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Software

Don't Be a Sharecropper 431

An anonymous reader writes "Tim Bray, best known as an XML Heavy, has an entertaining rant about why you should be developing for *n*x, OSS, or (especially) the Web. Because if you're on a proprietary platform, you're a "sharecropper"."
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Don't Be a Sharecropper

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  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gortbusters.org ( 637314 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:19PM (#6428316) Homepage Journal
    A farmer who works a farm owned by someone else. The owner provides the land, seed, and tools exchange for part of the crops and goods produced on the farm.

    Unfortunately there is little land left to start you rown business (read: software company). Perhaps you'll get a garden sooner or later, but in the end the chances are against becoming the next Microsoft plantation.

    Damn, need to find some better metaphors here!
    • by geekmetal ( 682313 ) <vkeerthy AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:53PM (#6428513) Journal

      Where the land shall belong to the farmer
      Where the system software is transparent
      Where the programmer can develop without fear (of the owner)
      Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
      Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
      Where the mind is led forward by thee
      Into ever-widening thought and action
      Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

      adapted from Rabindranath Tagore's Geetanjali
    • Squatter (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yintercept ( 517362 )
      People who include licensed software in their products (i.e. Value Added Retailers) might be sharecroppers. But when the code is open sourced and owned by the community, then the developer is at best a squatter. They are working land owned by the state.

      The good folks who move from business to business, and make their living installing Linux systems could be called migrant farm workers.

      Boy, this is a fun game, we can insult white collar workers by comparing them to different types of farmers.
    • I believe you are wrong, there is new land to sow (read: open market for software applications) in the form of the web and a new software foundation with a better licensing scheme (read: OSS, GPL, BSD, etc.).

      If your objective is to build a plantation (read: monopoly) then yes you are doomed to failure. You will not be allowed to own the land (read: internet, software applications) upon which all other farmers (read: developers) are also working.

      The metaphor fits perfectly, its just that you are stuck
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:21PM (#6428330)
    Since I haven't paid for a Microsoft license since Windows 95, I consider myself a squatter.
  • *n*x? (Score:5, Funny)

    by fafaforza ( 248976 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:26PM (#6428352)
    OK I have to ask. What the heck is this?

    I was willing to tolerate *nix, since it might, however remote and esoteric, be an attempt to gather all Unixes under a single label. But *n*x?

    I sure hope it does not deteriorate to a four-letter-word-like ***x. Or maybe *x or x^ ?
  • To summarize: (Score:3, Informative)

    by muyuubyou ( 621373 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:29PM (#6428368)
    What's a Sharecropper? A farmer who works a farm owned by someone else. The owner provides the land, seed, and tools exchange for part of the crops and goods produced on the farm.
    Ok then.
    Are You a Sharecropper? If you're developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company. They own the ground you're building on, and if they decide they don't like you, or they can do something better with the ground, you're toast. They can ship their own product and give it away till you go bust, then start charging for it; and use secret APIs you can't see; and they can break the published APIs you use. All of these things have historically been done by platform vendors.
    We are all sharecroppers for our state or nation anyway, but yes - depending on a company whose aim is to use you for now and completely substitute you in the future makes things look worse.
    How not to be a sharecropper? [...]
    Too bad there seems to be no way to avoid being a sharecropper other than working for server apps. That leaves the market in... how much? 1/100th of the jobs?
    Back to Sharecropping Scoble talks about how much he and Microsoft want to lure developers to build applications for Longhorn, and no surprise. To mangle three metaphors, if you drink that kool-aid, you're either locked in the trunk like Dave Winer says or if you like my metaphor-ware better, you're a sharecropper. Either way, it sucks. Don't go there.
    Well this is slashdot and everybody here knows Micro$oft is evil. Whatever I type on the subject would be redundant. ;)
  • Living in the past (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:30PM (#6428371)
    I support open source 100% but the analysis in the article is very flawed.

    If I have an application for any os, I have the same set of worries no matter what. If its windows yes I do have to worry about microsoft developing their own and giving it away. However how many times has microsoft decided to give away stuff ? If its linux I have to worry about someone reverse engineering my product and making an open source knockoff. In the linux case if their is damage to my IP rights, who am I going to sue college kids with no money ?

    His scenario is further destroyed by the fact that almost no one is upgrading with every release anymore. Theres alot of people that run win95 still even more that run win98 and a heck of alot running win2k. So if microsoft decides to include your product as a giveaway it could be a very long time before it harms your sales.

    The only thing that comes close to sharecropping in the software industry is working for large software companies where you don't have a stake or a say in the management. In that case the platform doesn't matter, youre still screwed.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:44PM (#6428455)
      How many times has MS given something away????

      Let's see... should we start at the beginning?

      Imbedded Tiny Basic into MS DOS - removing all language competitors

      Included primitive Games with windows

      Included Disk Compression, virtually putting Stacker out of business.

      Included Lan management software into the operating system, causing pain to 3com, Novell, and others.

      Gave away the browser, causing serious financial strain to Netscape

      Bought Hotmail (free email), and gave away browser-based email.

      Included a bazillion features into the office suite, eliminating lots of specialized software applications.

      Gave away SQL for small apps, in the form of MSDE.

      Microsoft has made a practice of eliminating competition by giving away software! Where have you been?
      • And Microsoft has recently acquired an anti-virus company, so I'm guessing they're going to try to put Norton and McAfee (or whoever owns them now) out of business.
      • by blowdart ( 31458 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:07PM (#6428572) Homepage
        Imbedded Tiny Basic into MS DOS - removing all language competitors

        Actually IBM put BASICA in the ROM of the XTs, Microsoft put GWBasic in with DOS. Of course, we're all stuck using GWBasic now, as no language competitors exist.

        Included primitive Games with windows

        That's right, we're limited to playing solitare. Damn those linux gamers, with their fancy Wolfenstein 3D that Windows users don't have. Damn microsoft for limiting us to minesweeper.

        Included Lan management software into the operating system, causing pain to 3com, Novell, and others.

        Damn MS for including SNMP, because no other operating system does that.

        Gave away the browser, causing serious financial strain to Netscape

        Damn MS, for killing netscape. There's no other browser but for IE, errr, and Netscape, and Mozilla, and Opera .... Oh, and damn Netscape for killing Mosaic.

        Bought Hotmail (free email), and gave away browser-based email.

        Damn Microsoft, Yahoo can't produce webmail and give it away free now.

        Included a bazillion features into the office suite, eliminating lots of specialized software applications.

        Damn Microsoft for adding features, because all I really want from Office is notepad with a different title bar. Text formatting and tables aren't important to me. And damn those cheeky open office people for doing the same thing, but claiming Open is good.

        Gave away SQL for small apps, in the form of MSDE.

        Damn microsoft, now there are no other database engines out there. Except for Oracle, and a few free ones I read about somewhere. But the free ones are for commies anyway.

        Microsoft has made a practice of eliminating competition by giving away software! Where have you been?

        Great, so lets stop people giving away software. It's obviously bad. Mr Torvalds, to the dungeon with you. Begin the Minesweeper torture!

      • Basic ? It was included with the pc in the roms. BTW do a google on basic and see how they have killed off the competition

        Primitive games with windows. Solitaire, Minesweeper wow this is cutting into blizzards sales.

        Compression, Stacker benefitted immensely from this to the tune of 120 million dollars, of course if a poor college kid had of done it on unix they would have gotten what ? BTW stackers demise might have to do with the fact that only very crazy people compress drive volumes these days

        La
    • by Godeke ( 32895 ) * on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6428670)
      Try:
      * Browser
      * Disk Defragmenting
      * Disk Diagnostics
      * Media Player
      * Remote Desktop Access
      * TCP Stack
      * Terminal Emulator
      * Accessibility Extensions
      * Zip file utility
      * I'm sure there are more, that's just from the top of my head...

      Each of these *was* a viable community of third party software. Now they are just assumed into the OS. Some still have product out there, because of entrenchment. Microsoft says this is good for the consumer, and frankly I have to agree in most cases. But don't say "how many times", because the OS encloses more space on every revision.
      • Of those the only ones that are giveaways are browser and the mediaplayer
        To get Defragmenting, disk diagnostics, remote desktop client, tcp stack, the terminal emulator, accesibility and zip utilities you had to upgrade your O.S. This is a purchase

        If you buy a car and tires are inclueded is it a giveaway ? You might as well rail at IBM for including the keyboard when with the MAC it was an optional add on. It aint a giveaway unless its retroactively made available to you for free. The fact that micr
        • " To get Defragmenting, disk diagnostics, remote desktop client, tcp stack, the terminal emulator, accesibility and zip utilities you had to upgrade your O.S. This is a purchase"

          That's a cop out and you know it.
          • You'd be really upset if unix didn't come with fschk .
            • I believe the point of the article was to show that if you are building for a proprietary system, you are on "borrowed time". Basically, as soon as your sector becomes lucritive, it will be absorbed. The fact that users upgrade systems periodically means that the utility market becomes more and more marginalized. I am *not* saying this is a bad thing, but your original comment said "how many times" and I counted a few examples. Saying "you have to buy the upgrade" doesn't negate the fact that the next gener
    • If you're stuff is popular/ubiquitous it is going to be reverse engineered no matter what the native platform is. For small timers, "IP rights" are a lose/lose situation. As you say, college kids have no money and you will not win against the likes of MS or IBM.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:30PM (#6428372)
    Microsoft
    Controlled
    Slave
    Element

    I can hear the squealing begin. Must be cutting too close to the bone...

  • by LordOfYourPants ( 145342 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:30PM (#6428374)
    Then what does developing the cygwin libraries make you? A serf? A blockbuster?

    Also, an inaccuracy in the article:

    "Are You a Sharecropper? If you're developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company. They own the ground you're building on, and if they decide they don't like you, or they can do something better with the ground, you're toast."

    This doesn't even make sense to me. The analogy doesn't work. If I code a game made to work in windows 98, Microsoft can not (at this point) block your game from being run at the OS level (aka "taking away land") but really only through suing you to stop the game from being distributed.

    Do I have this wrong? This doesn't sound like being a sharecropper, but living next door to a cranky neighbour who might sue you for keeping your lawn unkempt and lowering neighbouring property values.
    • This doesn't even make sense to me. The analogy doesn't work. If I code a game made to work in windows 98, Microsoft can not (at this point) block your game from being run at the OS level (aka "taking away land") but really only through suing you to stop the game from being distributed

      You can only say that after March of next year. As long as patches get released (for 98 or IE on 98, or DX), you can't say they aren't going to block you technically.
    • If I code a game made to work in windows 98, Microsoft can not (at this point) block your game from being run at the OS level (aka "taking away land") but really only through suing you to stop the game from being distributed.


      What they can do is put out a service pack (or in the probable case of Longhorn, an entire OS release) that breaks your game. Ideally, you release a patch; the problem is the worst case, where you (the developer) have to go out and get an entire new toolchain (new copy of Visual Studio, etc). Even though update prices are usually modest, you may not want to keep lots of VMWare images on your hard drive, multiple toolchains, etc.

      So far, the effect has been minimal: people knew from the start that NT4 wasn't W9x, and things acted differently. However their latest moves are much more bold - Longhorn may be radically different from what we see today.

      Unix is as much a collection of behaviors as it is lines of code. Moving from a.out to ELF meant patching and recompiling, sure, but the only investment is time, and in many cases you could do it at your leisure. Commercial software can get EOL'd and you have no choice but to plan your migration (witness the many companies happy with NT4, who are now forced to migrate to W2k or XP).
    • They can make a press release like this: Windows Version 1000000 will no longer support DirectX in favor of something better, our new super gamer's library. Directx will no longer install on the windows platform. Then...You have to rewrite the game if it is made for their DirectX library (I only use it as an example because many write games in Directx).

      But what's that you say, you wrote it for SDL? Microsoft in a daring move announced a brand new hardware interface to the graphic card totally invalidat
  • by LinuxInDallas ( 73952 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:32PM (#6428385)
    sharecroppers.

    He gives the story of Watson vs Sherlock. But what if sherlock was someone's open source/free project. What is the difference from the viewpoint of the "sharecropper" between having the rug pulled out from under you by a new piece of software that gets added to windows and a free version that someone develops. To the end user, they both look free (as in beer of course.)

    • He certainly didn't make his point, whatever it was.

      One could point out that on controlled platforms one always faces the threat of competetion from the platform itself, and you can't fight back because the competeting app is shipped with the platform and has access to interfaces you don't know about. While on Free Software platforms at least everyone competes equally.

      But that didn't make sense with his remarks about Sherlock and so on. If he wrote Sherlock for Linux he would discover that a crappy but
    • by AstroDrabb ( 534369 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:44PM (#6428804)
      If Sherlock was someones open source/free software, then it would not be distributed and "integrated" into the OS. Thus both apps would have to compete on fair grounds. On OS should be a totaly open and application agnostic foundations. An OS needs to have all of its internals available for anyone to build upon and not as a means for a monopoly to take over another part of the playing field. Look at how much MS is controlling and how much more they are taking. They "integrated" a browser to suck up that market and broke away from being standards compliant to lock 90% of the desktop market into using thier browser. They are now "integrating" media player to steal the market way from WinAmp and RealPlayer. They have now purchased an anti-virus app to "integrate" into the os to kill off McAfee and Norton. The sad thing is that Norton and McAfee have put all thier eggs into the MS platform and then MS does a move like this and will render Norton's and McAfee's offerings almost worthless. This is the major problem with a monopoly and this is why I don not support them. I am amazed at how many people continue to be blind to this fact. If people started moving to an OS that was open and agnostic to what applications a user wants to run, then the hardware and software vendors would follow and have thier products on those platforms in no time. They will go where the demand is. For the most part they have stayed with the MS platform because of the monopoly. Every new consumer PC that has been sold for years has only been allowed to have an MS OS on it. MS will not stop until they own every major IT market or we stop them. The government will not stop them because all MS has to do us up thier bribes [opensecrets.org] like they did during thier anti-trust case and they will be fine. Start to learn Linux and/or *BSD now. Get your friends and family members to do the same. Email hardware and software makers demanding support for Linux/*BSD. This is the only way to bring choice back.
  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:32PM (#6428388)
    Do not place yourself under the boot of the capitalist pig-dog proprietary platforms any longer!

    Rise programming proletariat, rise and be free!

    • The sharecropper analogy reminded me of a 'Father and Son' cartoon by Peter van Straaten. The cartoon is set in the 70s with an arch-conservative father and his rebellious son with socialist ideals:

      Son:"But dad, if only you would see how the capitalists become rich at the expense of the workers, it'd be enough to make anyone become a socialist."
      - Father: "That is a rather unhealthy response. A healthy Dutch lad will work hard and become a capitalist himself!"

      This happens in the software industry as
  • by kabdib ( 81955 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:32PM (#6428391) Homepage
    All computer applications fall into one of three baskets: information retrieval, database interaction, and content creation...

    Huh. So, when I'm fragging bad guys in Quake, is that "database interaction" or "content creation?"

    Browsers are more usable because they're less flexible.

    "Gosh, this ball and chain is great! I don't have to run anywhere near as fast as I used to in order to get the same amount of exercise!"
    • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @02:00PM (#6428890) Journal
      Huh. So, when I'm fragging bad guys in Quake, is that "database interaction" or "content creation?"

      Database interaction. What you see on the screen is a representation of the data inside the computer, and you have a selection of ways of manipulating that data, and no significant way of entering your own data. This describes Quake as well as your local Human Resources application. Quake may look pretty, but fundamentally, that's all it is.

      Remember Doom? Remember Doom's automap? Remember you could still run around, and depending on your keybindings, fire and everything? The graphics are just window dressing, the fundamental data model is not that complicated.

      "Content creation" is when you are authoring your own levels, which is a seperate function. Note how night-and-day different the interface is.

      "Gosh, this ball and chain is great! I don't have to run anywhere near as fast as I used to in order to get the same amount of exercise!"

      You misunderstand. Browsers are good for the users because it's not possible to do complicated things in the browser. Browsers are good for the users precisely because they hobble the developers.

      It's worth noting that we are only now hearing developers really seriously chomp at the bit, and even so, it's muted. And about 75% of the moaning I've heard will go away when and if browsers build a better text entry field, preferably with good spell-checking, into the browser. This would have long since happened if Microsoft did not have a strategic interest in not doing this and if they did not own so much of the browser market. This all strongly implies that the vast majority of time, we do not need all the singing, dancing widgets we think we do. (There are many exceptions, but if you think about it you'll find most of them are in the "content creation" bucket Timothy Bray mentions and explcitly excepts.)

      In fact, this is exactly why Microsoft has not built spellchecking and (easy) rich text entry into the browser: with those two features alone, one can easily build cheap apps that would catch about 75% of the common use cases for Microsoft Office, and correspondingly fewer people would need to buy it. (For instance, "student papers" would be quite adequately covered with a good rich-text web entry application, plus a few accoutrements for footnotes and a bibliography.)

      Meanwhile, users are jumping for joy that "Ctrl-Meta-x, Alt-# while in the Mitigating Preferences tab of the Technobabble Control Dialog" can't be made to do anything in a browser.
      • ...about 75% of the moaning I've heard will go away when and if browsers build a better text entry field

        No, I think Bray is way off base here. The browser's page based metaphor greatly impedes the design of appropriate database interfaces.

        I basically disagree with any argument premised on the notion that you shouldn't give people too much power, because they don't know what to do with it and they'll screw stuff up. Sure, if you give form designers the gamut of imaginable tools, you'll see some pretty h
  • by BillsPetMonkey ( 654200 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:33PM (#6428401)
    Like many high profile OSS ranters, he's ignoring the fact that if most workers try to challenge their company's existing model (the sharecropping model) they are likely to be firebranded in their jobs or worse. Fine if you work for yourself or whatever, not fine if you have bills to pay and a status quo to keep.

    We'd all love to get paid to do interesting stuff on exciting platforms (I'm an RHCE, but in my current job we don't even have a Linux box in the building). Unfortunately, boring stuff on Windows keeps the rest of us (and our numbers are dwindling) in jobs.

    I might be modded a troll, but then some mods have more time and more idealism, others are pragmatic.
    • by JonnyRo88 ( 639703 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:11PM (#6428594) Homepage Journal
      I have been in a similar situation.

      I do a lot of computer-technician stuff on the side, like fixing servers, installing software, repairing computers.

      What I really like to do is work on server programming and linux system configuration, but I generally do not get too much call for that. Most of the money I make on the side is usually gained from fixing whatever crappy software incompatiblity problem introduced in the latest version of Internet Explorer or windows.

      In specialized industries (read Apartment Management as one) companies tend to have VERY expensive software that only runs well on one version of windows or on one version of Internet Explorer. When the companies who wrote this software went web based they tried to use ActiveX controls to give them the exact same power over user interfaces that they had when they were developing their stuff in Visual Basic or C.

      99% of the support calls I get is to go out and return IE to version 5.5 after it breaks compatibility with some overengineered web based application (that depends heavily on ActiveX for cute menus and the like).

      To add insult to injury, software companies in these specialized markets tend to like to keep their customer's data close so they cant switch providers. Usually this means that the web based software is hosted on some machine far far away, that no one but them will ever have a chance at debugging.

      People try to use their existing models far after they are outdated, and it only hurts the customer. Just ask anyone in the Appartment Management industry how many times they have been burned by vendors.

      -Jonathan
    • Unfortunately, boring stuff on Windows keeps the rest of us (and our numbers are dwindling) in jobs.

      How about those of us that actually do 'interesting' stuff on Windows? In my case we have a great hardware product with a combination of open source and closed source libraries/applications. The closed source part of our libraries consist mostly of software models of our hardware (our product) and are thus pieces of intelectual property that we are not willing to freely distribute. Our librararies and appli
    • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @03:51PM (#6429396)


      Like many high profile OSS ranters, he's ignoring the fact that if most workers try to challenge their company's existing model (the sharecropping model) they are likely to be firebranded in their jobs or worse. Fine if you work for yourself or whatever, not fine if you have bills to pay and a status quo to keep.


      Shifts in the IT industry don't happen overnight. Even "the Internet" took years to become widely adopted. That is, years after it managed to hit the mainstream. And this is a sector of technology whose association with radical and fast adoption coined its own "Internet time" phrase. Open Source, and its poster child Linux, are very similar.

      This sort of article isn't a call to arms and demand for radical change. It doesn't expect you to mass in to your work's datacenter and reformat everything to *BSD, Linux, or whatever is your favorite OS platform. It doesn't expect you to stomp in to your boss' office and demand "give me OS projects, or give me a pink slip."

      But it is a call for change.

      If you code on your own, look at OS alternatives. If you have any chance to comment on choices of technology or new trends, mention OS alternatives. If a new project comes up and you have a chance to work with OS technology, jump at the chance.

      The environment I'm working now used to be a very conservative Windows shop. Sure there was Unix and Open Source architecture hiding out in the wings. But whenever management's gaze hit on some aspect of the IT infrastructure, it was inevitable that a Windows solution was to follow. Not anymore.

      We are currently replacing key pieces of architecture with a mix of OS infrastructure and proprietary applications that run on that infrastructure. We are critical of solutions that are based on Windows. And even in situations where Windows is the safer bet, we are also deploying Linux systems to compare and provide perspective.

      Our infrastructure is still involves a lot of Windows. It probably will for years. And there are still a good number of Windows bigots and zealots around pushing for that status quo. But over the years, our environment has changed. Management's outlook has changed. And the scope of available projects have changed.

      But it took years to happen.
  • by kbonin ( 58917 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:35PM (#6428411) Homepage
    How about a small pulpit icon, to represent that the following story contains religious views regarding open source software?

    While there are many of us who enjoy contributing to open source (myself included), the fact remains that the majority of people who program for a living are constrained to do so on proprietary platforms of one form or another, even if they are working on proprietary applications built on top of open source software.

    Articles (and topics) such as these, while nice trollbait and conversation fodder, nonetheless constitute a view that is basically a religious viewpoint - the position that giving up your evil proprietary platforms and converting to one of the true open source ways will save you, while somehow not causing you and your family (and bandwidth hungry habits) to starve to death, is as much a position based on blind faith as any other I've ever heard.
  • Until (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruha ( 412869 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:35PM (#6428412) Homepage Journal
    Until the people put Microsoft back into it's place (OS Development only) and also break the DirectX sharecropping the whole point is moot.

    But look at who's gotten sharecropped.

    Winzip
    Realplayer/MusicMatch
    Netscape
    I can go on..

    It's true anytime someone comes up with a good idea MS goes ahead and builds it into their OS. Look at what they did to Java when it came out you had Sun Java and MS said nope.. lets make MS Java and make it work better with windows than Sun Java..

    They took HTML and did the same thing.. Now many people have to program for IE and then the Other browsers as time permits.

    Basically the inability of the US courts to stop Microsoft from doing what they continue to do is the same as the south winning the civil war.
    • Re:Until (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dr. Photo ( 640363 )
      Basically the inability of the US courts to stop Microsoft from doing what they continue to do is the same as the south winning the civil war.

      I invoke Colonel Sanders' Corollary to Godwin's Law! [catb.org]

      You must now eat fried chicken 'till doomsday.
  • poor (Score:2, Insightful)

    This is a very poor article, which makes a very poor analogy.

    While I agree with the author that developing code for closed source platforms may be helping out a company, I hardly think that makes you a "sharecropper." Just because you write a program for Windows, doesn't mean it becomes Bill Gates' personal property now.

    Really, it's worse than this, because the author appears to be trying to incite some kind of revolt in the programming community against all kinds of closed-source development. Uh, hello
    • Re:poor (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maditude ( 473526 )
      This is a very poor article, which makes a very poor analogy. ...snip...
      Might as well have titled the aticle, "Don't Write Software for Windows, or You're A Coon!" Pathetic.


      This is a ridiculous summary you've put together, Mr Fux. It was in no way mean-spirited or racist, seems to me it was just a playful way to point out the dangers of vendor lock-in, that's all.
    • Really, it's worse than this, because the author appears to be trying to incite some kind of revolt in the programming community against all kinds of closed-source development.

      Getting rid of closed-source developers would be terrible for open source - there would be nothing left to copy or get ideas from.
    • Finally, I think the author does an even greater disservice, and exposes his bias, by referring to sharecroppers in a derogatory manner.

      He does no such thing. He recognizes that sharecroppers are in a very weak position, and if anything empathizes with them. If a sharecropper doesn't produce much, he suffers. If he does, then the land owner figures out that the land is too good to let the sharecropper take his cut from it, and either kicks the sharecropper out or renegotiates the percentages so that

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:38PM (#6428420)
    It's an idealistic rant, and as with most idealistic rants you should listen, remember a few points, and then go back to what you were doing. If you get all nutty and won't touch anything but Linux, for example, then you're just hurting yourself. Look at it this way, over 50% of homes in the United States (don't know about other countries) now have PCs, and 95+ percent of them are running Windows. That's a big, big, big market. Getting all high and mighty doesn't make that go away.
    • I, for example, still use win2k for my desktop. I also use it for a proxy just because the free proxomitron is so easy to use, flexible, and adds many useful features without requiring me to read a fucking tome on squid or some such.

      On my desktop I use mozilla for browsing the web, zoom player for videos, winamp for music, irfanview for pictures and flash movies, mozilla (again) for mail, Agent and powergrab for newsgroups, and PGP disk to keep it all together and organized (rather than use "partitions" fo

  • browser uber alles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:38PM (#6428422) Homepage
    The article has a lot of extreme generalizations, one of which is that the browser is better than a full-featured user interface because it's easier to use.

    It was so wonderful when the browser interfaces came on; the vendors had to discard all those stupid sliders and cascaded menus and eight-way toggles, and only leave the stuff that mattered.
    There are badly designed GUI apps, but there are also badly designed web pages, and badly designed web interfaces. I teach at a school that uses a browser-based system for entering grades, scheduling classes, etc. The interface sucks, because it's slow and unresponsive, and you have to click through many web pages in a row in order to get where you want.

    There's also a problem with saying web==open. A lot of web applications use proprietary extensions, like Flash. Actually, one of the coolest web apps I've seen recently is a Flash video game on a Harry Potter web site.

  • Are You a Sharecropper? If you're developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company.

    I can't say I agree completely with this definition of ShareCropper.

    Are You really a Sharecropper if you're developing software using well established standard API's implemented on Windows? Is it really Sharecropping to use the standard TCP/IP stack implementation on Windows? As long as

  • At work, you are pretty much a sharecropper anyway. Often they provide the operating environment, hardware, software, and everything else while you just do the work. Should they decide to reorganize or just make bad decisions they can terminate you at will. Even worse, often many here at their jobs are Sharecropper^2.

    1. They are sharecroppers at their job as said (sharecropper) 2. Their place of employment has chosen Microsoft(SQL Server 2000, .NET, etc.), Oracle, SAP, etc. mostly out of convenience
  • by kabir ( 35200 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:44PM (#6428451)
    This article has the fundamental flaw of completely ignoring the market place. While it's great that there are folks out there who can make a living creating applications for *nix platforms the bottom line is that that just isn't true for all of us. Look, for example, at the games industry: despite how much we want people to make games for, say, Linux there just isn't the market to support Linux only (or even *nix only) game development right now. If studios want to make their money back on big budget titles (which is what the consuers want to play) then they need to sell a _lot_. That's just not going to happen, as I think Loki amply demonstrated - they did a great job, but even without the costs of initial development (they only did ports) they couldn't keep it together long enough to avoid going out of business. The market just isn't there.

    The article ignores this idea completely, to it's detriment.
  • Short version... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:45PM (#6428458) Journal

    If you're doing something I don't approve off (ie; developing software for a closed system) you're dumb and I'll use a whole page on this here interweb to tell everyone.

    Okay. so he has one or two points, the first is that the corp that owns the OS can develop their own software and give it away to push you out of business. Funny, I can't say I see that MS Paint or even Adobe PhotoShop (btw, by his logic, Adobe are sharecroppers) have prevented PaintShopPro from becoming successfull... I don't see how the inclussion of CD-burner functionality in the latest OS from the softwaregiant we love to hate has slowed down the sale of for instance Nero... and despite the fact that a certain company bundles a browser with their OS, Opera and other alternative browsers seems to be gathering followers by the minute.

    His second point is more strained; that the one controlling the OS is the one in controll of all sotware that runs on it. This is, as even I can see, stupid at best and FUD at worst. If this held even remoptly true, each and every firm that makes any sort of software, be it wordprossessors, MP3-rippers or graphicsmanipulators, would provide their own underlying OS to stop others from using it to something else... No one can controll what people run on their computers, no matter what OS.

    There will always be a marked for second- and thirdparty developers on all operatingsystems, both closed and open source. The difference is, if you develop for closed source, it's more accepted to actually ask for some money to compensate for the time you too to write the code.

    So in the end, I'll say he is plain wrong. There are a number of good reasons to develop for OSS, but this is not one of them.

  • A farmer who works a farm owned by someone else. The owner provides the land, seed, and tools exchange for part of the crops and goods produced on the farm.

    As someone who observed the sharecropper society/economy a little bit -- it died out here while I was still very young -- I think there's a bit missing. Typically, the farmer also provided housing for the sharecroppers, with the rent taken out of the profits. Seed would be sold at a ramped-up price, because the farmer & not the sharecropper could

  • Announce the Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idealius ( 688975 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:49PM (#6428480) Journal

    I just had a conversation about this topic with one of my co-workers: Seems Microsoft just lets new software markets run until a clear victor is decided by the end users, then they completely redo it and destroy the competition taking the valuable ideas from the previous victor.

    One way to go is to cross-platform develop. Most of the development I do is for games and as such I use allegro:

    http://www.allegro.cc/ [allegro.cc]

    If you go to the site you'll see plenty of mediocre games, but once you realize the power and dev-friendliness behind the allegro library you'll be hooked.

    One could create an OpenGL accelerated game (using AllegGL) without changing a line of code! Realistically, you would want to change some code anyway, but everyone interested in game development should check it out.

    The only thing it's missing is a bonified network library. It has some out there, just none that I would consider complete or complete & useful.

    Can't wait to finish the game and then release it for DOS, Windows 98, ME, 2K, XP, Linux -- possibly Mac and even BeOS! (stability issues with the last two, I believe.)

  • by simetra ( 155655 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:49PM (#6428482) Homepage Journal
    As much as I would enjoy not building MS-centric apps, tools, etc, it pays a lot more than building free stuff. Building only free stuff would be okay if you're independently wealthy and have no life.

    Here's an analogy. Say you live on an island of vegetarians. You do happen to have your own land, and decide to raise pigs. That's fine and dandy, until you need to sell your pigs to pay the bills.

    Redundant, perhaps, but hey, I get tired of this you-suck-if-you-support-MS ranting. Really, we all do what it takes to pay the bills. Maybe rather than sitting around ranting anti-MS, people could try doing something like making actually useful, easy-to-use-and-configure-for-the-bonehead-masses stuff.

    Hmph.
  • This analogy is also lost in inhouse development. In this case, no matter what OS platform you develop on, you're still a sharecropper and can't do ANYTHING about it.

    You must write for your company's environment. You must follow company specifications. You must use certain driver versions, DLL's, etc. You must use company network drives and directories (that can change on a whim).

    Unless you're a solo developer, you're gonna be a sharecropper; you have to do whatever your company tells you to and use t
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @12:53PM (#6428515)
    Bray jumps from the Watson/Sherlock experience to branding everyone who uses proprietary tools as a sharecropper. His argument would be more convincing if he cited more than this single case of a big company pulling the rug out from a little company. (Yes, they exist, but they are few compared with the number of working developers.)

    In any case, what Bray is really saying is that if you develop for open source and/or the web, then no one is going to come along with a new product that mimics or competes with yours.

    Of course, that's wrong. Competition exists. In fact, a case could be made that opportunities for competition in the open source arena is greater than in the proprietary arena because the cost of entry, development and distribution are much lower. (E.g., see Gnome vs KDE)
    • Well, I can think of a few cases that seem to apply, if you're interested.

      There used to be more than one word processor for MS OSes: WordStar, Ami, Q&A (primarily a DB manager, but a lot of people preferred to included word processor to the other choices of the day), and of course, WordPerfect--which dominated the market until Microsoft decided to take it over. Now (effectively) there's only one: Word.

      In the same vein, there used to be a lot of choices in the spreadsheet category: CalcStar, Lotus 123,

    • In any case, what Bray is really saying is that if you develop for open source and/or the web, then no one is going to come along with a new product that mimics or competes with yours.

      It is truly scary how many people can't read.

      What he's really saying is that there is no vendor for the web or open source that can shift the ground out from underneath you, and either absorb your functionality or just destroy it, without you having any recourse. One of the ways a platform vendor can accomplish this is to b
  • If you're developing software for the Windows platform, then you might be a sharecropper.

    Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company, then you might be a sharecropper.

  • Guy's a moron.

    All computer applications fall into one of three baskets: information retrieval, database interaction, and content creation. History shows that the Web browser, or something like it, is the right way to do the first two.

    I disagree with his pigeonholes but that's not the issue. Every app I write would fall into the second category, and there is one universal truth: Web applications take longer to develop. End of story. Who knows, maybe it will be different later on. For now, the same applica

  • by drdale ( 677421 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:04PM (#6428558)
    I'm not a software developer, but I read the article and (I think) followed the reasoning. The analogy is probably a good one, but part of what is good about it is that you can extend the analogy to explain the major weak spot in the argument. If you develop for Windows, etc., you are a sharecropper---but you get access to a huge farmer's market where only sharecroppers get to sell their produce (products) and where lots and lots of customers come to buy. If not, then you're relegated to a roadside stand on a highway that may potentially get tons of traffic, but isn't seeing that much yet.
  • by Spoing ( 152917 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:17PM (#6428623) Homepage
      1. It's a lousy position to be in, because you're never going to make much, and if the land's owner finds something better to do with the land, you're history.

      A practical example of this is Watson, the product mentioned above, which did very nicely, thank you, on the Macintosh, until the owner of the land brought out Sherlock, a very nice program that did many of the same things.

    Going with that analogy in a competitive environment, if you make a useful widget and someone else makes an improved version...your version has to change or it is history. The Linux and open source worlds are also impacted by this -- Example: The current switch to ALSA from OSS. Part of the OSS to ALSA switch is philosophical, though ALSA does have some damn nice features.

    The main difference in the non-competitive and competitive worlds is that since the 'land' is not owned the best widget can be chosen -- though not necessarily. Either way, the results can be similar; new app comes along and old app turns into worm food.

    That said, the effects are quite different in a non-competitive world; I used to work for a company that was hit heavily when Microsoft bundled an acceptable replacement of my old company's utility. Sure, if MS didn't do it then someone else could have done it later...though the new commer would have to compete. Microsoft didn't have to...so the company went from ~100 down to ~25 in the space of a year. I've heard it's a 2 person group now providing another set of tools.

  • Many of his arguments apply to open source OSs also. You're still writing software that supports the "land" owned by someone else (since open source is still owned, unless we're talking public domain operating systems). Open source OSs are often distributed by companies who have a lot of influence - so you're still helping those companies make money, and if those companies choose to supply an alternative program as standard with the distribution which does what yours does, then you're in the same situation

  • by bj8rn ( 583532 )
    Don't Be a Sharecropper
    Software | Posted by CmdrTaco on Sunday July 13, @07:17PM
    from the stuff-to-read dept.

    Disk Drives Explained
    Data Storage | Posted by CowboyNeal on Sunday July 13, @03:07PM
    from the stuff-to-read dept.

    Never seen that kind of thing happen before, though. Must have been a wild party last night or something :7

  • First... sharecropper? No. When I buy a Windows product, its mine. They can't "take it back" or "decide they have a better use for it".

    The best you can get away with is there are 2 plots of land available. One is free, the other costs money. Both will become obsolete in a couple of years and you'll have to buy new land. They're both in opposite parts of the country, so if you pay for a piece of land, but want your next one to be free, it'll be expensive to carry all your equipment across the country.
  • Wile I strongly believe in making your code as well cross platform as possible, but this cannot always be the case. For Different OS's even among Unix and Unix like OS (Like LInux) make it difficult for always making true platform independent OS. But even if you make software for one platform only it is not sharecropping it is still your code not the OS Makers, you will still reap the profits from the code, not the OS Maker, (The only good example I would think an OS Maker reaps the profit from a 3rd part
  • What rubbish! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bobintetley ( 643462 )
    Ok, I don't like WebForms and I don't think .NET is upto much but come on! Web interfaces SUCK if you are wanting to create a rich environment for data input. I just spent 6 months doing a project to convert a crappy set of JSPs to Delphi because users hated the browser. GUIs offer hotkeys, popup menus, custom controls, datetime calendar controls, etc. etc. (BTW, does that make me a sharecropper? I develop free software for free platforms in my spare time, but I'm paid to write software in whatever the fuck
  • Are You a Sharecropper? If you're developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company.

    So Apple are the bad guys... and the good guys....

    How Not to be a Sharecropper If you develop server-side software that runs on Unix (by which I mean any platform that runs bash and creates processes with fork(), which includes GNU/Linux, Solaris, AIX, and many others), you're not a sha

  • Other posters have done an excellent job of dissecting flawed analogies in this piece (which is a nice bit of idealism, but impractical)... but there's one other thing that I personally find amusing.

    I'm a programmer by trade -- OSS doesn't feed me. My job does. (Actually, I'm laid off, so someone, please, hire me, because my OSS work still isn't feeding me.) And when I'm programming off the job, I'm going to do it in a way that I enjoy, on the platform that I enjoy working with most, because I'm doing i
  • by MarkWatson ( 189759 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:37PM (#6428761) Homepage
    OK, I enjoyed the article.

    However, my Java code is portable. Same goes for LispWorks Common LISP: build once and deploy on all of the OS platforms that I am interested in. Python code is portable.

    So, Bray's argument should be don't use proprietary APIs.

    I do agree that writing web services avoids lockin problems. I hardly ever write standalone GUI apps anymore - everything is either a web service (SOAP, XML-RPC, or XML over HTTP) or has a web based front end.

    -Mark

  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:39PM (#6428773)
    He kind of misses the fact that there is a market out there, and that, well, growing carrots on your own farm doesn't really help if there is NO MARKET for carrots.

    Saying "Do not develop for proprietary platforms" is absurd, that's where the money is, that's what everyone uses at the moment.

    In a good software product, the core elements will be portable, and moving to a new platform, if need be, will not be a problem...
    it's analogous to a sharecropper using his own techniques to grow food, which are only known to him, and also having his own, smaller farm on the side, as well as having a few leads on new land where people are encouraging him to come over and develop. His big sharecrop might not be great, but he has options.

    Saying it is about OSS is rediculous.. if Linux for some reason ceases to be a desirable platform for people, your software business is in the same boat... your farm up and left.

    There are many rasons to develop for OSS.. but this isn't one of them. Developing for Apple, or Microsoft, or anyone, yes, you have to worrk if that one vendor stops supporting development.. but to stop supporting developers on your OS is suicide.

  • by FortranDragon ( 98478 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @01:53PM (#6428852)
    I seem to remember that Apple came out with Sherlock, then Karelia decided to do Sherlock one better (thus the name Watson -- Sherlock Holmes sidekick). Gee, guess what? Apple did the _obvious_ enhancement of Sherlock that looks a lot like Watson. Then the Karelia folks whined about Apple doing to Karelia what Karelia tried to do to Apple. Pot = Kettle = Black it seems to me.

    Yeah, it isn't any fun when the big guys move into your niche, but you can survive. It does require you to be at the top of your game, however, and to meet the needs of your customers better than the big guys. That isn't easy, but it can be done. Not whining about the situation and focusing on your products would be a better idea to me.
  • If your New Idea is really new, and good enough, get a patent on it. Then, when the big guys want to do it, they have to pay you.

    This involves sizable legal fees and tough negotiations, but I make considerable money that way.

  • by geoff lane ( 93738 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @02:26PM (#6429016)
    Browsers are good because they provide a reasonably useful least common denominator.

    Browsers are bad for the same reason.

    Most web based apps are about as user friendly as an IBM 3270 block mode terminal of the 1970s.

    We should be doing better. We have the tools and can always rely on Microsoft to show us the route to avoid.
  • While this article does a nice job of illustrating some of the problems in today's computing environment, it does a poor job of explaining how to get us to stop being sharecroppers.

    It's pretty obvious that it's healthier not to be a sharecropper vendor. But a little thought shows that it's better not to be a customer on a sharecropper's platform. When something good and new comes along, the chances are less that it'll be scooped and monopolized by the landlord, and greater that it'll develop into a health

  • I've read some of the comments and have found so many that I disagree with that I decided to not respond to any of them. IMHO this is a very good artical and he makes an excellent point which I think developers need to heed.

    In many cases the OS is not what will lock you in. It depends on the software you are developing. Nevertheless SOMETHING will end up locking the software in unless the developers take special care to avoid this.

    I've probably got more experiance than most people in slashdot for a coup
  • Yeah, Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @02:34PM (#6429058) Homepage Journal
    After the Civil War, sharecroppers got to do relatively interesting work that they liked to do and were in the top 10% of the salary range at the time. As a software developer for a company, I am definitely not a sharecropper in any sense of the word.

    Now musicians, on the other hand... Up until the Internet, the only way for a band to get national coverage was to buy into the RIAA's sharecropping scheme. Now you can put your band's MP3s on your web site, but chances are that (among other things) the RIAA will see that you're hosting a bunch of MP3s and have your ISP shut you down. Music is a much closer analogy to sharecropping than programming is.

    • What a thinly veiled attempt at a troll.

      The RIAA isn't going to shut your own band's site down because you're hosting your own MP3s of original songs. Get real, buddy.

      They're in the business of protecting their members, not offensively eliminating non-members. Their tactics are questionable.

      Although the RIAA:mafia analogy extends to a certain threshold, the RIAA isn't *actually* the mafia.
  • by Hangtime ( 19526 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @04:01PM (#6429442) Homepage
    These people have forgotten that all user interfaces used to be "richer environments," which the users abandoned by the millions, in favor of the browser, the moment they got a chance. I said millions and I meant millions: tens of millions, hundreds of millions of browser downloads from the Netscape that was, and the software vendors fighting the rearguard actions to defend their "richer," "more responsive," "higher-performance" client software; and losing, losing.

    Hey, I cashed in on it. Open Text got to be a successful vendor of content management software largely because we were the first to do it all through the browser, with no client software. Our stuff didn't do all that much more, but given a choice between client and browser, the people wanted the browser.

    People want the browser not for the fact it makes for a simpler application in a GUI sense but for the fact you do not have to install and run it from a desktop. We do nothing but web apps in my company now and the reason is we have 18 different branches and no one wants to push an application out to that many individuals each time there is a fix. A thriving industry has been created by the need to install applications locally on desktops and insure the correct licensing of that software. As a consumer of software, I don't want to pay for those things. In addition, users don't want to have install an application on their desktop when they can go to a website and do the same thing.

    The reason this trade-off between functionality and universal access has occurred is that people find more value in server-centric management and universal access today for those simple applications where I am entering some information or retrieving it. I think we will see the rise of "richer" web applications over the next few years because there is a need for better controls if for no other reason then productivity and efficiency gains. Working with large blocks of information on a web page can be very cumbersome to the user. Client-Server computing (VB, Delphi, insert your favorite GUI-centric language here), GUIs became much more functional in what they could do over time, the browser-based application will follow the same path, but now with the added convenience of server-based management and fixes, and universal access for all users. The user, the administrator, and the developer all get what they want. Of course as the author has pointed out we may start seeing web-based GUIs become more unusuable, but that is a design flaw of the developer and can occur on any platform.

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @04:15PM (#6429498)
    Tim Bray might be an "XML Heavy," but he's obviously never set foot on a farm. He throws around the word "sharecropper" as if there's a stigma attached to it, when in reality sharecropping is a way of life for some people, just the same as working an assembly line or in the mines is a way of life for others.

    My wife's family owns a 600-acre farm in southern Illinois. We have a sharecropping family that has farmed the land for over three generations. They have lived rent-free, all utilities and taxes paid, during this entire time. They are paid a fair wage in addition to bonuses from the farm's profits. College, if they choose to attend, is paid for. Their income, once the fringe benefits are added back, is probably greater than the average income for all professions in the St. Louis area. I can say for a fact their income is higher than most unemployed IT workers, and there has never been a layoff since the early 1800's.

    I believe Mr. Bray was trying to be politically correct by using the term "sharecropper" when he really meant "indentured servant." Let's face it: Anybody who works for somebody is an indentured servant, especially if you are tied to said employer for necessities in life such as health insurance. Unless you have the good fortune to be in perfect health and can secure your own health insurance, you are, in fact, indentured to your employer if you depend on their group status for insurance.

  • by EvlG ( 24576 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @04:27PM (#6429548)
    This argument is both ignorant AND offensive.

    There are market realities to deal with; for example, it's not profitable to sell games on any platform except closed consoles, and PCs running Microsoft Windows. To say, then, that writing games for Windows makes you a 'sharecropper' is just offensive.
  • by putaro ( 235078 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @07:21PM (#6430379) Journal
    No sharecropping for me luv! I'll be off to the basement now. See you in about 10 years.
  • by use_compress ( 627082 ) on Sunday July 13, 2003 @11:10PM (#6431528) Journal
    Outside of the price of the operating system, Microsoft (or Apple or any other company that develops os's) does not collect part of the revenue the product from the product. This is inherent in the definition of a sharecropper-- "A tenant farmer who gives a share of the crops raised to the landlord in lieu of rent."

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