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by: Bernard Teo

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Bernard Teo
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Mon 26 Apr 2004

Postfix Enabler 1.1 Beta

Category : Technology/PFE1.1Beta.txt

I've got a version of Postfix Enabler (1.1) that I can release for beta testing. In addition to a new field that will make it more convenient for a user to enter RBL (Real-Time Black Lists) sites that the mail server will check against, the real value that this new version brings is that it will install all the stuff needed to use a basic SpamAssassin configuration, as well as the ability to generate detailed mail statistics, with just a couple of clicks.

I'm tending towards the decision to GPL Postfix Enabler, too. I feel it's a waste of time to do a pflogsumm replacement, when it's already doing a good enough job.

And, at this point, I'm using the SpamAssassin/Anomy combination, where Anomy does the anti-virus filtering, and the latter is also GPL.

I'm using this exercise to try and understand the intellectual property issues better. So if I want to be precise, I think the key issue lies with the use of pflogsumm rather than with Anomy.

With Anomy (and SpamAssassin), Postfix Enabler acts like an installer application. Its job is only to bundle and install all the stuff needed by a non-technical user to make use of these two pieces of software with their mail server quickly. That's the value contributed by Postfix Enabler and I think everybody will agree that it's a good thing. But Postfix Enabler itself doesn't use Anomy or SpamAssassin as a library. So it can be argued that Postfix Enabler, then, doesn't need to be infected by the viral nature of the GPL.

But, in the case of pflogsumm, Postfix Enabler does use it like a library - to generate the mail traffic statistics and then show its results in a Postfix Enabler window. So that aspect of its use could constitute a requirement for Postfix Enabler to be released as GPL'ed software, too. So you can see the viral mechanism of the GPL at work.

In the main, the decision to treat this as a non-issue (i.e., make the Postfix Enabler source code available for download) is because it's already quite easy to see what Postfix Enabler does by going to the Finder, looking for the application, and do a "Show Package Contents". You will see all the scripts (both AppleScript scripts and Unix shell scripts), plus all the Unix binaries installed by Postfix Enabler. At various stages during the year, I've put up the link to the source code, only to bring it down, when I got tired of having to give support for that, too.

But, now, I may have to put that back. Postfix Enabler loads stuff into people's systems. It may be better to make the process transparent, to test the validity of Eric Raymond's argument (actually attributed to Linus Torvalds) for Open Source - "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". (Actually, I don't necessarily agree with that, at least not totally, and here's a guy who thinks along the same line.)

But Postfix Enabler is a vehicle to learn about a lot more things than turning on a mail server. I only wish I don't have to do, or turn away, so much tech support. The real issue with the GPL is that, in its zeal to make source code free, it undercuts the rights of the author to control how the software is distributed. For example, theoretically, it is permissible then to make very minor changes to the source, including re-directing the PayPal link, and then re-distribute the modified version from another server, so long as the person making the changes makes available the source, too. With GPL, you've given away the rights to be the only one who can distribute the software. If it does turn out to be true that I've made a big mistake, I think the way to recover is to rewrite the whole thing in another language, learn from what went wrong, add a lot more features, and release it under another name and licensing mechanism.

My wife reads these pages and thinks that I can't quite decide between being cynical or idealistic. That's probably understating it.

Posted at 5:17AM UTC | permalink

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