One thing you have to admire about Bruce Perens: he has lots of ideas and he's not afraid to implement them. Before the door was fully closed behind him at HP, he started Sincere Choice to counter Microsoft's "Software Choice" initiative. Now he's heading up a new non-profit: the Global Technology Policy Institute.
GTPI is acting as an umbrella for Sincere Choice and other Perens initiatives like the Royalty-Free Standards project and the Computer Customer Representation project. More than that, it is a covering for Perens himself, who would like to maintain his status as an Open Source evangelist. Sounds easy. But these things do take money.
So GTPI is soliciting donations from individuals and corporations. "For the past two years, my efforts on behalf the free software community have been graciously supported by the Hewlett Packard company, and to a lesser extent out of my own pocket. Now I need to find another funding source that will allow me to continue to devote half of my time to representing the Free Software community, while remaining free from a corporate agenda that would dilute my message," he writes at the GTPI website.
At the end of October he was in Copenhagen performing some of those efforts on behalf of Free Software, with GTPI funds helping out. "I got reimbursed for my travel and lodging, and my time came out of my pocket except for a little from GTPI." He was there to speak at a conference on the use of Open Source by the Danish government. "We filled the room with 300-plus people, many of them government officials and civil servants and corporate executives." Perens says that the message was well-received by attendees, but the Danish press wasn't too hip.
Another admirable quality belonging to Perens: he isn't afraid to tell it like it is. One of the FAQs for the GTPI: "Isn't Bruce Perens famous for forming organizations and later on walking off of them in a huff?" Perens admits he used to be that, referring to his well-publicized resignation from the Open Source Initiative, a group he founded with Eric Raymond, the other evangelist.
Back then, Perens said that Open Source had overshadowed the Free Software Foundation's efforts. He said that Open Source had de-emphasized the importance of the freedoms involved in Free Software.
Today he seems to use the two terms interchangeably, though officially he points out the philosophical differences between the two camps. "I maintain that Open Source and Free Software licensing are the same," says Perens. "What is different is the way in which we approach people - the Open Source campaign does it from a more pragmatic dollars and cents standpoint, which plays well to business, and the Free Software campaign accentuates the freedoms that actually make it possible to make those dollars and cents. That plays better to programmers than business.
"My intent in forming OSI was that it would be a gentle introduction to Stallman's philosophy. That the two movements have diverged is more an issue of the personalities involved than it is a real schism.
"Now that RMS is letting Brad (Kuhn, executive director of the Free Software Foundation) transition into leading FSF and Eric Raymond is getting less of the limelight than he used to, I think this argument is becoming less important. I use Free Software and Open Source pretty much interchangeably, sometimes to the chagrine of both sides, but its working."
So what about the "walking off in a huff" stuff? Perens says he's not like that anymore. "I haven't quit anything, or blown up at someone on the net, for years. Being a dad is part of the reason - I have a little more perspective and balance in my life," he says.
"Free Software is an important part of my life, but not the only important thing. When it's the only important thing in your life, it's difficult to be level-headed about it."
That's why he wants to make sure people know that his termination from HP was handled amicably. "I didn't want people to think I'd thrown a hissy-fit about it. I still talke with folks at HP almost daily, and hope to collaborate with them on many projects in the future."
Speaking of HP, some say that Perens' association with that company could have stunted his ability to loudly proclaim the Open Source gospel, but Perens disagrees.
"No, HP was cool with whatever I had to say while I was there. That was our contract, that I would not toe the company line and that it would be well known that I did not necessarily speak for them.
"There was a problem," he says, "in that every week some manager would write Martin Fink (general manager for HP's Linux Systems Division) and copy a few presidents or VPs, and the mail would be entitled 'What is Bruce Doing To Us Now.' Martin would handle this. When Martin switched to another job because of the merger, there was nobody left to be my apologist within the company and my position became untenable."
He says that HP has some potential replacements for him on the inside of the company. "Bdale, Jeremey Allison, David Mosberger. But I don't think they want someone as political as I was."
Perens says for the GTPI, he wants to be sure he hooks up with people "who will concentrate on the job and are mature enough to avoid infighting. Everybody knows about the various Free Software organizations that are mired by internal politics."
So, who would he choose to work with him? "Bdale Garbee of Debian comes to mind," he says. "He and I have been working together for a long time. But Bdale has the same problem as a lot of folks - too little time, and too many people wanting him to sit on boards. Pretty much all the people perceived as leaders in the Free Software world have that problem.
"Who do I get along with? Pretty much everybody... oh, leave out two folks I shouldn't mention, but you can guess. I even get along with the difficult ones likeRMS. He and I understand where our differences are, and have no problem working together."
Perens says he's had offers for real jobs. "Someone asked me cold to be CEO of a going concern. It wasn't quite where I wanted to go. I have had teaching offers as far as away as Norway, and as close as Oakland.
"But I'm more of a visiting lecturer than a full-time teacher. I have established a relationship with two colleges, and I think one may give me a nice title and some prestige but not much money. I will probably consult for most of my income."
Perens is soliciting donations for the GTPI project. If you're interested, you can make a donation at http://techp.org/Information/donate.html.