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GNU is Not Unix

Beginnings Of The Free Software Debate In 1975 191

Private Essayist writes: "This article in the NY Times (free reg., etc.) tells about an ongoing mystery over who stole a copy of Altair Basic written by Bill Gates in 1975. More important, however, the article shows the beginnings of the debate over the concept of whether or not software should be free. The Homebrew Computer Club members interviewed in this article talk about the debate they had over this issue way back then. It's interesting to read."
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Beginnings of The Free Software Debate in 1975

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  • Look where the various participants on both sides back then are today. At the time, who would have known?
  • Even old code wants to be free. =)


    Chas - The one, the only.
    THANK GOD!!!
  • 1. MP3 trading (even though the format might change)
    2. Stealing Microsoft's software
    3. Running over those danged squirrels
  • by imac.usr ( 58845 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:20PM (#770628) Homepage
    Buy [fatbrain.com] a copy of the new edition of "Fire In The Valley" by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine, which reprints the letter from Bill to the Homebrewers, and is also one hell of a book (even if it does make the occasional mistake). Along with "Hackers", it's required reading for Personal Computer History 101.

  • I hope they catch him, 'cuz then we can press charges against him for using his fingers to circumvent a copy protection device and throw him in jail. Stealing software.. what next.. candy from babies?

    --

  • So that's where Java comes from...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    OK, so I filled out a registration, put in e-mail address twice, as asked (so I can be spammed twice?). Then it wouldn't let me in without allowing cookies. How many hoops do you have to jump through just to follow a /. link?
    < end rant mode >

  • by MeowMeow Jones ( 233640 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:24PM (#770632)

    Don't even most Open Source people agree that taking physical media (CD's, Floppys, CD-ROMs, books, cars, and yes punch tapes) is stealing?

    Where exactly does the line get crossed? Someone saw what they wanted and took it. That's just stealing.

  • Bill Gates is my hero.

    Then I suggest you avoid super villains.


    My mom is not a Karma whore!

  • by gwyrdd benyw ( 233417 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:24PM (#770634) Journal
    username: cypherpunks516
    password: cypherpunks

    I think the NYTimes has made "cypherpunks" permanently unavailable, the jerks.

  • "Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?" (He said this sarcasticly).

    All you have to do is look at all these companies that have tried to make money on free or open source software to see that, still 25 years later, it just can't be done.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:28PM (#770636)
    AN OPEN LETTER TO HOBBYISTS

    By William Henry Gates III

    February 3, 1976

    An Open Letter to Hobbyists

    To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself. Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?

    Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC. Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.

    The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

    Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?

    Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.

    What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.

    I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software. Bill Gates General Partner, Micro-Soft

  • It was Mr. Gates and Mr. Allen who exercised the impulse that would eventually make their soon-to-be-founded company, originally named Micro Soft, one of the world's most powerful corporations: create software that put computing power in the hands of everyday people.

    Right, I bet a whole bunch of everyday people (what is this, a toyota commercial?) had Altairs.

    Mr. Sokol recalls having few qualms about being in possession of a free copy of the Gates-Allen program. In his view, MITS was cheating hobbyists by charging $500 for buggy software. He took the tape to work and used a high-speed paper-tape machine to make 50 copies, which he carried to the next Homebrew meeting a few days later.

    Now that's more like it.

    Now, before this gets dismissed as mere flamebait, or a troll, let me explain to you why it is neither. The article lauds Microsoft, yes takes the wimpy way out when it talks about "Mr. Sokol" by using the phrase "in his view." Microsoft is hardly responsible for putting power in the hands of the people, as it were.

    If you do want to take a look at what companies DID put power in the hands of the people, the first company to look at (IMO) is Lotus corp. The spreadsheet is the piece of software that made Personal Computers worthwhile. Never mind that at the time, both computers and spreadsheets were so new that you (you being used here to describe an average human) had to take a class to use either one - And there were no classes. Lotus made it easy enough for mere humans to grasp. I used to have an IBM PC-1 with Lotus 1-2-3 V1 on it myself, but admittedly I got mine way behind the curve.

    Another fine piece of software was Print Shop. I can't even remember who wrote that sucker. Print Shop let you do some pretty snazzy stuff (for the time) in a minimum of time on absolutely antique hardware - Like the Apple ][. It's been followed in modern times by programs like Pagemaker and Quark Xpress. But word, by contrast, didn't even allow you any real freedom of text positioning until very recently. Why should it? It's a word processor - A glorified typewriter.

    Mind you, the earliest word processor I can remember of any practical note which could be used without learning a whole new language (Sorry, TeX) was Wordstar. That was some pretty slick software, even back on my Kaypro 4 luggable. I managed to turn in quite a few papers for school on one of those things. And the first one I can remember that did graphics in some reasonable fashion was WordPerfect, which was the de facto standard for god knows how long.

    Microsoft's only deserved accolade is that they make things prettier. They can't take credit for windowing systems, the web, or anything else we take for granted these days. They weren't the first to do SMP on intel, they didn't have the first of just about anything. They aren't even the Japan of computing, because they don't actually refine anything. They're more like China (With all due apologies to the great nation of China, which has in fact made some innovations) in that they make cheap knockoffs.

    Such is the legacy of Microsoft, and a long and, well, I guess you could say "glorious" reign it will continue to be. When you're number one by such a large margin, it takes some truly boneheaded manouvers to slip down even to number two, let alone last place.

    And speaking of which, let's talk about Windows 2000...

  • by Pinball Wizard ( 161942 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:32PM (#770638) Homepage Journal
    Buy nothing. Here on /., the tradition is to post these things. So here goes.

    AN OPEN LETTER TO HOBBYISTS
    By William Henry Gates III
    February 3, 1976

    An Open Letter to Hobbyists

    To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself. Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?

    Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC. Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.

    The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

    Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?

    Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.

    What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.

    I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.

    Bill Gates

    General Partner, Micro-Soft

  • by elgonzzo ( 129077 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:33PM (#770639)
    The author asked a very important question, is "liberating" software that someone else wrote stealing. What's the difference between taking a cabinet a carpenter slaved over for weeks and code a programmer slaved over. Carpenters sometimes give their creations away, but no one requiers them to, in most countries that is. This is one of the few pieces of software Mr. Bill actually wrote, and look what happens to it, someone ran off with it. Remember, Mr. Bill wasn't rich back then. That was money he needed to pay off all his speeding tickets.
  • I think the NYTimes has made "cypherpunks" permanently unavailable, the jerks.

    Or someone changed the password on you.

    Last I checked, the venerable slashdot2000/slashdot2000 still worked.

  • by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:36PM (#770641) Homepage Journal
    I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good [sic] software.

    If I ever catch the bastards who sent the checks that allowed him to hire those progammers, I'll...I'll...I'll... Well, it won't be pretty, I can tell you that!

  • Now the RIAA will demand a tax on all paper tape.
  • How many people are using pirated copies of Windows 9x/NT/Whatever or some version of Office? I have a pirated copy of Windows 98, and I will soon get a pirated copy of Windows NT. Am I the only one not dumping a hatful of money on top of Bills money pile?

    Microsoft doesn't really care if you pirate their software for home use. What gets them is the buisness licenses.

    Microsoft has a very simple plan for making money. Produce a cheap, easy-to-support OS for the home user, and an expensive, difficult-to-support OS for the workplace. Make sure that the home OS is missing key features, like being able to connect to network resources as someone other than yourself. Make it expensive to allow people to connect to your servers, charging them per connection. Convince buisnesses that they need the more expensive "Workstation" operating system.

    Then in a few years, rename it to "Professional" and convince them that it's a new product. Sell bundles of this "new" product.

    If you are the kind of person who doesn't pay for software *ahem* then you don't need support and they can't make any big money off of you anyway. If not, then they don't really care if you pay for their operating system. If you rub it in their face and get caught, then they'll make an example of you just because they can - It keeps the corporations in line to see them go after even the little guy.

    Besides, you can't get out of paying for WinCE if you buy a palmtop that uses it yet, and they'll get you in the shorts there for quite some time. I'm sure they're reading your post and chuckling right now.

  • I just want to point of that Lotus can no more take credit for spreadsheets than Microsoft can take credit for Windowing systems.

    Lotus basically copied an earlier program called Visicalc, which I personally used quite a bit before "1-2-3" even existed.

  • by Q*bert ( 2134 )
    At my last job (at the Unix Workstation Support Group [indiana.edu] at Indiana University--go UWSG!), I knew a guy who still had his Altair. IU [indiana.edu] ended up signing a big bulk-license agreement with Microsoft, and as part of the deal Bill Gates came and gave a big speech in the stadium. My colleague was really annoyed that he had thrown out his pirated BASIC punch-tape--he wanted to ask Bill to sign it. ;)

    For what it's worth, there were people in penguin suits protesting outside the stadium, and another one of my colleagues attended and ask Bill a hard question about open source (which he dodged). We did what we could. ;)

    Vovida, OS VoIP
    Beer recipe: free! #Source
    Cold pints: $2 #Product

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am the one who stole Altair Basic so please call it GNU/Altair thank you very much

    - Richard M. Stallman
  • This website is for news for nerds, stuff that matters.

    Repeatedly posting this same pedophile psychobabble under every new topic is not going to win you any friends or supporters. And it's completely off topic. You are just going to piss off more people in the process who come here for techie news, not you trying to shove your lifestyle down their throats.
  • Well, I'm not much in favor of the "Software wants to be free" types, but the most obvious difference is that if you take the cabinet, the carpenter loses use of the cabinet while if you take the software, the programmer retains use of the program.

    That is really the crux of the issue.
  • Oh yeah, you've been here for a long time, Mr. User #233655.

    Just slightly longer than Taco, right?
    Please, go away.

  • Someone must have the same wireless news feed that I get on my pager. Half the stories I see on Slashdot come from my pager! I try to submit them, but someone always gets to it before me.

    Anyway, I saw this story earlier today, and wanted to go see what Bill the G. was crying about. I tried to register, using all of my normal free account names.. 'ihatespam' 'johndoe' 'janedoe' etc, and none of them would work! I tried my full name, I tried 'qwertyuiop' and 'poiuytrewq' and even 'qazxswedc' & 'zaqwsxc' to no luck. After nearly 10 minutes trying to get a new username, I gave up. It really, really pissed me off. I don't want a number appended to my name. Hell, I don't even want to register! Free the news! We already have to look at your advertising..

    The point of this article is to ask: Does anyone know a way around 'the system?' One used to be able to go to partners.nytimes.com and head to the story, but it no longer works. Too many people from Slashdot.. Is there a name out there that someone can donate to the cause? Anyone?

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:45PM (#770651)
    > the first company to look at (IMO) is Lotus corp. The spreadsheet is the piece of software that made Personal Computers worthwhile.

    Uhm, you DO know that Visicalc on the Apple ][ was out before Lotus 123, right?

    I do agree that 123 helped push computers into "the mainstream business", but please don't turn a blind eye to how Apple got the whole thing started. Wordstar, AppleWorks, etc.

    Cheers
  • by itsbruce ( 229840 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:47PM (#770652)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he just port code that was already in the Public Domain? Many people at the time saw him as the thief, for selling what they said wasn't his in the first place.

    He did the same with DOS. That started out as QDOS, an unauthorised hack of CP/M.

    Bill's a hypocrite, if you ask me.

  • Communism, capitalism, and all the others assume you have a limited amount of resources, and that they must be divided amongst the citizens.
    There is no limit to the amount of software.
    If ten people want a piece of bread, either one person gets the bread, or it is divided amongst them. If ten people want some software, all ten can have the exact same, complete software.

    --
  • perhaps companies should stop using OUR computers to hold the information they need?
    why can't they have s db that maintains my user id and password? I'll tell you why, because they can USE us to save them money.
  • ...Produce a cheap, easy-to-support OS for the home user...

    Really? When is that coming out?
  • THAT'S the silliest thing I'VE ever heard. You are no better than Mister pedophile. Enough commie bashing. Why dont you go back to writing code with visual C++ and creating half assed shareware that 4 people will pay $95 for the full version of.

  • > All you have to do is look at all these companies that have tried to make money on free or open source software to see that, still 25 years later, it just can't be done.

    I don't know whether you can make money that way, but you can darn sure make good software.

    --
  • by Anonymous Coward
    cpunks
    cpunks

    for the truly elite
  • I guess this means that Mr. Gates has had every excuse to step-on and rip-off everyone for the last 25 years. I guess we all must pay for this original sin. Mea Culpa.
  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @01:55PM (#770660) Homepage Journal

    Brøderbund.

    It was such a huge part of their revenue back then that they used to have three major headings on their balance sheet: Applications, Games, and Print Shop.

    Then Carmen San Diego came along...

    Schwab

  • Microsoft doesn't really care if you pirate their software for home use. What gets them is the buisness licenses.
    In fact, home piracy does them good, because it increases the user base and so raises demand. That's why they give such cheap deals to educational establishments and charities. The idea is that when people who use Windows in those places will then demand it in the workplace.
  • > Bill's a hypocrite, if you ask me.

    Anyone have the True Story (TM) of Bill's own oft-mentioned dumpster diving episode? Is it fact, or folklore?

    If fact, it would indeed make him a hypocrite of the worst sort.

    --
  • Correct. If Gates used the same techniques today to start his company, he'd be in prison for software "piracy".

    However, Gates wasn't the major force that lobbied for changes to copyright law to encompass software. That ignominious honor belongs to Time-Warner (nee Warner Communications), who owned Atari at the time. Warner took enormous glee in suing anyone and everyone who wrote a game that looked even remotely like Pac Man...

    Schwab

  • by Money__ ( 87045 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:03PM (#770666)
    Open source development is good now because the following things were missing back in 1975 2 years before Bill Gates was being arrested for speeding tickets [ttp].

    1) An installed base of users around the world with a lifetime of experience in computing.

    2) An affordable way (the net) to connect all these users, to allow them to cut down on the complexity of comunication. (Remember, people still "mailed tapes" to move programs around).

    3) An evil empire to rebel against (micros~1), thus making all the time hacking worth it in the end (that's just my own little take on it).

    Open source software is a viable development model because these 3 thing are in place to empower the people involved. If you were to sit someone down in 1975 and explain to them that you want to be able to "tap the resources of the best and brightest from around the world to contribute code to a common Operating system that will be free for them, and anyone else, to use", they'de think you were nuts.

    Bottom line is, BillG had a free ride for a long time because these basic tools for sharing information fast and affordably simply weren't there.

  • by nickm ( 1468 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:11PM (#770667) Homepage
    Here is the privacy-enhanced version of the article [nytimes.com] (remember to turn off cookies and use a proxy server!).

    Every time you see a "www.nytimes.com" URL, just replace "www" with "partners".
    --
    I noticed
  • by dws ( 197076 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:13PM (#770668)
    Not quite true. The story goes that Gates and Allen (and Monte Davidoff) wrote the first cut of their Basic using an ARPA-funded PDP-10 at Harvard, and were able to retain rights after Gates father (a lawyer) stepped in. Monte wrote the original floating-point support.
  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:18PM (#770670) Homepage Journal

    I was 12 years old. I had just been introduced to computers. The first language I had been taught was BASIC at the Lawrence Hall of Science [berkeley.edu] in Berkeley, CA. Eventually a microcomputer store opened in my home town called The Byte Shop, where I started annoying the sales people by fiddling with their SOL-20s and Apples, writing little ditties in BASIC. I got to know BASIC real well. I got to know several dialects of BASIC, and could intelligently discuss the relative merits of each.

    With all that hands-on experience, I can say without fear of contradiction: Microsoft BASIC was one of the worst BASIC interpreters available. The only one I can think of off-hand that was even worse was Northstar BASIC.

    I settled in to a happy relationship with a variant called Extended Cassette BASIC, published by Processor Technology for the SOL-20. This BASIC (back in 1978, mind), had:

    • Multiple-line user-defined functions,
    • Matrix math operations
    • Auto-indent of program LISTings,
    • Ran in 16K,
    • Cost less than $100 (less than 1/5 of Microsoft's inferior offering).

    Microsoft, in typical form, took another ten years to get as far, and consumed ten times as much memory doing it.

    I really should drag out my old SOL-20 and do some side-by-side comparisons of Microsoft's old stuff.

    Schwab

  • by MattJ ( 14813 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:25PM (#770672) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he just port code that was already in the Public Domain?

    You're wrong :-) I've never heard anyone seriously challenge the idea that Bill, Paul, and a third guy (whose name escapes me now) wrote the Altair BASIC themselves, in assembly. While at Harvard they used a campus mainframe to simulate the Altair's instruction set, and developed their own BASIC interpreter. So while they didn't copy public domain stuff (AFAIK), they did use university computing resources for a commercial project. If anyone has a copy of Harvard's policy manual for the mid-70s, that would be very interesting. (Endowment = Endowment + $50 billion ?)
  • Why do people on Slashdot insist on knocking Microsoft just because they copied everyone else. What is Linux except a lame UNIX clone? At least Microsoft copied software written in the 80s when we knew a little about usability. So let's have a look at the Linux usability tools - KDE and Gnome. And what are they? Cheap, slow and buggy Windows 95 knock-offs.

    Microsoft are the market leaders; if that's China in your world then you must be living in 3000BC.

  • Remember, Mr. Bill wasn't rich back then.

    Yes, he was [photo.net].

    And remember that quote about how he used to pinch source code listings, without asking the authors, out of University rubbish bins. One wonder how much of Altair BASIC was actually written by Bill, and why it was so buggy.
  • 3) An evil empire to rebel against (micros~1), thus making all the time hacking worth it in the end (that's just my own little take on it).

    You forget that IBM was the "evil empire" for a long, long time.
  • by NaughtyEddie ( 140998 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @02:47PM (#770681)
    It's not the crux of the issue. It's what naive college students with adolescent philosophies think is the crux of the issue, but once they get out into the real world ("oh, no, I have to get my rent somehow, my parents won't bail me out any more") they realize that getting paid for time and effort is the crux of the issue.

    Otherwise, for every cabinet the carpenter makes, he would charge exactly the same amount as that weight of logs would cost from the lumbar yard. Oh, wait, why should the lumbar yard charge for logs when they're just GROWING for free all around? And minerals are underground, everywhere. We have cows wandering the fields. Why do we have to pay for ANYTHING AT ALL?

    This idea that only possesions have any value is an utterly materialistic concept, and it won't do at all in an information-based society. Money is to pay for people's time and effort, not for the raw materials they used.

  • True, the carpenter is making a product for sale and can only sell it once, while programmers can sell it multiple times. However, pretend that the program and the cabinet are the same - when you buy it you get the bad workmanship, the usage, the maintanence, the ability to resell, and the ability to convert it into something else.

    The price is equal to the costs (intermediate goods/services) and the added value from the carpenter/reseller. If a software company had to do the same, and we pretend that software cannot be copied, then to sell Office would require the purchaser to pay for all R&D costs, marketting, etc. to turn a profit. If the company spent $1 million total, then no one could buy this program and that's it. Now, you could claim that software could be open source and "free" as GNU say, but GNU and others never released office suites, operating systems, etc during those times. If software was forced to be free or purchased in the same manner as a cabinet, then development would have been extremely hampered.

    Selling a program for $30-$60 to large audience makes up for the $1million or so in supposed costs, and hopefully creates significant profits to fund the next project. To distribute costs, software logically couldn't come with the source code or be legally distributed or else the company could only sell it once - everyone else would buy it cheaper from the first customer. Open source/free software should be available, but even those licenses try to ensure that the origional creator's rights are not hampered (GPL, BSDL's old advertising clause, etc).

    No one can ever say with a straight face that simply because a program can be reproduced with almost no overhead after creation that the creator's rights should be denied for "the community." That's nothing more than deciding that one group is more deserving then another, where the inventor has to give it away to the people to be "moral". Someone has to decide what's moral, and its ludicrous. That's why GNU pushes the GPL, not public domain, simply because they've redefined what's "moral" and "free" to fit their beliefs/cause.

    hehe, damn.. this was long...

    ------------------------------------------
    "Open Source?" - Press any key to continue


    -----------------------------------------
  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @03:04PM (#770683) Homepage Journal
    The debate was not whether software should be free (gratis or otherwise), but whether people have the right to violate the copyright of another, in this case, billy's interpreter. If one receives holy heck for calling such an action "piracy", then let's keep our standards equal and not equate the free software to warez. The only reason copyright protects the GPL is because it also protects Billy Boy. Selective applications of law and/or morality is the antithesis of freedom...
  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @03:08PM (#770685)
    AtariBASIC was bad, as was Northstar BASIC you mention, actually I want to call it Zbasic which might be what the .COM file was called on my floppy.

    I was most familiar with MS-BASIC version 5.21 which came bundled with my father's Morrow MD-2 back in 1982. Similar versions also shipped with the Osborne and Kaypro as I recall.

    Now if you are thinking of Microsoft BASIC as being similar to that which shipped with the Apple as Applesoft, or the one in the Commodore PET, I can understand your comments.

    I have never seen a SOL-20, or this extended cassette BASIC, but you are in luck... The manual is online:

    http://www.thebattles.net/sol20/extcassbasic.pdf

    Looking it over it really seems to be very close to the Microsoft BASIC I remember. String and file handling isn't as advanced as I recall, but the ability to work with matrices is rather nice.

    I don't see exactly what you mean by multi-line user-defined functions, all that is implemented was GOSUB which was available in MS-BASIC 5.21.

    Certainly impressive for 1977, but I think I'd be hard pressed to backup the statement that it took 10 years for Microsoft to get that far, and ten times as much memory doing it.

    MS-BASIC 5.21 ran on a machine with 64K of RAM. 57K was available after loading CP/M 2.2, and one had about 35K after loading up MS-BASIC, 39K free if you didn't load the Random access file support.

    But by 1982 floppy drives were common place, which allowed for techniques such as random access files, so it's understandable it used a few more K.

    I think you are thinking of QuickBASIC as being 10 years later and 10 times the memory. But there were many generations of MS-BASIC between 1977 and QuickBASIC.
  • In all fairness, Microsoft has never sued anyone for stealing the "look and feel" of their software. That hasn't stopped others from suing them over that issue, however.

    I don't think Microsoft agrees with that concept considering the number of times they've taken the look and feel of a competitors product.

    What Bill Gates was irate about was not that someone had made a piece of software that operated similarly to his, but that someone had actually taken exactly what he had created and gave it away.

    Accuse Gates of what you will, but at least be accurate.

  • Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted.

    Corollary: until Windows is past history, a lot of hobby computers are being wasted.

    Will quality software be written for the hobby market?

    It certainly has been, but not by Micro-Soft! (-:

    The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.

    And all that time was paid for?

    Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC.

    This statement makes me curous, Bill. If it only took you two months to write the entire BASIC, why did it take a whole year to tinker with it? Can I ask you a question and get an honest answer? Did ``write'' here mean ``key in from a listing stolen from University rubbish bins?''

    People complained that Altair BASIC was buggy. Is that because the bugs were keyed in from a discarded program listing, or because your programming skills were as good as your soldering skills?

    The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive.

    Nothing's changed much since. According to you, Bill, as recently as 1998 Microsoft's customer feedback was almost entirely positive. Since the whole world's wrong, and you're right, and that's the way it's always been, who am I to argue? Uh, it might helped if you upped the dosage of those pills, Bill.

    As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software.

    And you don't? Naturally, those listings taken from the dumpsters were public domain, weren't they? I mean, the authors haven't complained yet, have they? The Spyglass issue was just a little misunderstanding? How about the drive doubler software? And, my gosh, doesn't Money resemble something Microsoft once had a look at the source code for awfully closely? Come clean, Bill, tell us the whole story!

    What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?

    Linus Torvalds.

    Next question? (-:

    I would appreciate letters from any one who [...] has a suggestion or comment.

    Ever your humble servant. (-:
  • Okay, good start. But why then make people pay *per copy*? What if, once one tree were cut down, it were able to provide an infinite amount of lumber with no extra effort?

    --

  • Cygnus - one of the very first open source companies, and the maintainer of gcc - was profitable for many years. Of course, now it's owned by RedHat.

    --
    "You take a distribution! Rename! Stamp CD's! IPO!"
  • Absolutely not true.

    Start here [yahoo.com].

    Look for that thing called a quarterly earnings report. If that's a negative number, YOU AREN'T MAKING ANY MONEY.

    Caldera. [yahoo.com]

    VA Linux. [yahoo.com]

    Check those out and then come talk to me.

    By the way, now's the time to inves in Caldera, they are trading at 5 and a quarter!!!

  • Al Gore maybe?


    FluX
    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • Why do people on Slashdot insist on knocking Microsoft just because they copied everyone else. What is Linux except a lame UNIX clone?

    Um, perhaps because Microsoft are crowing so damn loud about innovation? I don't make any claims that Linux is innovative, and I don't hear anyone else doing so. So it's a UNIX clone! So what? That's what it was always intended to be.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @04:20PM (#770699) Journal
    the article shows the beginnings of the debate over the concept of whether or not software should be free.

    It goes back WAY farther than that...

    The earliest piece I'm aware of is an article in Communications of the ACM by Bernie Galler. In it he complained that the price being charged for a piece of software (I think it was $75) was greater than the cost of duplicating the card deck and mailing it. He warned that this could lead to the concept of software as a product, programming as a profession, and trade secret restrictions impeeding the free flow of software technology development.

    I don't recall the exact date of the article. But it was in the same issue as Djikstra's "GOTO Considered Harmful" article which was the origin of the whole "structured programming" flap, and structured programming was well developed and in vogue by the end of the 1960s.
  • by NaughtyEddie ( 140998 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @04:24PM (#770700)
    Well how else could people pay?

    I mean that question seriously, the answer to it is the future, not some future where everything is free (at least, not yet).

    It's evolved from a system where consumers are individuals. You can sell individuals a book, a CD, a T-shirt, so the current model is evolved from that.

    Thing is, it doesn't cost $15 to make a music CD. Ignoring the legalized embezzelment that the music industry is engaged in, it costs at least $20,000 to record even a lamely-produced album, and then you can't print 1 CD and 1 inlay sheet, you have to print 1000 CDs and 1000 inlay sheets. Then you add the time it took the band to (if you're fair) write the songs, rehearse them and record them - a year's salary for 4 people. Say, $120,000. So you have to invest, say, $143,000 to make 1000 CDs. The next 1000 only cost $3,000 though, so you hope you sell more than 1,000. If you think you'll sell 10,000 you can price the CD at around $15 and break even. If you think you'll sell 1,000 then your price is $150 per CD and that's too much (some technical books cost something approaching this figure, for this reason).

    It's the same with software - but worse. Teams are generally bigger than bands, and they expect a higher salary, being "skilled" workers. Your software might additionally take two years or more to write. Let's say 6 programmers on $60,000 for 2 years - that's a whopping $720,000. If the software's "value" is $40 (i.e. people would pay $40 for it) then you need to sell 18,000 copies. Mind you, if you knew you could sell 180,000 copies you could charge everyone $4, and if you knew you could sell 1,800,000 then it's just 40c each (I'm now ignoring cost-of-materials completely - the internet economy has no need for printed manuals and CDs, although I wish Intel did printed PIII manuals ;).

    Now, most items are of marginal popularity. That is, the company works out beforehand how big the market is for the product. It then calculates how much the product costs to develop. It then calculates the market price for the product. It's a fact of life, strange, but a seemingly immutable law, that marginal products of this nature almost always EXACTLY BREAK EVEN. That is, if D is the development cost, N is the market size and P is the market price, D = N*P. Every business plan in the world exhibits this law. It's only in extreme cases that the law breaks down - the extreme case where the product becomes popular.

    If an item is popular, this all breaks down. The market price is unchanged, because popularity doesn't affect market price, since a popoular product can enforce a monopoly - it's popular, so you pay what we say you pay. Look at how much Lucas charged for the Episode 1 video! Even without this explicit greed, the price charged is generally the same as for similar, but unpopular, items. So the Britney Spears CD costs about the same as the Cradle of Filth CD. The development cost is the same - maybe slightly higher if the developers knew beforehand it was going to be popular (Britney had a better producer than the Filth). But N goes through the roof by a factor of 100 or more. So you look at N and P and D and you say, "this company is greedy".

    OK, now the whole problem arises because of the mismatch between N*P and D. There is no physical law that says N*P = D. In fact, N*P = D is only achieved by fiddling the books. You reduce D so it matches N*P (cheap and cheerful PSX games); you increase P so it matches D/N (research-level textbooks); the only thing you can't directly affect is N, but marketing attempts to do this.

    Now, what would be nice is if copright law, said that P would vary with N. That is, the first people to buy would pay more, then the cost would gradually go down until, when enough people have bought the product, development has been paid for and the product enters the public domain.

    This is what happens in HARDWARE now. The "early adopters" of CD players paid - what - $500 for a player. Then as economies of scale kicked in the price dropped until now a CD player is a commodity item you can pick up for $40 upwards.

    If the same thing happened in software, then paying per copy would not be the same thing at all. You'd be paying, not for a copy, but TOWARDS THE COSTS. And when they are paid (say, when they are paid four times over, so everyone involved can make a healthy profit) then the whole thing enters the public domain and is free.

    This is what people EXPECT of these old movies, old video games (hello, Mattel!), old TV shows, etc. etc. but corporate greed is such that they won't let them go. Disney has made back the money it spent on Mickey Mouse many many times over - why not let him enter the public domain?

    So, to summarize, I don't think software wants to be free. It doesn't, it costs money to make and it needs to make that money back. But it doesn't have to be shackled to corporate greed.

    If the media industries voluntarily moved towards a system like this, people would love them for it.

  • by JimDabell ( 42870 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @04:31PM (#770704) Homepage

    Why do people on Slashdot insist on knocking Microsoft just because they copied everyone else.

    Who's knocking? He was simply pointing out that the Times wasn't reporting accurately when they said that MS created the first bunch of "killer apps".

    What is Linux except a lame UNIX clone?

    If Linux is lame, then how come it's better than everything else out there? What did you say? It's just better for me? Well it's just lame for you.

    At least Microsoft copied software written in the 80s when we knew a little about usability.

    Then why do you have to press the start button to stop using your computer?

    So let's have a look at the Linux usability tools - KDE and Gnome. And what are they? Cheap, slow and buggy Windows 95 knock-offs.

    Cheap? Yup. Exactly what is bad about that?

    Slow? I can't speak for GNOME, but KDE is getting quicker with each release. Is Windows?

    Buggy? I get less crashes with a KDE prerelease than I did with any Microsoft software I have ever used. Seriously.

    Win95 knock-off? If it's a Win95 knock-off, then they are very usable according to your previous statements. But they aren't trying to copy Win95. Take a look at their published goals before you start spouting off. Their goals are to produce a good, free, easy-to-use desktop environment, taking the best from current systems and retaining a few of the not-so-good design features for the default to make it easy to migrate.

    Microsoft are the market leaders

    But they aren't the technology leaders.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he just port code that was already in the Public Domain? Many people at the time saw him as the thief, for selling what they said wasn't his in the first place.

    If it's in the public domain you can modify it and sell your modified version. That doesn't stop anybody from using the UNmodified version.

    At the time in question, Copyright had not been extended to computer software. (That debate came much later.) Neither had patent. The only protection available was trade secret. Once the cat's out of the bag on a trade secret it's public domain, and the only person the former owner of the secret has any claim against is the guy who opened the bag.

    A thing to remember: Copyright, patent, trademark, service mark, and the rest of the "Intellectual Property" pantheon (except for trade secret) are NOT codifications of a "natural" right. They are the creation of government action, pure and simple.

    This is not a claim that they're WRONG, or that creators SHOULDN'T have such "rights". That's a separate issue. But at the time, they DIDN'T have them. Bill was whistling into the wind when he complained about the hobbiests (except for the one who made the first copy) "stealing" his work.
  • Nobody pays me to take a shit, but that takes time and effort. Labor is only worth something if it is directed towards something that someone else wants done for them and can't or won't do themselves.

    Value, in the economic sense, is defined by scarcity, a result of material limitations. Breathable air has value, since its required for life, but it's only worth paying for if its scarce (compressed air for scuba tanks and such). Even then, you're only paying for the effort to put the air in a container that can be taken to where it is scarce, not for the air itself.

    Most people understand the price of information as the cost of the media they got it on. People buy a book so they can get the information contained within, but if they want to get only the information itself, they can go to a library.

    Say you developed an infinite source of food that required no maintenance, took no effort to harvest, and could easily be distributed to every corner of the globe, the only downside being that it tasted pretty bland. Would you a: give it away freely to feed everyone on earth and end world hunger, or b: Corner the world food market with your ultra-cheap yet inferior food source that completely undermined agriculture.
  • If I ask a lawyer a question, even though it costs him nothing to produce the answer, I would still expect to have to pay.

    I don't see why our expectations about software and programmers are any different.
  • by EricEldred ( 175470 ) on Monday September 18, 2000 @06:05PM (#770721) Homepage

    whether people have the right to violate the copyright of another

    Notice that Mr Gates did not use the word "copyright" (nor patent) in his letter of complaint to the club. The reason is easy to see: the U.S. Copyright Office did not accept registrations of software then, not until years later.

    The only way to prove "piracy" would be to have someone admit they had "stolen" the physical paper tape, value $500. But the statute of limitations on that crime has expired. (Anyway, I heard the tape was stolen from a van outside, not a box inside the Rickey's.)

    The article itself is not clear, but the point should be that in 1975 there was already a split between those like Gates who thought all programming should be in the hands of professionals, and that everybody else just stole from them--and on the other side the "free software" folks who shared software--but still bought software and hardware and did as much to accomplish the computer revolution as the other tribes.

    As a computer hobbyist whose club was often accused of "piracy" I would have to say that companies such as Microsoft and Apple would never have succeeded if computer hobbyists had not used and endorsed the products. If there was any illegal "sharing" going on, it certainly doesn't seem to have prevented these companies from succeeding in the market. At the same time, many other companies that didn't treat their customers well have failed.

    The main idea we should carry away is that open development and sharing are not dependent on "intellectual property rights" but that we can develop our own stuff--much better--without stealing from anybody else.

    Gates was simply wrong in his accusations. He gave away paper tapes to people just so he could get their ideas and improve his program for free. He didn't pay them for their work. (Just as I use a copy of Windows 95 that Gates personally handed me at the August 95 launch.) He used computer time at Harvard to develop a commercial program in violation of Harvard's rules. His program was an adaptation of BASIC that had been invented and distributed by academics at Dartmouth. The originality of Gates is that somehow he managed to make a big corporation on software, and others did not. But his software is not better, and it would not get better if "piracy" could be eliminated. Copyright should be respected, but not because of the arguments we've seen here.

  • Huh? Do you know anything about the history of computers? Do you realize how much effort it was, in the past, to generate 8K of usable machine code on a paper punch roll?

    I guess not.

  • A well known pre-registered account for the NYT site is "cypherpunks"/"cypherpunks" (account name & password are the same).
  • I hate to volunteer this information, 'cause it'll probably just result in my handy loophole being stuffed, but you know what they say -- Information Wants to Be Free (But You Can Send Me $4.95!)

    http://partners.nytimes.com/2000/09/18/technolog y/18BASI.html

    Note the use of "partners" in lieu of "www"...

    [Kuro5hin is back! Yay!]


    --
  • Actually, Bill Gates was rich back then. He came from a wealthy family. He just hadn't yet made the transition from just-plain-rich to obscenely rich.
    --
  • I totally agree. The model you suggest for software is the way people expect things to work. If you want the latest and greatest, you pay for it. Older stuff that gets the job done is cheaper, and truly out of date stuff is nearly free. I wouldn't mind paying $30 for the Matrix when it came out on DVD. But in 5 years, I would expect to pay $5. Why shouldn't it be like that? Why shouldn't software be like that?
  • On the one hand we have free software/information/systems. That includes most programming languages, the Net, Unix, TeX, the Web (and all its forerunners like Gopher etc.), and the output of the ACM and IEEE's publishing departments.

    On the other hand the closed/secret side has MS Office and most computer games.

    Much as I like playing Railroad Tycoon, I don't think its enough to outweigh the rest. Other people do not agree. The problem is that they, like lawyers, charge such large amounts for information that was free to them (lawyers and programmers are trained with library books and Journals, IME) that they can "pull the ladder up after themselves". Gates (or his money) has been instrumental in spreading the cloak of IP over the industry. While using the net, the web, the published algorithms of people interested in spreading ideas and all the rest of the "free software" movement to help the great Satan^H^H^H^H^H programmer along, of course.

    TWW

  • Well, I always figured that RMS and his followers push the GPL because it emphasizes a belief of theirs - one I don't share. They've decided that no one should profit from the programs they write, and has built enough of a code base/platform that reinventing the wheel in order to get around the GPL becomes ever more difficult. I personally see the GPL as quite viral and diminishing options for people. Developers should be compinsated, just like musicians, directors/actors, etc. I do of course realize everyhing you stated, but people wouldn't flock around if they understood and disagreed. People are dumb, they believe pirating movies, music, and software is perfectly moral and just.

    As to open source (such as BSD), I disagree with your friend. It has shown to follow a trend close to scientific study - sharing information allows greater progress. The sharing at most requires you to acknolodge the developer, and the code can be used in any project. Just like in science (ie, chemisty), companies and research institutes progress the field, leaving a mixture for community development and corperate profits.

    ------------------------------------------
    "Open Source?" - Press any key to continue


    -----------------------------------------
  • > Otherwise, for every cabinet the carpenter
    > makes, he would charge exactly the same
    > amount as that weight of logs would cost
    > from the lumbar yard.

    No, s/he's charging money for the finished product -- the cost of which presumably reflects the cost of raw materials, the cost of the work put into it, and market considerations.

    In a way, this is the cost of putting an actual cabinet in the hands of a customer. (A single usable instance of a cabinet.) For a carpenter, the cost is the same for every cabinet. For a programmer, the cost of the first copy of software is very high, but is virtually zero for all subsequent copies. The programmer should therefore be paid a high amount of money for the first copy, and virtually nothing for all subsequent copies.

    Your seem unable to realize this fundamental difference, and fear that some sort of anarchy ("Why do we have to pay for ANYTHING AT ALL?" whimper wail whimper) will tear down nations should we fail to pay fees for each copy of software. Society will not be ripped apart at the sinews; rather, the cost of software copies will come to reflect the respective cost of their creations.
    -------
  • Three person-years to come up with a BASIC for the Altair (let alone that Gates and Allen had to hire someone else even to get started - hmm). Shortly afterward, Steve Wozniak wrote Integer BASIC for the Apple ][ in his head (after first designing the computer to run it on, natch).

    It seems that paying through the nose to fund Gates's and Micro-Soft's incompetence in software development is not a new thing - and neither is the availability of better alternatives.

  • A system like the one you describe already exists. Look up the Street Performer Protocol.

    --

  • The tales of Bill in the dumpster are quite true.

    I remember a television interview in the 1980s where Mr Gates tells us where he got the original source code for his BASIC:

    From the waste-bins of DEC (now Digitial, bought out by Compaq)

    They were the working sources on lineprinter carelessly binned. This is why when Mr Gates tried to stand on the moral high ground when Oracle's CEO paid people to go through dustbins, it made me laugh so hard. At least he paid people to do it and didn't stoop so low as to do it himself!

  • Actually, Bill Gates was rich back then. He came from a wealthy family.

    Also apparently he might never have got the DOS contract in the first place had his mother not been a lawyer for IBM.
  • I remember my father was very impressed with the orginal ALTAIR BASIC, mainly by the fact that it did run in 4K, and still leave (albiet) small amount of room for the program code

    He spent some time looking at a disassemble of it and told me the garbarge collection on it was stupid, it was bassicly brute force or some such thing.

    thanks all i know, I didn't get into the scene until C64 BASIC.

    -Jon
  • the "killer app" of the day :)) Unless you got the Scelbi "Galaxy" game and typed in an assembler listing. I paid $150 for 4K BASIC in '76 (lets see, that's what, 3.66 cents/byte?) And it still wasn't up to 'Trek - no $trings! And no mass storage either.

    The debate over "whether software should be free" is a product of faulty logic that the news media in particular seem to fall for; what amounts to a "koan" - an unanswerable question you can always make banner headlines out of; "Monks Fiercly Divided Over What One Hand Clapping Sounds Like" just like the the whether-guns-or-people-kill debate. Fact is, software is 'owned' by the person that writes it. If you write code, you may choose to GPL it or choose to sell it, one copy per cpu, thank you. Whether BillG "stole" his code from a university dumpster is idle speculation and baselsss accusation untill you come up with some real solid evidence. People arguing over whether "software should be free" is like debating over what we should do with Robins Limo, or the local collective debating what crops are going to be planted on YOUR farm and family property. Don't you folks dare try to socialize MY code or take MY property or someone's going to get hurt.
  • I really mean "mass amrket". Almost everything
    was custom for one site or a small range of
    computers and cost Big Bucks.

    Then came Apple, Visicalc, Atari ....
  • Wow, 1 company. Tell you what, I'll start listing profitable companies releasing closed source software, you list companies that are profitable and open source or free and we will see who's list is longer...


  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2000 @03:53AM (#770766) Homepage
    He spent some time looking at a disassemble of it and told me the garbarge collection on it was stupid, it was bassicly brute force or some such thing.

    True. I had an old TRS-80 and remember how the "string gathering", as I remember it being called, would cause the computer to just sit there in deep thought for seconds at a time if your program did anything significant with strings. Most of the time I ran with "CLEAR 256" to reduce the string space to minimum, but that was mostly to recover the memory.

    I also remember seeing an ad for a program which replaced the garbage collection with a more efficient one, at the cost of three bytes more per string.

    However bad the string garbage collection may have been, Billy sure knew how to write good 8080/Z80 code. Level II Basic was 12K, I think, and I only found about 35 bytes worth of optimizations in it. This is in contrast to the ColecoVision BIOS ROM, which was 8K, of which I have personally optimized over 1K from!

    I learned some good 8080/Z80 programming techniques from Billy just by disassembling Level II Basic.
  • My Linux usability tools are fvwm2, vi, mutt and abook. KDE and Gnome sit on my machine, but only because I don't need the space yet.
  • it just runs on in emulation [sysun.com].

    The above has links to an Altair emulator complete w/ disk images of BASIC, DISK BASIC, etc plus some popular BASIC games - compiles in Unix, run great.
  • Herr AC has violated Mr. Gates copyright by posting the letter here. Now Bill calls the RIAA, they supoena the slashdot ip records . . .

    [duck]
  • In fairness, there have been three (3) innovations from microsoft:
    1) Altair basic. Face it: there was nothing vaguely similar before this. Yes, there were basic dialects, but writing and marketing to the hobbiest was something new.
    2) The usable footnote (1984). In Word 1.0, footnotes on microcomputers became usable for the first time. Prefviously, you had to do it just like a typewriter, and if you changed your text, you had to manually move the footnote. However, there were pagination errors that would sometimes leave a blank half-page or more so that the footnote and pointer would appear on teh same page. I was stunned to ifnd this bug still existed a year ago . . .
    3) Bob. Yes, microsoft bob. Innovative, yes, but . . .

    As for the windows interface, I have yet to see anything in it that wasn't available in the multifinder (macos 5), introduced in 1987, along with a couple of $20 shareware extensions . . .
  • The problem is that they, like lawyers, charge such large amounts for information that was free to them (lawyers and programmers are trained with library books and Journals, IME) that they can "pull the ladder up after themselves".

    That's simply not true. Exactly the same information is available to you, from exactly the same sources. The reason that lawyers, accountants, consultants &c. bill hourly is is because you are paying for the application of knowledge. It's like riding in a taxi rather than buying a car. It's much cheaper for you to hire me at my hourly rate to solve your problems that it is for you to go to college for my engineering education, then work in industry for a few years to gain experience, and only then begin to address your actual goals.

    While using the net, the web, the published algorithms of people interested in spreading ideas and all the rest of the "free software" movement

    The thing that the entire /. community seems unable to grasp is that if you want third parties (and the general public for that matter) to respect the GPL, then you must show equal respect for their licences.

  • Well, I think Marx was spot on. Those "better Slashdotters" are just regurgitating the so-called "law" of supply and demand, and that was invented when economics *was* all about supply and demand. Marx was a little more forward-thinking.
  • You think the solution is to charge $10,000,000 for the first copy of Windows and make the others free? That's plain stupid. But see my later post - I do agree with you in principle.

    I'm not the one that's whimpering and wailing, by the way - "oh why does copyright exist why can't I have everything free" sounds more like whimpering and wailing to these ears. I have nothing to fear from anarchy, because the government is busy making damned sure it won't happen.

    I'm just trying to explain the situation for the people who can't even comprehend the concept of an economy. Obviously you're not one of these.

  • Yeah, I know. I had "risk" in the back of my mind as I typed this out, but I ran out of time.

    It just goes to show that there are no easy answers.

  • You're right, but even the Open Source model has people pay for support (and Microsoft charge for support). Maintenance is another issue - but in the shrinkwrap model maintenance of V1.0 is simply the development cost of V2.0.

    I deliberately avoided marketing costs because Linux has proved that software can become highly popular without full-page spreads in the Sunday supplements.

    So I think my analysis still stands, given these riders.

  • There's nothing new under the sun ;)
  • Value, in the economic sense, is defined by scarcity

    That's the problem. This is a bad definition of value. It was fine when economics was born, in the 19th century, but it doesn't work today. My arguments circle around this point but never quite make it.

    The probable situation is that information technology simply doesn't fit into a 19th-century economic framework. I think *everyone* on Slashdot would agree with this. It's just the modifications to the framework that we can't quite agree on. The government is going for a path-of-least-resistance evolutionary approach, and that's what we'll be stuck with until someone thinks of something better.

    Personally, I hope I'd choose option (a).

  • I half-agree with what you're saying. I'm not trying to offend. Really ;)

    I don't think the cost is the only reason free software is popular. Hell, let's call it Open Source software explicitly, and then it speaks for itself. It's popular for the reason that people can tweak it and fix bugs and see the source, etc. etc.. But doesn't RMS claim that Open Source software doesn't have to be free anyway? What about Netscape?

    But you then go on to list four people who make a living from free software. Like you say, ESR and RMS speak. If they were nobodies how would they pay the rent?

    Linus and Cox work for companies and do free software in their spare time (actually I think Linus gets a good deal out of this, don't know about Cox). But again, these people are figureheads of the OS movement. It would be a poor show indeed if they couldn't do this.

    But what about us mere mortals?

    I would love nothing more than to muck around in free software. But I have a job, which pays my bills, and in my free time I like to spend time with friends and with my wife. How do I change this situation into one where I'm mucking about with free software?

    Tell me, I'd really like to know. You could change my life if you gave me a good answer to this question.

  • for theft - your damn bloody straight we're going to fight for reasonable capitalist property laws. In all my years I've heard tons of excuses for ip theft - the "it's not worth what they're charging, therefore I can use it w/o paying", etc etc ad nauseum. These wealth redistribution socialists are no better than barbarians storming the neighboring tribe to rape, loot and plunder, all the while thinking it's their divine right, or blathering about all property being transient so gimme-gimme-gimme.

    Essentially, creating something, whether writing code or building a house is an exertion of effort, work, taking pains to accomplish something such as farming, building shelter, digging water wells, hauling irrigation pipes, weeding, etc. in expectation of harvesting a useful crop to feed the family and sell for cash to buy a frying pan. If I take the blood, sweat and tears to cut down a stand of trees and hew them into lumber and make a shelter to keep a stock of corn out of the weather, then I OWN THAT BARN, I made it, and have the right to kick out any transients who are looking for free shelter at someone else's expense. Likewise with someone who perceives an unfulfilled market niche (and 'itch' experienced by people who DONT CODE who might be willing to pay a fee for a coder to scratch) or a better way to do a job and sets about making a 'program' comprised of a list of fundamental microprocessor instructions which when executed by a microprocessor performs a useful data processing task (can't BELEIVE I have to define "write code" :) - such as the non-trivial floating point math (which was the big thing MITS BASIC brought to the Altair - which MUST have been useful to have been pirated so much!) This is a non-trivial task, it takes a lot of concentration and effort many hours a day, intense studying of these lists to find mistakes and not a few asperain bottles, to make a list of instructions to does something useful; what's unfair is when the coder does this expecting a certain set of ip laws to be in effect to AT LEAST pay the rent and buy groceries, and have exployment like the fellows working at the shipyard etc, and then along comes this band of barbarians who think that just because something CAN be copied for pennies that it should be absolutely free for cost of copying, damn the author who expects compensation! In the end it's often not the author but the honest customers who pay for theft, just like a store pays for shoftlifting by charging more that the honest customers pay. While we may balk at working for a company that wants to take ownership of any code we write, could you imagine living in a communist country where everything you produce, corn, beans, is considered state property?? (shudder) For some reason, I beleive(know) that standard human nature will always take over and those whose unfortunate job it is to redistribute the wealth 'fairly' usually end up with the most of it! What this leads to eventually is not a rich, robust society, but a bust society with very little incentive to work at all, since you end up producing X value of goods and receiving X-S value back from the central planning committee, it's just slaver all over again. Corrpution (theft, bribery, etc) in a capitalist society also reduces that incentive. It's AMAZING the crazy and creative things people will do to obtain financial freedom (just look at Hollywood!).

    All in all, what part of a civilized economy do you not understand, or should we all just run around in a giant anarchiac free for all grabbing all the 'transient property' we can get by overpowering the owners?
  • But isn't a person's time a scarce resource? Especially if that person is skilled and therefore rare?

    Supply-and-demand is OK, as long as you don't tie it to the scarcity of physical resources, and acknowledge the scarcity of human resources too.

    About anti-progress: where is the "progress" you desire taking us as a species? If its towards devaluation of human effort then I'd say *that* is anti-progress.

  • I read ESR last night (TCaTB) and I realized that - in a lot of Slashdot discussions - I tacitly assume that the value *is* just the sale value.

    That's because I am one of the 5% of developers whose salary is linked to sale value.

    In the other 95% of the industry, you're almost certainly right - I'm just blinkered to that 95%. In the consumer application/games industry you really can't do much other than sell boxes at $40 a pop.

  • Don't you understand my example or do you doubt its applicability?

    I doubt its applicability.

    In the first case: If you build a house, you typically select a building company a priory, contract the job to them, and (often) pay them as they go.

    Building a house is taking on a substantial risk. A lot of home buyers prefer to buy a house that is already there. Much like software, the benefits only outweigh the risk in the case where custom solutions are necessary ( and when they are, this model is preferred ).

    Now I agree that there are fundamental differences between physical and intellectual property, however, much software has been written following this model. It just has not yet been tried for mass-market software.

    It has not been tried because the copyright model simply works better. If someone could make more money and give consumers better prices using an alternative model, they obviously would do so.

    And think that e.g. the popularity of Linus or Alan Cox or even RMS show that you can get a reputation for excellence and reliability without a traditional development model.

    • These guys are the exception, not the norm. What about all the great programmers out there that no one has heard of ? Are you saying that only famous programmers should get paid ?
    • Good programmers do not necessarily make a good software company, or reliable software products. The way the company is managed has a lot to do with it. ( Take MS as an example of a company who can hire top programmers and still get mediocre results. Or Looking Glass Studios who went down due to poor project management despite the talents of some of their developers )

  • At least it follows something that WORKS!

    DOS worked fine.

Sendmail may be safely run set-user-id to root. -- Eric Allman, "Sendmail Installation Guide"

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