (guy who started Linux, #1 guy doing the development).

He's competent on technical matters, but that does not mean we should use his ethical standards.

> http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=3Dlinux.kernel.a68edn%24jjp
%241%40penguin
..transmeta.com&output=3Dgplain

> (re: a big long argument about Linus using a non-open-source source =
control
> system for the Linux kernel)
> ---
> "And I personally refuse to use inferior tools because of ideology. In
> fact, I will go as far as saying that making excuses for bad tools due
> to ideology is _stupid_, and people who do that think with their
> gonads, not their brains."
> ----

Linus is wrong. If there is ever a reason for someone to refuse, it is because of ideology.

> As it stands, there are no tools for Linux that compare to those for
> Windows. If you pro-GPL people want people to use your stuff, fine.
> Stop arguing with people on the automation list and use the saved time
> to write code and give us tools for automation that beat those
> available for Windows.

It takes two to argue. If you stopped arguing with them, maybe they could give you tools.

> Alex Pavloff

Mark Blunier
Any opinions expressed in this message are not necessarily those of the company.

By Curt Wuollet on 4 April, 2002 - 10:30 am

Hi ALex

That's kinda subjective. I like the tools I use and the transform from logic to language is more natural for me than thinking of everything in terms of relays. Your point is taken, but Linus uses the same tools I do :^).

Regards

cww

By Curt Wuollet on 4 April, 2002 - 10:30 am

Hi ALex

That's kinda subjective. I like the tools I use and the transform from logic to language is more natural for me than thinking of everything in terms of relays. Your point is taken, but Linus uses the same tools I do :^).

Regards

cww

By Curt Wuollet on 27 March, 2002 - 3:22 pm

Hi Jiri, Ralph

I believe my learned and eloquent associate "gets it". I have found that the guy in the gas station _always_ feigns ignorance and approaches the
points obliquely and with great cunning. Me, I'm still working on my latin.
I much prefer C.

Regards

cww

By Curt Wuollet on 25 March, 2002 - 4:29 pm

Hi Ralph

We're back on track.

I would ask only one question. Doesn't it seem odd that the vendors always fall on the "technical and economic" side, while the customers emote freely on the morals involved?

You can justify absolutely anything if you separate the two.

Regards

cww

By Jiri Baum on 25 March, 2002 - 4:30 pm

Curt:
> I would ask only one question. Doesn't it seem odd that the vendors
> always fall on the "technical and economic" side, while the customers
> emote freely on the morals involved?

The division is not as crisp as you'd like to make it out.

Indeed, as far as I see, both parties use both sides of the situation. The vendors have moral justifications for what they do, and customers technical and economic issues.


Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Ralph Mackiewicz on 25 March, 2002 - 4:44 pm

> I would ask only one question. Doesn't it seem odd that the vendors
> always fall on the "technical and economic" side, while the customers
> emote freely on the morals involved?
>
> You can justify absolutely anything if you separate the two.

Huh? I haven't seen many customers emoting on how proprietary technology vendors are involved in criminal extortion. I don't read every digest so maybe I missed all of those. Most customers I have run across use the terms "good" and "bad" in a technical and economic sense, not a moral sense.

I have had all kinds of vendors trying to sell me all kinds of proprietary technology that would lock me in. I don't recall any of them ever asking that I accept the premise that their competitors are evil extortionists (or, for that matter, radical communists out to destroy capitalism) in order to determine if their products make technical or economic sense for me. If they tried to use either of these arguments on me they would have been shown the door. As I
recall, I fell asleep during some of these presentations so maybe I
missed that part.

You guys are doing something useful. If you would just lay off the rhetoric of a great moral battle between good and evil I think your business case would be easier to see and harder to avoid. Requiring the equivalent of a religious conversion makes it easy to avoid listening.

Ralph Mackiewicz
SISCO, Inc.

By Bob Pawley on 26 March, 2002 - 3:27 pm

One wonders if the rhetoric is merely covering the inability to make a good and sound business case.

I, for one, hope that that is not the case.

Bob Pawley
250-493-6146

By Jiri Baum on 29 March, 2002 - 2:49 pm

Bob Pawley:
> One wonders if the rhetoric is merely covering the inability to make a
> good and sound business case.

Well, the good and sound business case has now been made by all the main parties in this thread, so I guess not...

In some ways, the rhetoric is more trying to remind people of something that they probably already know: that good ethics make good business.

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Curt Wuollet on 29 March, 2002 - 4:07 pm

Hi Bob

List Manager wrote:
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Bob Pawley <rjpawley@shaw.ca>
>
> One wonders if the rhetoric is merely covering the inability to make a
> good and sound business case.

The case for using the tools doesn't require a lot of explanation. It's pretty simple. You get the tools free and maximum use of commodity
equipment means lower fixed cost. The labor part is sort of hard to define at the moment and support is not definable in contract language
but experience in the OSS world has been very favorable. And there are a lot of intangibles like absense of lock-in, no forced upgrades, the
ability to address problems inhouse, etc. All the stuff we have been talking about.

People who talk about business cases in isolation rather than in aggregate often have already made a decision and are doing post-decision support.

In other words, you can take what is known now and use it either way.

IF you prefer the status quo, you cite the support as nebulous and make the hard to use arguments and who to sue arguments and play to
peoples basic insecurity which is usually 100% effective if done properly. Since it's much easier not to change anything, this is usually the majority view.

IF you would really like to reap the benefits known so far, you acknowlege that it will really never be done as it is a process not a destination. You assess your needs verses the exixting functionality. If favorable, you do a pilot. If not, you identify what features you need and either submit them or look at the
feasibility of adding them. For certain classes of work the ability to extend the platform and do things not addressed by the status quo will make a compelling case and the integration capabilities will make many things possible.

So far, I haven't seen anyone who wants the business case delineated as wanting it to justify their use of OSS. In other words, they don't want a business case, they want the lack of a business case to justify doing things the same old way.

I can say that a very simple business model I have been using works and is especially suited to small business. I charge for my time. You (the customer) buy the hardware to agreed upon standards. The software is OSS to the maximum extent possible with the balance to be developed or adapted and the whole body of software is yours on completion subject to the GPL. If the GPL is to be avoided, cost will certainly increase, often dramatically, as the amouunt of new code needed increases.

Mat/LPLC will be slightly different as platform work can be handled as above. Application work will not be remarkably different from how it is handled now with the exception that tool and add-on costs will be zero. And application programs will default to private ownership.

Regards

cww

By Jiri Baum on 1 April, 2002 - 3:53 pm

Bob Pawley:
> > One wonders if the rhetoric is merely covering the inability to make a
> > good and sound business case.

Curt Wuollet:
> The labor part is sort of hard to define at the moment and support is not
> definable in contract language but experience in the OSS world has been
> very favorable.

Suppose you have two options: (a) a commercial vendor, whom you estimate to be 99% likely to be around down the track when you need them, or (b) 500 linux geeks, each of whom you estimate to be 1% likely to be around and capable of providing support down the track when you need them.

Naturally, I've arranged the numbers to slightly favour option (b), by a factor of about 1.5 (I was aiming for equality and then rounded up).

> the hard to use arguments

I really do need to do the python-MAT thing, don't I... it's on my to-do list. (Yes, I know it's just one facet; Joe's working on the point-n-click configurator, etc. But an easy VB-style programming language will help.)

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Curt Wuollet on 2 April, 2002 - 10:22 am

Hi Jiri, Bob

Jiri Baum wrote:
>
> Bob Pawley:
> > > One wonders if the rhetoric is merely covering the inability to make a
> > > good and sound business case.
>
> Curt Wuollet:
> > The labor part is sort of hard to define at the moment and support is not
> > definable in contract language but experience in the OSS world has been
> > very favorable.
>
> Suppose you have two options: (a) a commercial vendor, whom you estimate to
> be 99% likely to be around down the track when you need them, or (b) 500
> linux geeks, each of whom you estimate to be 1% likely to be around and
> capable of providing support down the track when you need them.

There's also the factor that's little mentioned: Getting ahold of someone at the company is easy. Unless your problems are more trivial than mine,
getting ahold of someone who knows anything about your problem is far less likely. My experience has been that problems are actually solved faster in the OSS world because you get to the right people faster and (this is very important) they are empowered to actually fix the problem. Having the source means you can enter a one line patch from email, recompile and go. On all but the most current systems, getting your problem actually fixed is unlikely for shrinkwrap software and even for current versions is a much bigger deal. It might be the nature of the problems or the fact that I look really hard before I call them, but, I seldom bother anymore. I just save the time and look for a workaround. With RTFM problems, your luck will obviously be much better.

We could provide equivalance by asking for untrained volunteers to ask you questions after 20 minutes of Muzak or advertising on hold. And if we charged a steep enough price, I'm sure you'ld go away before they really had to answer anything. And even if you hang in there, they can
delay you past their shift by requiring that you reload the software involved. But, we wouldn't do that. A simple email is very likely to reach the author or someone who understands the problem. I'm not sure how this will scale, but Linux is pretty big and it still seems to be hanging together. And it's strange that we hear very, very few horror stories about Linux support and the ones we do hear involve paid support. An interesting phenomena.

In short, I feel quite comfortable that we can compare favorably with the status quo on support. As with many of these objections, you can take the
fact that it's a different model as either a sign of hope or as a fatal flaw. I think that support is a sufficiently frequent cause of angst that
most will prefer the former. If you can muster 99% confidence that any vendor will actually fix your problem, I would be very impressed indeed.

Regards

cww

By Jiri Baum on 26 March, 2002 - 3:56 pm

Ralph Mackiewicz:
> You guys are doing something useful.

Thank you!

> If you would just lay off the rhetoric of a great moral battle between
> good and evil I think your business case would be easier to see and
> harder to avoid.

Ah, the RMS vs ESR schism...

Richard M. Stallman espouses the moral arguments, Eric S. Raymond argues in purely economic terms. Perhaps you should read some of ESR's writings?
"http://tuxedo.org/~esr/":http://tuxedo.org/~esr/ and follow the link to
"http://tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/":http://tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/

Historically, the way we get high reliability of results in
engineering and the sciences is by institutionalizing peer review.
Physicists don't hide their experimental plans from each other;
instead, they skeptically check each others' work. Engineers don't
build dams or suspension bridges without having the blueprints vetted
first by other engineers independent of the original design group.::

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au>
http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project
http://mat.sf.net
Machine Automation Tools

By Curt Wuollet on 26 March, 2002 - 5:15 pm

Hi Ralph

I don't disagree and I have no problem with a fair deal between willing parties. And it's not an extreme moralistic position that I'm coming
from. After all, I'm not charging people $400.00 for a serial card with a special connector. I would say that it's more extreme to say that's OK than to question it. It's not $50.00 for a gallon of gas but it's not that far removed. Folks seem to be conditioned to $100.00 for a serial cable and that sort of consistant overpricing and to a certain extent, if they think it's worth it, fine. At least you know about it up front. The tactics that actually impair functionality to lock people in just don't seem like good
business. All I'm saying is that from an objective viewpoint and in comparison to other technology products, these guys seem to be getting away with a lot that no longer goes over in other markets. And I don't think it religious or overzealous to point that out. I speak from a
fairly strong background in applied electronics and computing and this is one of the last bastions where intrinsic value and pricing have such a weak relationship.
And it's not at all rhetorical. It answers the question of why people would want to use our OSS project. This question has been asked repeatedly. The simple answer is because with a community sharing resources and with some commonality and reasonable attention to interoperability and connectivity, it becomes much easier and cheaper
and better for all parties involved (with the possible exception of the existing large vendors) to provide solutions. The solutions can be more
capable and flexible and it really isn't rocket science to see why that would be.
And the moralistic part comes in with the fact that a community of peers is far more likely to operate in _your_ best interest than the status quo. And it's not a very long reach to grasp why that would be.
And it's also glaringly obvious that together we can do it. All of us have solved bigger problems that that.

The extreme part and the rhetoric come in with the fierce defense of the Tower of Babel and massive duplication of effort and the many other
infelicities of the current model that has slowed progress to a crawl and produced such wonders as the fieldbus Medusa. I liken this to the
Stockholm syndrome. I do get drawn into the argument: "What's wrong with the way things are?" when that is fairly obvious. For my own part I would much prefer to discuss how things can be. But, for reasons that truly mystify me, nobody wants to go there.

I'll try to lean that way. Perhaps that would chafe less at the expense of sounding too idealistic.

Regards

cww
--
Free Tools!
Machine Automation Tools (LinuxPLC) Free, Truly Open & Publicly Owned
Industrial Automation Software For Linux. mat.sourceforge.net.
Day Job: Heartland Engineering, Automation & ATE for Automotive
Rebuilders.
Consultancy: Wide Open Technologies: Moving Business & Automation to
Linux.

By Curt Wuollet on 27 March, 2002 - 3:10 pm

Hi Ralph

Ralph Mackiewicz wrote:
>
> > I would ask only one question. Doesn't it seem odd that the vendors
> > always fall on the "technical and economic" side, while the customers
> > emote freely on the morals involved?
> >
> > You can justify absolutely anything if you separate the two.
>
> Huh? I haven't seen many customers emoting on how proprietary
> technology vendors are involved in criminal extortion. I don't read
> every digest so maybe I missed all of those. Most customers I have
> run across use the terms "good" and "bad" in a technical and economic
> sense, not a moral sense.

I never said anything about "criminal" extortion. Nothing at all about breaking the law. But your argument that anything goes as long as it's not breaking the law is absurd. And "criminal" is a red herring. I'm sure virtually everyone else on the list knows what I am referring to. Steering the argument to the legal definition is irrelevent. Flipping off every other driver on your way to work is probably still legal. I doubt that your legal argument would weigh heavily in the results.

> I have had all kinds of vendors trying to sell me all kinds of
> proprietary technology that would lock me in. I don't recall any of
> them ever asking that I accept the premise that their competitors are
> evil extortionists (or, for that matter, radical communists out to
> destroy capitalism) in order to determine if their products make
> technical or economic sense for me. If they tried to use either of
> these arguments on me they would have been shown the door. As I
> recall, I fell asleep during some of these presentations so maybe I
> missed that part.

Ah, but a vendor who came in and offered me free updates, investment protection and Open and Standard protocols and interoperability and
guaranteed satisfaction would find me wide awake. If they added pricing consistant with the rest of the electronics industry and plug compatibility with my existing systems they'd leave with a blanket PO.

> You guys are doing something useful. If you would just lay off the
> rhetoric of a great moral battle between good and evil I think your
> business case would be easier to see and harder to avoid. Requiring
> the equivalent of a religious conversion makes it easy to avoid
> listening.

You mean, if we were to alter the project so as to make the most money possible from you, you'ld be more interested? We wouldn't do that of
course, but, I have a private consultancy and I'd be happy to offer you the LPLC on those terms. Well, consistant with my conscience anyway,
which means you'ld get a fair deal. You purchase the hardware and pay my time since the software is free. No hidden costs. No licenses, and you
get to own every part of the system. You would be doing very well and I would have no problem making money. I can do business that way with OSS
it'd be pretty tough with the alternatives.

Regards

cww

By Joe Jansen/ENGR/HQ/KEMET/US on 27 March, 2002 - 3:19 pm

Example:

Microsoft recently used their standard tactic of threatening to 're-value' the windows licensing to Dell if Dell did not stop offering linux preloaded on their computers. Dell reacted by no longer offering to sell a linux computer in order to keep their windows costs equal to that of other
vendors (Gateway, etc).

Is this extortion? I would argure that it is.

Ralph would argue that it is not, since there was no threat of violence.

However, threatening to increase the cost and ability to get windows licenses directly threatens Dell's ability to compete. If Dell cannot compete, they lose business, go under, and close.

The threat of killing the business is very real, and is, in my opinion, economic violence that does meet the required level to call it extortion. Violence is not only 'buy this or I break your legs', but the threat of causing economic harm to the point of 'killing' or even seriously harming a business is also a threat of violence.

So how much harm would come from switching from AB controls to Siemens controls?

If everyone that sells products tells me 'once you have my system, changing will probably cause you serious economic harm', are you going to seriously tell me I should just run without automation?

Businesses need this technology to survive. It may have been short sighted to get into this situation, but the alternative of not keeping pace, losing market share, and going out of business is a serious threat of economic harm. There is no alternative.

And, for the record, if you are in the middle of nowhere, and the only gas station is selling you gas for $50 USD a gallon, what other choice do you have? Walk 50 miles to the next station? Get real.

--Joe Jansen

By Mark Blunier on 25 March, 2002 - 4:38 pm

> > No one disagrees with capatalism, I believe we all expect to get
> > paid for a days work. I run a business for profit occasionally, I
> > am a republican, although I don't register these days. I am far
> > from a socialist or communist. Profit is not evil. The whole thing
> > is more about value. If you run out of gas, out in the middle of
> > noplace, you walk to the only station for miles, and the guy
> > charges you $50.00 for a gallon of gas and a can, I suppose you
> > would smile and congratulate him for being a shrewd businessman.
>
> I certainly would not be smiling. But if you don't recognize that a
> gallon of gas is worth more in the middle of no place than it is on a
> street corner with 15 other gas stations within a 1/4 mile then you
> certainly do not understand what you claim to agree with: capitalism.
>
> This is not a shrewd businessman either. He is stupid. That is why
> places that do this will remain dirt poor dumps in the middle of
> nowhere.

No, if we wasn't in the middle of nowhere, he couldn't charge $50 for gas and a can. It's because he is in the middle of nowhere, and doesn't have any competition.

> A shrewd businessman would try to make his customers happy
> by giving him good service at a fair price. In that case, the next
> time I drove by that out of the way place I would stop and fill up
> even if I didn't need gas. If I was charged $50 you can be pretty
> darn sure that guy would never get another penny from me as long as I
> lived.

Why? As you said, he was being a shrewd business man. Or maybe its becuase what he is doing is ethically wrong? Not illegal, but wrong.

>
> > I suppose he would be even shrewder if he arranged for you to run
> > out of gas or if he put a cup of water in the gas so you could
> > experience his towing service and car repair service.
>
> No. Putting water in my tank is criminal. You are attempting to
> insuate an equivalence between companies that aren't smart enough to
> see how open systems benefits their bottom line and companies that
> purposely sabotage their customer's equipment in order to extract
> money from customers in a criminally fraudelent manner. You are the
> one making these equivocations between legal consensual commercial
> activity and criminal behavior. I'm simply pointing out that for this
> to really be true you must be assuming that profit is morally wrong
> if it is obtained by consensually selling proprietary technology. If
> you don't like me pointing this out, stop making these assertions.
>
> > Profit is not at all evil, any good or evil is all in how you earn
> > it. And this sense that there are lines that should not be crossed
> > is certainly not mine alone, it is present in almost everyone. Some
> > people lose track of it when they are the guy getting the $50.00,
> > yet find it again if they run out of gas. I merely think we should
> > be consistant in the view that someone is getting ripped off. We
> > can then argue about whether it's right or wrong. It should be easy
> > to gain a consensus.
>
> Just because you don't personally agree with a consensual commercial
> arrangement involving proprietary technology doesn't make it wrong.
> You continually want to put this in moral terms. The point I was
> trying to make before, and that John Dvorak made much better and much
> briefer, is that putting it in moral terms when everybody else wants
> it in technical and economic terms is not an effective way to get
> your message across. You are simply distracting people from looking
> at the very useful technology you claim to be promoting.

But moral terms are why a lot of things get done. Some of us think it is unethical to charge a sap $50 for a can of gas. Much of the open
source and standards movement is advancing because of ethical concerns.

Mark Blunier
Any opinions expressed in this message are not necessarily those of the =
company.

By Bob Pawley on 12 March, 2002 - 9:42 am

Jim

Please allow a small correction to your article "Dichotomy of Open Standards"

The US government "owned" the Internet only in the name of the US citizens, the people who paid for it.

What really happened is, the citizens of the United States of America, through their government, built and then gave away the rights and infrastructure of the Internet to the rest of the world.

On my own behalf - I thank you all.

Bob Pawley
250-493-6146

By Jake Brodsky on 12 March, 2002 - 1:25 pm

> Rule 1
> Licensing the technology. This may be through up-front fees for technology transfer, or per-copy sales of ASIC chips, hardware, software or firmware.

Licensing? Does General Motors License us to use automotive technology? I find existing software license policies to be obnoxious, expensive, and frankly a ridiculous ploy for inadequate "technical support."

Think about it: Why is MODBUS so popular? Because for most practical purposes, it's NOT licensed.

> Rule 2
> Making everything open and free, to expand involvement. The developer is far ahead on the learning curve and followers
contribute to the leader's leadership.

Define "open" and "free." This is the subject of many flames and heated arguments. In any case, what people really want isn't just open source (whatever that is). What they really seek is expertise, service, and some recourse in case the company who integrated thier products goes out of business or merely ceases support of the product. Many customers don't have the luxury of throwing out yesterday's computers.

> Rule 3
> Introducing "free" open technology to combat the entrenched position of a dominant market leader.

Again, beware of those terms, they're loaded. Market leaders get that way because they're very good at serving needs of industry. Presenting an open standard isn't going to break up an entrenched market. Performance will.

The reason operating systems such as Linux are taking off like wild fire is because the current economic models for software are inefficient, cumbersome, and impractical. Traditional ways of doing business treat product support as an afterthought.

As systems get smarter and more complex, you have to allow for people to take advantage of the fact that software/firmware, and network technologies are easy to copy, easy to install, and damned hard to support. What are these guys selling, really? Is it PLC hardware, or is it service for a PLC? I think many people are starting to think the latter...

Jake Brodsky responded:

Jim Pinto wrote:
>>Rule 1
>>Licensing the technology. This may be through up-front fees for
>>technology transfer, or per-copy sales of ASIC chips, hardware,
>>software or firmware.

Jake Brodsky:
>Licensing? Does General Motors License us to use automotive technology?
>I find existing software license policies to be obnoxious, expensive, and
>frankly a ridiculous ploy for inadequate "technical support."

Jim Pinto:
Of course they don't license the customer! But, they would not allow other manufacturers to utilize their proprietary developments.

Jake :
>Think about it: Why is MODBUS so popular?
>Because for most practical purposes, it's NOT licensed.

MODBUS was made "free" because they followed Rule 2.

>> Rule 2
>> Making everything open and free, to expand involvement. The developer
>>is far ahead on the learning curve and followers contribute to the
>>leader's leadership.

Jake continues :
>Define "open" and "free." This is the subject of many flames and heated
>arguments. In any case, what people really want isn't just open source
>(whatever that is). What they really seek is expertise, service, and
>some recourse in case the company who integrated thier products goes out
>of business or merely ceases support of the product. Many customers don't
>have the luxury of throwing out yesterday's computers.

Jim :
Open : All the source-code (for sofware) readily available to all.
Free : No cost to utilize in any way you choose.

>> Rule 3
>> Introducing "free" open technology to combat the entrenched position
>> of a dominant market leader.

Jake :
>Again, beware of those terms, they're loaded.
> Presenting an open standard isn't going to break up an entrenched
> market. Performance will.

Jim :
Amen, brother Jake!

Cheers:
jim
----------/
Jim Pinto
email : jim@jimpinto.com
web: www.JimPinto.com
San Diego, CA., USA
----------/

By Greg Goodman on 21 May, 2002 - 5:14 pm

>Open : All the source-code (for sofware) readily available to all.
>Free : No cost to utilize in any way you choose.
>
My take on the continuum of meanings of the word "open":

Closed - it does what it does, and there's nothing you can do to change it

Open (pure marketing hype) - integrates cleanly with other products from the same vendor, or with products from strategic partners, but not with
anything else.

this is the definition used by vendors of product families, or vendors of licensed add-ins to proprietary code.

Open (ubiquitous marketing hype) - supports well-known protocols and interfaces

this is the definition used by vendors who claim that their Windows products are "open" because they support DDE and ODBC, or can talk to third-party OPC servers. this is properly called 'closed, but compliant with interface standards'

Open (as in "extensible") - has documented APIs for accessing its internals and extending its functionality, but they work the way they work and there's nothing you can do to change them

this is the definition used by vendors who provide SDKs for their systems and put embedded interpreters in their programs to let
programmers provide integration and application-specific functionality.
(if the embedded interpreter is for a system-specific proprietary language, it doesn't count.)

Open (to inspection) - you can look, but don't touch

this is the definition used by vendors who want to benefit from the popularity of the open source movement (or deflect criticism from
it) by publishing (some of) their code - but not licensing it in a way that allows programmers to modify or use it. requiring people to sign non-disclosure agreements before seeing the code doesn't count; that makes the code closed, and the signer a privileged party.

Open (for real) - the source code is available, and you can modify it

Greg Goodman
Chiron Consulting

By Curt Wuollet on 22 May, 2002 - 3:50 pm

And like so many offensive things, it doesn't bother me that much that people distort the meaning or that open has a paradoxical definition in automation. There will always be deceit. What really bothers me is that people accept this and do business with poeple who strive to deceive
them. I don't know if you'll see this, I've been being censored lately.
Regards

cww
--
Free Tools!
Machine Automation Tools (LinuxPLC) Free, Truly Open & Publicly Owned Industrial Automation Software For Linux. mat.sourceforge.net.
Day Job: Heartland Engineering, Automation & ATE for Automotive Rebuilders.
Consultancy: Wide Open Technologies: Moving Business & Automation to Linux.

1 out of 1 members thought this post was helpful...

Technology transfer for political gain occurred long before the internet was a gleam in some learned person's mind's eye!

Regrettably, in the '60's I was one of those "pawns" in the technology transfer game. Its purpose (I was told) was for the good of
resurrecting Europe. Ah the innocence of youth... How it is wasted by the young.

Regards,
Phil Corso, PE
(Boca Raton, FL)

By Heavner, Lou [FRS/AUS] on 15 March, 2002 - 2:56 pm

Jim,

It seems to me that the biggest problem for everybody is the accelerated rate of technology turnover. Plants want to buy equipment that won't need to be replaced for 30 years, just like in the old days. But a supplier must rev his products everytime the technology advances or risk being Leapfrogged by competitors old and new.

It is only going to get worse if you believe we are at or near the upswing of the proverbial hockeystick. It will calm down if you believe there is nothing new left to invent/develop/advance technology. My own personal opinion is that we are near the upswing and we can't even imagine how technology will change in the next 20 years. Given the change in the past 20 years, maybe we are already on the upswing.

There are probably a few strategies for both suppliers and end users to deal with this problem. Standards can provide some buffering between plant needs for stability and supplier needs to aggressively adopt new technology. It will be painful at times for most of us to adapt to the changes, but adapt we will.

The benefits will be there. Just try taking away my wife's cell phone or my kids' DVD player or my laptop PC. Heck, every night my wife asks me, rhetorically, what people did before zip lock bags were invented.

I just hope we can keep politicians and bureaucrats from becoming involved in the development of technology except as prospective, rational, and undifferentiated buyers in the market place. When they begin meddling for political advantage, the rest of us usually suffer negative, unintended consequences.

Regards,

Lou Heavner - Austin, TX

By Jiri Baum on 15 March, 2002 - 2:57 pm

Lou Heavner:
> It is only going to get worse if you believe we are at or near the
> upswing of the proverbial hockeystick.

If growth is exponential, then *every* point is "at or near the upswing".


Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Jim Pinto on 15 March, 2002 - 4:18 pm

Lou Heavner wrote :

>It seems to me that the biggest problem for everybody is the
>accelerated rate of technology turnover. Plants want to buy
>equipment that won't need to be replaced for 30 years, just
>like in the old days.

Jim Pinto :
Bingo - you got it!
The old saying "it ain't broke, so don't fix it"
still applies. And many industrial automation customers don't want to spend more money, or take a risk, unless the "advantages" are proven first.

Lou Heavner :
>But a supplier must rev his products everytime the technology
>advances or risk being Leapfrogged by competitors old and new.

Jim Pinto :
Yes, and the major motivation for customers is also competition - price, performance, quality and delivery competition from hungry offshore competitors.

Lou Heavner :
>It is only going to get worse if you believe we are at or
>near the upswing of the proverbial hockeystick. It will calm
>down if you believe there is nothing new left to invent/develop
>/advance technology. My own personal opinion is that we are near
>the upswing and we can't even imagine how technology will change
>in the next 20 years. Given the change in the past 20 years,
>maybe we are already on the upswing.

Jim Pinto :
Sorry, Lou - technology will NOT slow down, it's speeding up!

Lou Heavner:
>There are probably a few strategies for both suppliers and end users
>to deal with this problem. Standards can provide some buffering between
plant needs for stability and supplier needs to aggressively adopt new
technology.

Jim Pinto:
Nope ! Standards - especially committee standards, slow you down and make your products into commodities! Only the leaders for a particular standard push that standard. The followers remain followers.

Lou Heavner:
>The benefits will be there. Just try taking away my wife's cell phone or
>my kids' DVD player or my laptop PC.

Jim Pinto:
Alas! The high volumes and ramp-rates in the consumer business cannot be compared with the conservatism of industrial automation customers.

You, you have raised some excellent points, providing good insight!

Thank you!

jim
----------/
Jim Pinto
Tel : (858) 353-JIMP (5467)
email : jim@jimpinto.com
web: www.JimPinto.com
San Diego, CA., USA
----------/

By Ralph Mackiewicz on 21 March, 2002 - 11:22 am

Wrong!
While consensus driven standards do take more time to formulate (consensus is more difficult to acheive versus having a single party dictate the standard), but standards (by themselves) do not commoditize products. This is a common misconception. Communications standards in particular DO NOT commoditize the products that implement them.

The typical example I have seen to justify this concept uses some simple product like a screw. If every manufacturer used different size and thread standards then screws would have brands, not be commodities. Widespread acceptance of size and thread standards commoditized screws. BUT: a screw is a simple and trivial thing to standardize. This analogy does not hold for things functionally complex like PLCs, drives, etc.

In order for a standard to commoditize a product it must make the products interchangeable. The 4-20ma standard by itself did not commoditize temperature or pressure transducers. Completely functional standardization of not only the interface but also of the size, functionality, pinouts, packaging, etc. is what makes the simple versions of these transducers commodities.

Communications standards make things interoperable, they do not make things interchangeable. Interchangeability is what makes things commodities. Interoperability simply reduces the costs for people to use products, it does not make them interchangeable.

Regards,
Ralph Mackiewicz
SISCO, Inc.

By Michael Griffin on 24 March, 2002 - 3:11 pm

Standards, particularly ones which customers have confidence in, can increase the value of of a proprietary product by making it more useful and widely accepted. A smaller share of a larger market can be worth much more than all of a very small market.
When consensus causes everyone to support a single standard, that can be
better than half a dozen competing "standards". When there is no widely accepted standard, customers will often avoid purchasing the product while they wait to see which (if any) standard will predominate in the end.


--

************************
Michael Griffin
London, Ont. Canada
************************

By Bob Pawley on 28 March, 2002 - 12:59 pm

From the viewpoint of an observer outside of Dell and Microsoft I would say that - Here is a great business opportunity. If the Linux computer is this much of a threat to Microsoft, so much so that all Microsoft clients can't sell it, the market is then wide open for a new entrant selling Linux only. That's the capitalist, free market strength.

I would suggest Joe, that you quit whatever job you now have set up a company and sell this new powerful system called Linux. There's money in them thar hills.

Bob Pawley
250-493-6146

By Curt Wuollet on 29 March, 2002 - 2:45 pm

Hi Bob

SO the solution is to let Microsoft use whatever tactics they want to maintain their monopoly in violation of federal law and have Joe and
everyone else fight for the scraps? Legality aside, there are many problems with this pat answer. Not the least of which is that having
Joe selling pure Linux systems is vastly different than having Dell selling Linux systems and that is exactly what Microsoft wants. If
XYZ corp. wants to replace all their aging Windows desktops with Linux systems in one lifetime, they need a Dell class vendor. And it's
no remedy. If Joe also had to sell Windows machines to stay afloat, (very likely because a lot of Linux fans build their own machines) he would be subject to the same license game as Dell. In fact the states that are after MS are acting on behalf of a lot of little PC shops (and some big ones) that were being strongarmed by MS.
It is their _stated_ policy to divide and conquer by insuring that shops are all Windows or all Linux. Hmmmm..this sounds very familiar.

And this exclusionary licensing goes much further than this. I have been told by ISPs, banks, card manufacturers, online vendors, media services, and even a monopoly telephone company that their agreements with Microsoft prohibit supporting Linux use with their various services and products. Of course, you wouldn't know that because as a MS customer none of this affects _your_ world. And at least one confided that the clause is non-negotiable. So you get the choice of Microsoft _or_ anything else. If you are trying to sell a product or service in a big enough way to show up on Redmond Radar, you effectively have no choice at all. You must support MS and accept that this precludes supporting any other options or give up 80% of the market. Is this your idea of competition? The free market system? A level playing field?

Fortunately in recent times, with the DOJ and states as watchdogs, a few very large companies have dared to defy the 800 lb. gorilla and do what they want. Walmart is selling PCs with _no_ OS which was a big taboo with MS, and IBM has pretty much tossed down the gauntlet. After all the DOJ silliness is over and the money's in
the pockets, I fully expect Microsoft to try to make examples out of these two.

The states are the remaining hope for anyone to get a chance to make the money that's in them thar hills. If they had folded, the fix was
in and we would already be back to business as usual with no competition. And you don't have to believe me on any of this. It's all spelled out in the Tunney Act depositions.

Regards

cww

By Michael R. Batchelor on 29 March, 2002 - 5:03 pm

> From the viewpoint of an observer outside of Dell and
> Microsoft I would say that - Here is a great business
> opportunity. If the Linux computer is this much of a threat
> to Microsoft, so much so that all Microsoft clients can't
> sell it, the market is then wide open for a new entrant
> selling Linux only. That's the capitalist, free market
> strength.

Sorry, have to disagree here. First, the Linux only choice has been tried. VA Research couldn't make a go of because the market for the "opportunistic infection" was at that time too small, and may still be for a while.

But to rebut the main point, assume for a minute that we say that the US Govt. reaction to approximately 4e-6 percent of the population (a pretty small number statistically) cases of anthrax was a knee-jerk over reaction much the same as you intimate Microsoft's position would be over reacting. By that logic, they should have waited until at least a few thousand cases turned up to take any action. How many people would have agreed with that course?

The problem is that while a company selling Linux hardware has a hard time reaching critical mass, that fact is completely independent of the other fact that there are statistically significantly large portions of the consumers willing to cut out
Microsoft. Trying to maintain a monopoly if there is a reasonable alternative for the consumers really is like trying to fend off a highly virulent opportunistic disease. Stay vigilant and it stays under control. Take your eyes off of it for a while and it kills you.

Sorry, that's a bit graphic, but if you fill in a lot of the missing detail that I don't have time to type you can see the reduction to absurdity.

Michael

It's been tried, Bob.

VA Linux showed that the viability of a Linux-only hardware vendor is still premature. They tried that and couldn't maintain a business of selling packaged Linux servers.

( They are now VA Software and sell a Commercial version of Sourceforge, a work collaboration tool and source management system.)

Besides, few of us can afford to go Linux only. It is far cheaper and faster for an individual or small business to pay the Microsoft tax and run dual boot or dual machines to maintain compatibility with their vendors and customers without having to figure out and configure all the Linux-equivalents.

Rufus

Afterthought:

Does the Microsoft threat preclude offering ready-to-install (vs. pre-installed) Linux distro? I think Dell and Gateway are missing a major opportunity here. Don't offer pre-installed Linux. Rather, offer windows installed, but
leave available partition space on the hard drive for the user to install the supplied Linux on if desired, creating a dual-boot system. And
instructions on how Windows can reclaim that partition, if Linux isn't desired.
(Dude! You shoulda got a penguin-friendly Dell!)

By Curt Wuollet on 2 April, 2002 - 2:01 pm

On the afterthought

Believe it or not, I've seen EULA's from MS that prohibit having another OS on the machine. I don't know if that's still true, they forced a choice and I haven't had a Windows machine since. :^) I should find a MS license someplace and take a look. Oh, never mind, I'd probably have to buy it _before_ I can read the license. Perhaps someone will look at theirs for us.

I'm sure MS would apply the same pressure even if the Linux weren't installed. They went ballistic a while ago about people who were selling machines, (gasp) Without an OS!!!!. Had a big "Naked PC" campaign with a bunch of BS about how you would be held responsible if the people you sold naked machines to were to use pirated Windows. After all, that would be the only possible reason you could want a naked PC, Right? :^)

I'm not sure how they got my name but, they all but accused me of said piratical behaviour. I wrote to assure them that while I was building
naked PCs, the possibility of any of them running Windows, pirated or otherwise was very remote. They must track motherboard sales or something, perhaps BIOS roms. Or perhaps the mere fact that you build PCs implies that you are stealing from them.

Regards

cww

By Jiri Baum on 2 April, 2002 - 4:43 pm

> Does the Microsoft threat preclude offering ready-to-install (vs.
> pre-installed) Linux distro?

Probably does. Remember, this isn't a legal thing with crisp (or even fuzzy) wording and lawyers on both sides arguing the details - this is a secret, shady, back-room thing. Even the new uniform, open, settlement deal still has plenty of discretionary money and other stuff that can make or break an OEM like Dell.

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools

By Jiri Baum on 1 April, 2002 - 3:51 pm

Bob Pawley:
> From the viewpoint of an observer outside of Dell and Microsoft I would
> say that - Here is a great business opportunity. If the Linux computer is
> this much of a threat to Microsoft, so much so that all Microsoft clients
> can't sell it, the market is then wide open for a new entrant selling
> Linux only.

It's been done - VA Linux, I believe. While VA was selling these, Dell was permitted to do likewise, and because of its greater overall volume Dell was able to undercut VA.

Now that VA's been dealt with, Dell was reminded of the advantages of being a Microsoft-only reseller (to put it delicately).

> That's the capitalist, free market strength.

It's not a free market, it's a monopoly-distorted market.

Jiri
--
Jiri Baum <jiri@baum.com.au> http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jirib
MAT LinuxPLC project --- http://mat.sf.net --- Machine Automation Tools