On Friday, Eric Raymond, open-source advocate, member of the VA Linux Systems Inc. board — and newly minted millionaire — answered that question.
Most technology millionaires are as closed-mouthed about their wealth as Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’ accountants are about his 1040. Not Raymond.
Having lived his technology life in public, Raymond isn’t going to let a sudden jump in his net worth, due to $36 million worth of VA Linux (Nasdaq: LNUX) in his stock portfolio as result of the Linux hardware vendor’s IPO on Thursday, change his ways.
“It wouldn’t be fair to dissemble,” said Raymond in a note he mailed out to press that have followed his open-source efforts. “I serve a community. I’m wealthy today because my efforts to spread the idea of open source on behalf of that community helped galvanize the business world, and earned the respect and the trust of a lot of hackers. Fairness to the hackers who made me bankable demands that I publicly acknowledge this result — and publicly face the question of how it’s going to affect my life and what I’ll do with the money.”
Raymond, one of open source’s best-known backers, is the author of a number of open-source treatises, including “The Cathedral And The Bazaar,” “Homesteading The Noosphere” and “The Magic Cauldron.” He has published to the Web documents detailing Microsoft’s plans for competing with Linux, which came to be known as The Halloween Documents, and has spoken at Microsoft’s invitation, on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.
Of modems, flutes and guns
What does Raymond plan to do with his newfound wealth? “I’ll do nothing, until next June,” he said in his note. Because he’s a VA board member he can’t sell any of his shares for six months under SEC rules.
Or as Raymond puts it, “It’s not strictly true that I’m wealthy right now. I will be wealthy in six months, unless VA or the U.S. economy craters before then. I’ll bet on VA; I’m not so sure about the U.S. economy :-).”
Like many instant millionaires before him, Raymond claims the money won’t change him much. There may be a cell phone, cable broadband “so I can surf at smokin’ speed” a new flute and “maybe a nice hot-rodded match-grade .45 semi for tactical shooting.” Raymond is an unabashed gun enthusiast and National Rifle Association supporter, for reasons he explains on his personal Web site.
Other than that, life will continue as usual, Raymond said. “I haven’t spent the last fifteen years doing the open-source thing for the money. I’m already living pretty much exactly the way I want to, doing the work that matters to me. The biggest difference the money will make to me personally is that now I should be able to keep doing what I love for the rest of my life without worrying about money ever again.”
“So I expect I’ll just keep on as I’ve been doing. Hacking code. Thinking and spreading subversive thoughts. Traveling and giving talks. Writing papers. Poking various evil empires a good one in the eye whenever I get a chance. Working for freedom,” Raymond said.
There will be one public change though. Raymond will now start charging speaking fees for corporate presentations and trade shows. He will not, however, start charging open-source user groups or schools for his time, he noted.
Raymond isn’t going to be a soft touch for a “zillion worthy causes,” he was quick to add. The reason he gave was protecting his time, rather than not wanting to spend the money.
Which isn’t to say that he won’t be giving his funds to some causes he already believes in. These include: “Worthy hacker projects, free-speech activism, fire arms-rights campaigns, and maybe Tibet. I might buy a hunk of rainforest for conservation somewhere,” in his words.
Open source and big bucks
Raymond said he believes that “other hackers confronted with sudden wealth will make similar choices.” He said he’s often asked “if he thinks the open-source community will be corrupted by the influx of big money. I tell them what I believe, which is this: Commercial demand for programmers has been so intense for so long that anyone who can be seriously distracted by money is already gone. Our community has been self-selected for caring about other things — accomplishment, pride, artistic passion, and each other.”
That’s certainly true of some of the open-source community, but not all. Some open-source developers are envious of those whose work has brought them wealth. Some who could have made money from the recent VA Linux IPO weren’t able to because they didn’t have enough money or connections to get onboard the VA Linux IPO bandwagon.
The age-old question of the open-source community has been: “How do we make money at this?” That question, at least for some developers, has now been answered.