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Should I work on proprietary software? 17 January 2007

Posted by Matthew Fulmer in intel, software.

Yesterday was my first day on the internship at Intel. It was a lot of fun, and the cafeteria is amazing. But I found out what I had been dreading to hear: I am to develop proprietary software for Intel to use in-house.

I was considering dropping the internship for that reason, but I talked to my father about it first. We talked about the values of free software (for the first time), and I decided that the cost of developing the proprietary software in-house is not very high, as opposed to distributed proprietary software, and that I will only work on proprietary software if it is not distributed.

Here is how I weighed the cost:

Proprietary software costs everyone who uses it a certain amount of freedom. It costs everyone who does not use it the ability to use it, which is not too bad. The software I will be making is a Python program to string together and record the results of proprietary Intel testing and measuring equipment, and so has very little use outside of Intel. That is why I say that denying everyone outside of Intel the right to use it is not too bad: they will not want or use it anyway.

Now consider the cost to the user: the freedom to share it. First, all users are being paid by Intel,  and second, nobody wants it anyway. Thus the users are compensated, and the non-users have a negligible interest in the software, so I think it is OK to work on this proprietary program.  None of this would be true if the program was distributed; thus I will never work on distributed proprietary software.



1. Patrick Logan - 23 January 2008

Good post on your deliberations. As someone who worked for Intel for over ten years, here’s my two cents…

In this case I think there is some logic to keeping the software internal. There were several situations in my career there where some seemingly innocuous software could divulge to someone information about Intel’s business, e.g. it could have divulged, or appeared to, information about fab yields in one case and product orders in some other cases.

In the case of testing products, the software structure itself could divulge information about what Intel is testing, how they’re testing, etc. Maybe that’s harmless, maybe not. But Intel is a competitive company and has an obligation to its shareholders to protect its interests. Sometimes those interests are served by open source, and sometimes the decision has to be made the other way, hopefully wisely.

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