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Commercial Open-Source Software 187

Paul Johnson writes "I've written an essay on where I think the OSS movement should go. I think it needs to commercialise itself, but on its own terms not on the terms of the conventional closed-source software industry. This essay looks at the pros and cons of both the closed and open source worlds, and then outlines a synthesis of both which I hope will have the advantages of both. "
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Commercial Open-Source Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Open Source is one huge distraction. The desktop is a distraction. Rob's style of journalism is a distraction.

    You either have apps or you don't, and so far, gang, you don't. And you will stay there on the outside unless and until you do.

    And you can take that to the bank. Moderate me all the way down to -10. I don't care. The people who want to see this and think about it will, no matter how low you try to push this comment.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not sure what people's obsession is with outlining the "future of open source".
    There does seem to be an awful lot of this kind of analysis flying around these days. OSS is great, but the process seems to depend only a little more on the analyses than the weather depends on TV weather reporting.

    Still, this article approaches (but does not satisfactorily solve) the difficult question of funding OSS development in a way that would allow an OSS developer to quit his day job. If somebody could figure out how to do that, it would be a very big boon to OSS. So even unsuccessful forays into this area are welcome; they may prompt more successful efforts.

    Maybe the things that work so well about OSS could be carried into other areas of human inquiry. There are fundamental questions being addressed, about the nature of knowledge, whether knowledge can be owned, whether it makes sense to talk about intellectual "property", etc. Surely these questions are farther-ranging than just the world of software.

    I'd like to see something like an OSS development model applied to medical research or space exploration. Once David Gelernter wrote a book (many years before the web became popular) where he described detailed, distributed, global simulations of economic and social phenomena, called "mirror worlds". He conjectured that simulations like that would give us a lot of insight into social and economic problems, and possibly help us to solve them more effectively than we've been able to do thusfar. That sounds like another area where something like OSS development might be a good thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's great that you don't want to support yourself from open-source software. My point of view is vastly different. As it stands, I can spend only 5-10 hours a week on my OSS project. If I could earn a decent profit from that work, I would spend 40+ hours a week on it. I *do* want a job working on my open-source software.

    I want to distribute my software as open source for the public good, but I also want a piece of the pie if anyone is going to make money off of it. Why should they profit from my labor?

    I think there is a definite place for open source software which involves license fees, especially if those fees are only imposed when the user is monitarily benefiting from the software. Such a plan allows hackers to freely use and distribute each other's code, but it means that any corporations using our code support us by paying for the priviledge.

    I see this as increasing programmer freedom, not decreasing it, because by freeing us from needing closed-source jobs (to a degree), it gives us more time to work on our own projects.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    After reading this article, I've come up with my own variation for a licensing situation. A lot of people spend a few dollars buying a CD with software on it instead of downloading it. Why not set up a distribution network so that whenever a pice of OSS software is sold, a few nickles and dimes go to the OSS developers who actually coded the projects that they baught.

    This is similar to what is done in the Music Industry where the artist's get royalties for however many albums get sold... hoever, you are distributing directly to the people, and there is hardly any middle man.

    Perhaps a "Free Distributon Network" should be set up, where people can order CD's for cheep from a Non profit organization, but where the profits benifit the coders only.

    Authors could submit their work to the site, (like Freshmeat) and custom CD's could be ordered. Some of the money would go to the workers creating the CD's, and rest directly to the developers. People probably wouldn't be able to make a living off of this, but it would be something. Also most people would still download their stuff off the net for free.

    I think problems would arise if a lot of money was made by just contributing to something like GNU/Linux. If people saw it as a chance to get on the money making list, then people would start to get feature happy. I'm not a contrubter to the OSS movement yet (perhaps one day) but from my basic understanding I feel that creating software out of need works very well, and not from a monetary motivation. Really good programmers can and do create wonderful software when motivated by money. But when you allow anyone to be paid by contributing to a project, it's as if you have now "hired" the world. This sounds good at first, but then you realize that there is no screening process. Right now it seems like good code is contributed out of need and also to gain respect from peers. When you also throw in the money facter, you loose the "respect" and "need" aspects, and people would just start coding stuff to earn money, and not necessarily good stuff either. People might percieve there is a chance of making a lot of money by getting into a big project... then people would start to get greedy for more points, and get mad because they didn't feel they were rewarded enough. ...riots would break out, and everything would go to heck. :) Okay, so maybe *that* wouldn't happen, but you get my point.

    Well, that's enough rambling for now. I like things how they are now.

    As always, IMHO,
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A good essay, I agree. However, my appetite for open source articles has been spoiled by the overuse of the terminology, the cliches, the academic gloss. It's like computer solitare-- yeah it's okay, but how excited can I be expected to get about kpat or gno-solitare just because an old game has been given more polished widgets. Which reminds me of a point I wanted to make: Crap gets recycled in open source projects, too. And while one OS project may not be imitated by other OS developers because they can earn a quick buck riding some fashion tide, it still happens that OS projects become immitative-- development is not all inovative work to fill a niche. Nor, do I believe that each niche will be filled.

    I'm starting to wish that "Open Source Software" hadn't been coined. It is what it is, but it's giving you all halitosis to say it so often.

  • However, the OSD prevents "Discrimination against fields of endeavour". I'm pretty sure charging for commercial use would count.
  • The only freedom of conventional open-source software which COSS modifies is the freedom to use the software without charge, and this freedom is not listed in the conditions for using the Open Source trademark.

    Hm.. an interesting argument. However, I think that this is against the spirit of the OSD, as well as perhaps against clause 6. (Or maybe not... I'd like to see what others that know better think.) I think also, however, the right to use software once one has it is implicit.

    This probably wouldn't work IRL. The overhead in managing this sort of thing would be killer in large projects, and people would simply rewrite a small one rather than bother paying.

    Lastly, we have to ask if we wish to take a step back to a land of software haves and have-nots. This seems like just another form of somewhat less closed software to me.

  • Once you get Debian installed, it behaves in much the way you describe above. It knows what you have installed and can get all the updates from a central ftp server. Heck upgrading can be as easy as typing 'apt-get upgrade'.

    Every computer system has it's learning curve, although I do agree Linux does have moments when it's endearingly frustrating, but in general the only thing holding back newcomers is the sheer newness of it all. That and having to actually know something about your hardware.
  • by kovacsp ( 113 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @11:03AM (#1949363) Homepage
    I'm not sure what people's obsession is with outlining the "future of open source". I was tempted to do it at one point myself, because I'm interested in the economics of it all myself. And then I started working on my very own open source project, as well as contributing to a few others.

    As a result of these experiences I've come to the conclusion that I was thinking about it all wrong. The current way of doing things has already evolved into a highly efficient means of production. Things that need to be done get done. Things that aren't important fall by the wayside. (As an aside, this is why Gates' comment about no roadmap is totally irrelevant. By not having a roadmap, we are ultimately free to do whatever needs to be done, and we aren't overcommitting ourselves to a project that nobody wants). There's no need to change the way people write software, things will happen on their own, after all that's the beauty of a market economy, is it not?

    Lots of people have said something in these forums. The real economy in OSS development is the economy of time and talent. The projects that are the most interesting, or are needed the most (etc.) are the ones who will receive the most developer time. There is alot more to this, and I'm sure it'll make a good masters thesis for somebody, but to really understand open source software you have to shed all your preconceptions and intuitions about commercial software. The two are fundamentally at odds with eachother.

    Commercial development corps generally see software as a product, something which can be sold for money. Open source developers see software as a tool. A tool which they can use in their lives. Of course, I'm just speaking in vague generalities here, but in general this is the case. (Case in point: how many developers of OSS applications are writing the package for money? none that I know of.)
  • A good article, very solid in the economic facts -- unfortunately the implementation of the revenue stream won't work in the field. The open source community would not allow the type of control COSS would impose.

    What would work though is a much simplier solution: support companies (e.g. LinuxCare) could begin supporting one or more OSS packages, and contribute a portion of the revenue to pay for one or more developers of those packages.

    It's quite common in the Closed Software world to have a user call up the ISV and be charged $50 to $150 per incident. After the 1-800 call costs, the support human(s) and the knowedge base there's still lots of profit there.

    A company doing this would gain respect within the community, something the article quite correctly points out is very important in this culture. The project gets full time developers to keep things moving and it remains Free.

    There you go. A revenue stream without taxation nor per-use/per-seat restrictions and entirely demand-side driven. Not everyone who contributed to a project gets monetary compensation, but frankly that's never going to happen. Nor is it every contributer's goal.

  • You're missing the point, which is to encourage corporate ISVs to adopt Open Source or some variant concept as their model for the development, distribution and licensing of software.

    Not all ISVs are going to adopt Open Source, but most probably will when it becomes clear that market pressures make it a risk not to. If you don't think Open Source is putting pressure on the Microsofts of the world, you haven't been paying attention in class.

  • While the author talks about freedom at the bottom of the rather lengthy essay, the vast bulk of it assumes that open source is about software that costs zero dollars. Perhaps that is what open source is about, but that is not what free software is about. Free software is about, among other things, the right to share software with your friends. Payments of royalties interferes with this and makes software non-free.

    Also, this is yet another article that seems to have swallowed Eric Raymond's "Homesteading the Noosphere" document and reguritated it. Just look at the liberal sprinkling of terms from that document: "eyeballs", "respect", "gift culture", "potlatch". While Raymond's HtN is an interesting document, that is only one way to view the free software/hacking phenomenon. (Another way to describe hacking is to see it as a manifestation of obsessive/compulsive disorder for example). By treating the creation of free software is a quest for respect, Eric Raymond also strips it of its ideological significance. He sees coders as seeking respect much like stock traders seek money. Oddly enough, this just happens to dovetail perfectly with his own philosophy of free software, which doesn't include freedom in the same sense many and possibly most free software advocates think of it.

    I should also note that charging a license fee commensurate with the value delivered to the person using the software (as some has suggested) would, at the limit, eliminate consumer surplus.
  • An idea where one anticipates making money and then totally devotes all ones' time to development (with the potential profits in mind) isn't one that's going to likely be given away for free.

    When I've come up with something cool and worthy of cash (which I have, will be developing it this summer on a grant from the CSU system), though, my first though hasn't been "$$$" but "cool!". I really have no idea whether I'll patent or publish when done (no, it's not software; I DO dislike software patents)... I just want to build the damn thing 'cuz it's neat.

    I suspect that quite a lot of OSS folks have a similar mindset.
  • You may wish to consider using rpmfind. It'll find not just the program you're looking for but the libraries as well. It doesn't support automated source builds right now... ah, well.

    Somenoe HAS started a linux version of the ports system using freshmeat's database... but it's not ready for regular use yet.
  • I really don't mind working on a commercial unix either... but getting paid to work with OSS is something I'd really enjoy. And, unfortunately, folks can't always decide which OS they're going to use.
  • Posted by linuxizer:

    The author suggests that the 'benevolent dictator' already in place should assign the points that earn the $. Instead, individual coders could vote for each coder's points. The downside is that someone might get his friends in and have them vote for him and he votes for them. This could be partially alleviated by having the number of votes one is allowed to place proportionate to the amount of credit already recieved. This model has to be jumpstarted by a benevolent dictator, however.
  • Posted by jeffbowden:

    License under GPL, LGPL or BSD. Customers are given the option to buy trading cards in support of specific developers whose exploits are listed next to the Quantity and ORDER NOW! controls.

    These cards could be good for various levels of tech support (not necessarily from the developer) or just grant the user freedom from guilt (not to mention something to stick on her computer).

    This would work especially well for games and be good for other IP products such as MP3 files.

  • >There is a standardized help system. It's called man.

    Fully half the man pages I look at (including, for example, ls) say they are obsolete and no longer being updated, and that I need to look at some other documentation. How exactly to do that (or even what to look at to learn how to do that) is not explained.

    I would love to see all these howtos, man pages, texinfo, etc. downloadable in one big HTML bundle.
  • Actually, if I'm not mistaken, RMS founded the FSF for the sole purpose of making money. People wanted Emacs, but didn't have FTP access, so he sold them tapes for $150.
    The FSF is a non-profit organization; it can't "make money." He founded it to distribute software, good free software, and the money he took paid for the media and the labor to copy, test, and mail the tapes.
  • The answer to your question as to why people are so hesistant to pay for software anymore is simple. It's called the commerical/shareware software industry. They have quite simply ripped people off for too long, create 2nd and 3rd rate products that they refuse to be held responsible or libable for, but expect people to trust them when they say there aren't any serious problems with their products.
  • So what everyone is basically saying, is that Free Software in general is a free market where the currency is basically backed by developer effort and not convertible to anything else?

    This has an interesting overlap with Neal Stephenson's essay In The Beginning was The Command Line...
    Phil Fraering "Humans. Go Fig." - Rita

  • You either have apps or you don't, and so far, gang, you don't.

    So you're saying we don't have applications for Linux? Hmm. Do you mean free or commercial applications? I can't speak for the existance of free applications, even though I have many, but I can at least provide copies of the receipts of software I purchased for business use on Linux ...

    Should I ask you for a rebate?
    Phil Fraering "Humans. Go Fig." - Rita

  • Well, to name just _one_ area where free software has "failed:"

    Handheld devices.

    Personally, I don't care if it takes free software, commercial software, or some combination of the two, but I really want to see a handheld/pda-type computer still available a couple years from now besides one based on Windows CE. After the Steve-ing of the Newton, and the relative lack of progress on the Pilot, I'm not sure it'll be there.

    I say this not as criticism of free software, just a statement of something we need but don't yet have.

    (Although you could say the suspicious events surrounding the Newton's cancellation is an advertisement for free or open source software if you want. It almost makes me think that proprietary software licenses should "expire" or become free software after a certain period of time, or if the manufacturer discontinues the project.

    I don't know if anyone's reading down this far, but thanks for the relatively stimulating and flame-free discussion thus far. Most of the time there's economics here, it quickly degrades into an inflammatory mess.
    Phil Fraering "Humans. Go Fig." - Rita

  • I am so sick of this "Author doesn't get it" crap. The author is perfectly aware that RMS believes in Free Speech !beer. What the hell were the moderators thinking in awarding you 3 points for repeating that trite and inaccurate mantra.

    I agree that the COSS idea has flaws but do you have any better ideas? There must be some decent way of combining the benefits of commerical and free software and I applaud attempts to try to find it. Do you really think that poeple will write slick GUI's for accounting software and release it under GPL (for fun ? for respect ???). People need software like that and they are happy to pay for it. The FREEDOM to obtain the software you need (under whatever license) is also important.

    Sometimes /. seems sanctimonious in the extreme. There's an attitude of - well, he might be trying to do something useful, but he doesn't care about "freedom" as deeply as me and so I'll ignore him.
  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) <> on Sunday April 04, 1999 @02:39PM (#1949380)
    To test this theory, let us conduct a small thought experiment by assuming this new theory of software creation took over all of the packages on a RedHat disk, since as the author points out the distro level is the logical point to collect the license fees from users.

    Now RedHat currently has 450 packages, and I doubt this scheme would be viable if the average price per package dropped much below $1. So RedHat has two choices, charge $450+distro costs+profit or move to a DIVX style scheme of charging a small base fee to get the media and then charging when you install packages from it. (Think RPM doing secure payment transactions for each installed package)

    Now we start to see the problems with the proposed system. The development system is a large and complex, therefore expensive subsystem which few would pay to install. Oops! There goes your many eyeballs looking for bugs since nobody will be reading the source without an SDK to work with.

    Of course precompiled standalone binaries become preferable to scripts because they would avoid paying for both the program and it's interpreter. Watch Perl, Python, etc fall in popularity in favor of less efficient to code/maintain but less expensive to execute C code.

    And lets face it, it is not JUST the free speech aspect we like, the free beer is also a factor. HOw many of us have installed labs of computers from a single CD? Well kiss that goodbye, and with it one of the major competitive advantages.

    Just having Freedom from Accounting is a major advantage in my book. Not having to carefully count licenses and make sure somebody hasn't installed an extra copy of Orifice somewhere. Somebody figure the economic drain imposed by all of that beancounting. Now this scheme proposes to take that beancounting to whole new levels of complexity and stupidity. Who decides whether a
    hard to track down security fix is more valuable than a few feature?

    Would anyone reading this want to live in the world I just described? I won't hold my breath waiting for a long stream of replies saying how happy people would be in such a world. So mark it up as yet another nice theory that made a wet smack when it ran into the Real World(TM). :)
  • Info really sucks... That's GNU's big alternative to man or something. I hate Info. Man pages all the way, baby! Or, better yet, -h or --help. What have they got against man, anyway? The user interface for Info is so unfriendly it makes me want to get in my car and run over people.
  • I'd guess that it is actually possible to make money selling free software, the reasons being:
    • People will pay for the convenience of having a physical copy of their software
    • People will pay to get an 'official' copy (this strikes me as a little odd but it happens)

    ..that said, selling documentation and support and so on in addition to the software probably would be necessary, but I'm not convinced that either method (software or documentation) is sufficient by itself.

  • Hackers write code because they enjoy doing so. Other factors: holes in the market, pecuniary rewards, respect-based gift culture - serve to channel the basic impulse to hack, but they do not create it.

    The author's proposal for COSS is well considered from an economic point of view, but from a hacker's point of view, it's just another minor tweak on the way things already work. It doesn't give us anything more than we can already get. And the loss of freedom may imply that we lose a lot over truly free/open/whatever software.

  • I paid $50 for my word processor (DeScribe 5.0 for OS/2) many years ago. I used it to write my 80-page Master's Thesis. I use it to write letters. I use it to make labels on those Avery laser label things. The company has gone out of business, but I still use the product. If I had to pay per use, It'd cost me thousands of dollars.

    That's the reason I pay the $20 for unlimited local phone calls. Do I make more than 100 calls a month? No, or course not. But the peace-of-mind that I get knowing that it doesn't matter if I make the phone is worth the extra $10/month.

    Timur Tabi
    Remove "nospam_" from email address

  • Actually, I agree completely on the need and nearly complete absence of 'free' handhelds. Part of the problem comes from the fact that handhelds are more thoughly integrated hardware/software wise. Most handheld OS's are in ROM.

    Still, the need is there, and deserves more attention.

    (FWIW, I was also a Newton user. Best handheld interface yet. Sad to see it thrown away. I'm using a Psion Siena now. Limited functionality, but small, light, inexpensive, and with a first rate calendar application.)
  • >The key requirement would be that the cost to the user would be in proportion to the benefit derived.

    This is effectively a disincentive to benefit from the use of software, no? Or perhaps, to only get as much benefit out as one's budget will allow? Surely not an equasion for rising social wealth and productivity...

    Interestingly, COSS betrays a particular concern: how to maximize payment for software in a open source environment. Now in a sense, that seems reasonable. People should get paid for their work. But I can't help but see it as an attempt to impose capitalist values in a place where, if we're honest about it, they are few people's first concern.

    Why do people feel so uncomfortable with the way free software has developed up to this point? Has it been such a failure?

    Perhaps Mr. Johnson should consider another aspect of evolutionary biology and psychology, mutual aid. Namely, evolution also favors the trait of cooperation. This can be read in terms of individual benefit, though I think that is a misreading. Selective pressures favor indivduals who look out for the health of the group -- not because they are 'rewarded' with reproduction precisely, but because their group survives better, and thus their progeny.

    Capitalism tends to punish this survival trait -- as a system, its laws favor privatization, competition, and the rights of property over the rights of people. (If that sounds inflamatory, take a pill.) But nonetheless this trait is with us: we enjoy working with other people on common projects for its own sake. Why did this become a force (and a threat?) in software? I suspect it's because of low barriers to entry in programming, especially thanks to the internet. Compare the costs of developing and distributing a breakfast cereal, say, versus a piece of software. Orders of magnitude, really.

    COSS strikes me most as the well intentioned work of a missionary out to save the decent but provincial natives. The relation between OSS, Free, and Commercial software is complicated and still in need of theorizing -- but a plan to commodify respect and community is not the answer. Who'd have thought that a bunch of hackers working on software together would have tweeked so many?

  • But the biggest problem is that the author never says why free software or open source software must be commercialized. Sure he does. It's so that the unit of exchange in the hacker culture (respect) can be converted into the unit of exchange in the non-hacker community.


  • In the case of this essay, the essence and theories of capitalism are being discussed, not specific real world examples, which would occur under many other circumstances.

    And to your examples:
    1. (Microsoft) It has more then that if you look at it's company profile. However, no matter how much you hate Microsoft, you have to concede that Microsoft has created the computer industry. It got rich of DOS, and it's timing with it's versions of Windows was well done. Also, It's OS might not be that good, but it's other products like IE, Office, etc. actually are..
    br. 2. (Oil Companies) Many of the nations you are refering to are involved in a war, and both sides are using oil to finance war. If these countries wanted to work on developing their societies they would, but instead they choose to live in poverty and fight against each other.

    3. (Network TV) Life is the same content. If you think about it, life is essentially very repetitive, but somehow people still watch TV. Maybe the top 3 shows (Friends, Frazier, ER, according to NIELSENS) are unoriginal, but you have some VERY goods shows that are quite original. The shows that don't appeal to as broad an audience are ussually more original. Shows like Cupid, Dilbert, Simpsons and Futurama are specific examples. But sometimes people don't want original content, they just want to be entertained. There is nothing 'original' about Baywatch.

    4. (Fast food) They are just satisfying a need. If americans want burgers, they get burgers. If they didn't, the industry would not be so large, and supply and demand would remove many of them from existence.

  • In the case of this essay, the essence and theories of capitalism are being discussed, not specific real world examples, which would occur under many other circumstances.

    And to your examples:
    1. (Microsoft) It has more then that if you look at it's company profile. However, no matter how much you hate Microsoft, you have to concede that Microsoft has created the computer industry. It got rich of DOS, and it's timing with it's versions of Windows was well done. Also, It's OS might not be that good, but it's other products like IE, Office, etc. actually are..

    2. (Oil Companies) Many of the nations you are refering to are involved in a war, and both sides are using oil to finance war. If these countries wanted to work on developing their societies they would, but instead they choose to live in poverty and fight against each other.

    3. (Network TV) Life is the same content. If you think about it, life is essentially very repetitive, but somehow people still watch TV. Maybe the top 3 shows (Friends, Frazier, ER, according to NIELSENS) are unoriginal, but you have some VERY goods shows that are quite original. The shows that don't appeal to as broad an audience are ussually more original. Shows like Cupid, Dilbert, Simpsons and Futurama are specific examples. But sometimes people don't want original content, they just want to be entertained. There is nothing 'original' about Baywatch.

    4. (Fast food) They are just satisfying a need. If americans want burgers, they get burgers. If they didn't, the industry would not be so large, and supply and demand would remove many of them from existence.

  • greedy adj 1: immoderately desirous of acquiring e.g. wealth;

    Just because one is greedy, doesn't make one a capitalist, and vice-versa.

    One doesn't even have to have much money to be greedy. Besides, in order to tell if someone is greedy you must examine their life as a whole, not just what you see of them. Example: If you look at Bill Gates now you might say he is greedy, however he plans to donate a large chunk of his wealth to charity on his passing away. Suddenly he is not so greedy.

    It's your turn to understand. :P
  • Funny that that is the same excuse that software pirates have always used.

  • I must say this is actually one of the more intelligently written commentaries I've seen on slashdot. I was under the impression that OSS followers were illiterate. :)

    First off, I believe the economic analysis of the commercial software economy is fundamentally flawed. It does not take into account the funding of software failures. i.e. software that obviously cost something to build but yields no return on investment. For example Microsoft Bob. :)

    Most software companies that I'm aware of create several bombs for each successful product.

    It also doesn't take into account recurring costs of supporting the software base, marketing, sales, and other infrastructure.

    In terms of the analysis on why companies pay for software even though they could copy it for free.

    Two things here. Well first of all, the threat of being sued for copyright infringement is strong. But second, the capitalist economy recognizes the value given by the software and pays for that to encourage the development of other products. That is, it is in the best self-interest of the capitalist economy to help it's neighbors prosper.

    Really it's not a question of being able to easily copy the product. If the source were available for the product, the fear is not that you could copy the software more easily.

    The fear is that Group B would be able to look at the source and go "Ah ha! So that's how they did it." and then write their own product which does the same thing. And of course since they didn't have to pay some genius to figure out how to do that, they can charge half the price.

    In terms of making OSS commercially viable. The people who are most vocal within the OSS community prevent this. Most persons who are using Linux and other OSS pieces are not doing so because they are good software. They are using them because it was "Free", as in "Free Beer".

    College students have long complained about the price of software. I know, I used to do the same thing. We also used to complain about the price of beer.

  • The fact that it's ``libre'' tends to result in it also being pretty much ``gratuit'' as well, but it's entirely possible to use the GPL on software for which you charge money.

    For example, I could write a program and sell copies of it for $1000.00, licensed under the GPL. It's possible that my customers might decide not to give away the source that they have, until someone else does, because they might think that it would somehow devalue their investment.

    Eventually, I could expect someone to publish the source either more cheaply then me (or even for free), at which point my ability to charge some of my potential customers $1000.00 would evaporate, but there would probably still be people willing to pay the price, because they are too clueless to realise that it was available for free, or think that there is something special about getting it direct from the author.
  • by Phil Hands ( 2365 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @04:43PM (#1949394) Homepage

    I remember thinking of schemes like this when I first came across the idea of Free Software. I've been thinking about it ever since (about 14 years) and have concluded that they won't work. Given that I make my living out of supporting Free Software, this is not simply an intellectual exercise for me.

    The problem is that people are generally not motivated to write good software by money. There is quite a body of evidence that offering monetary incentives to programmers tends to reduce quality, as the programmers start putting effort into working the system, rather than coding. Obviously, people are paid to code, but the money is rarely the direct motivation for doing a good job.

    He does touch on one of the primary motivations for commercial programmers contributing to Free Software, which is that it is often cheaper to add the features you want to an existing Free program, than to write, or buy something else.

    Anyway, an interesting article, but it's fundamentally flawed in its assumption that COSS falls under the wing of Free Software.

    Clause 6 of the DFSG [] (a.k.a. OSD []) prohibits licenses that discriminate against specific fields of endeavour (such as making money, for example).

    Even if that were not the case, DFSG compliant licenses must allow derived works (clause 2) which would mean that you could derive a work which differed only in the person to whom the money should be sent, which would instantly destroy the structure he's trying to build.

    His ideas also seem to fall foul of the fact that you can do what the hell you like [] with legally obtained software, so the ``are you using it enough to pay for it ?'' stuff might be interesting to enforce, and certainly wouldn't result in a DFSG license.

    On the subject of allocating points, I'd be stunned if anyone could come up with a scheme that would appropriately reward someone that spends six months tracking down an obscure (but serious) bug (say an intermittent networking bug).

    Say you allocate 5 points (it's only bug fix, after all) and the contributor says ``that's not enough, I spent six months finding that bug!'' --- You end up with all the silliness of having to do a clean-room reimplementation of the fix ? Oh dear, oh dear.

  • Actually, if I'm not mistaken, RMS founded the FSF for the sole purpose of making money. People wanted Emacs, but didn't have FTP access, so he sold them tapes for $150. Now it's an organisation to give money to lots of free software authors. Unfortunately the essay was far too boring for me to read more than about a page, so I don't know what he said exactly, but I'd be curious to thinks what the FSF does.
  • Bah OK fair enough. They don't make a profit, but they do make money, and there are a few people there who get paid for it as their full-time job. Anyway my original point was, uhhh, oh ya that it was indeed true that the FSF wasn't created to give people cheaper software. I guess one could argue that they made the FSF so that they could still give the software away gratis, but somehow I don't think that was the intention at all. Hmm I don't think I made a single point in this comment.
  • Whereas the author's logical constructs fit together nicely, these theories merely "look good on paper". We also can't underemphasize: the author slept through the (libre != gratis) portion of the lecture.

    This whole "best of both worlds" (commercial and free s/w) scheme (started by Sun(?)) should be ignored or opposed, as it will serve only to dilute what the GPL(and similar) has brought us. The growth we are witnessing now is because the code was unshackled. Now we hear of a complex, restrictive system that seeks a middle-ground. Partly free is not free. That which has "the best" of both an apple and an orange is neither.

  • Bad term replace documentation with publications. I believe for software to be successful the important documentation (readme's, manpages, etc) have to be free and included with the source code (or binary if you prefer your software compiled for you). I was talking more about books on the subject (such as the one's O'Reilly make a living out of).
    Money can be made in these areas for many people (if the software is sufficiently complex enough for people to use) but as I stated most coders aren't interested in writing books on their software or don't have the skills to write a book of sufficient quility for people to even think of buying.
  • It's difficult for many people to comprehend the meaning of free software. It took me ages to explain to people that it wasn't illegal to sell Linux and that free meant freedom of choice.
    People instantly think of freedom in terms of money because that's what drives most people.
    There's a lot of greedy people out there who just want to make more and more money without doing any good.
    The same thing happens with the word open - if it's open you can get it free of charge.

    But in reality free is free! If you have the freedom to do what you like with software you have the freedom to give it away free. So truely free software will always mean you'll also be able to get it free of charge somewhere.

    To make money out of free software you need to add value to the package. Either as support or documentation. I know coders will say - I DON'T WANT TO WRITE DOCUMENTATION and many coders can't write decent documentation anyway. So as a one man operation you probably can't make much or anything out of open source. But in the bigger picture companies like RedHat are doing just fine and are employing some of the key coders although most are still volunteers.

    For most people open source will just remain a hobby for their spare time and people can be motivated by the fact they can improve a product to suit their needs or if they are a major contributer in a successful product it'll look good on their CV. Open Source has beewn successful in the past and do we really need to try and change a winning formula?
  • Right then, hack away. Release what you want under whatever license you decide on. Meanwhile, we'll keep on using Free Software.

  • Are there any people who actually _enjoy_ pizza delivery?

    Hiro Protagonist did, at least until he crashed the Mafia's car into that empty swimming pool and had to change jobs -- and he turned to pizza delivery as a welcome change from hacking, when that proved too boring.

    So there. Neeners.

  • The author is trying to work his way around a false dichotomy, becuase he's assuming that closed-source software (which contains a very good paradigm for making money) and open-source software (which is free by definition) should not co-exist - he would have open-source replace closed-source.

    Open-source and closed-source software can and should continue to co-exist. I have supported my work on open-source software for the past 5 years by writing closed-source. I will continue to write closed-source to support my GPL and LGPL work. I don't want or need a job working on open-source software, I have a better job now.


    Bruce Perens

  • What incentive does anyone have to work on code when they can't get any benefit from that code without paying for it? They're going to get big bucks for their collaboration? When the for-profit corporation you'd have to form to manage this pays its taxes, and then pays your taxes, how much do you expect will be left for you? How will you prove the value of your own work so that you are compensated fairly, and what will you do when someone happens to rewrite things, removing all of your code, and suddenly you're not being paid any longer.

    OK, guys, write one big project using a direct revenue capture scheme. Make it work. Show us that nobody got hurt in the process. Explain why it's never happened up until now. Then I might believe a little more.


  • by Mawbid ( 3993 )

    Thank you for summing that up.

  • I couldn't help smiling at your complex form of expression (I'm sometimes guilty of the same thing), but you know, I think you may have a very valid point here.

    Yes, Free/Open software *does* remove control from the suppliers of capital. That's a very interesting observation.
  • The trouble with initiatives like COSS is that they fail to recognize that there are forces at work other than those described on the GNU website alone. Richard Stallman has been so consistent in his statements across many, many years that we believe him unreservedly when he uses the phrase "free as in free speech, not as in free beer". However, what almost nobody talks about is that practice in the community has not followed FSF theory in this area in any but the most infinitesimal of ways.

    Let's not delude ourselves. Yes, the community is underpinned by software that is free as in free speech, but effectively all of this is also gratis. Furthermore, the mere mention of money always raises a sour taste in the mouths and writings of many, and I do *not* mean just those that confuse the two types of freedom. We see this on Slashdot time and again.

    Why this is so I don't know. Perhaps gratis software is perceived as conveying more freedom. Perhaps it is that paying for software limits the number of users and hence is an a priori barrier on the freedom to join the user community --- surely a severe restriction of one's freedom. Perhaps people are just cheapskates, or maybe poverty among computer users is more widespread than is acknowledged. Or maybe it is much more complicated than that, because many seem willing to pay for distribution and/or support costs but still shy away from paying for the software itself. It's not necessarily a simple, black and white economic situation.

    Whatever the reason, whatever the explicit claims, there is no doubt that the implicit effect is there, like a slow but massive undercurrent that is impossible to resist. Free software is promoting gratis software, at least in the hearts of the members of the community, and that meme has been extraordinarily successful.
  • I'm not a Linux guru but I have been struggling with the OS (part-time..) for about 3 years now. I have gotten a few people interested in Linux, and they appreciate the technical superiority over Windows and the political aspects, but everyone says nearly the same thing:

    It's too difficult.

    For me Linux does not seem that "difficult", but I do see part of where they come from -- it's VERY time consuming configuring your system especially if you don't have convenient documentation... which when you find it, glosses over "Linux related" items like X/KDE/Gnome and how to personalize makefiles that don't 'make configure' (ack) so they compile on your system. Oh, and you need to install some libraries which maybe you can find in RPM if you randomly check ftp sites (they MUST be somewhere but the project's homepage does not maintain them), and they in turn depend on OTHER libraries. I've had to walk some people through it using that really old distribution called Red Hat 5.2 (I'm now using Mandrake + AfterStep).

    How is THIS any more efficent than Windows? I'm being ironic.. once you've passed a point it's not as bad, but there is this black hole that sucks up all your time.

    How is this related to the topic? Well, when we talk about "developer itch" usually the developer is WAY PAST the threshhold I outlined in the above paragraph. User-friendly itches gave way to efficency.

    I honestly believe this will correct itself over time, since someone already in the club will still care about it and fix it for future members. The danger I see is the longer it takes to straighten out usability the longer it will take to remove the stereotype.

    Someone told me FreeBSD has a lot of the usability worked out... you use an update menu that KNOWS what you have installed, and connects to a central FTP server to tell you "what's new" and can download it for you. You can also do a "make world" to rebuild EVERYTHING on your system.

    I'd *love* to do that with Linux... I don't know how much performance increases if you optomize build for your exact CPU, but this Pentium 120 I use for a server could use all the help it can get - especially FREE help! :-D

    Are there any such projects for Linux? Probably not, since it would involve getting RedHat and the other distribs to co-operate. This, and a standardized HELP system as you mention would be a wonderful thing. I don't see any "leadership" in this area of Linux. :-(
  • I know about man (duh).. but like others noted it's notoriously out of date. However it USUALLY contains info not found in the readme. For example, check the various documentation that ships with X-MAME... at times the man and .txt contradict one another when it comes to setting variables.

    Microsoft's HTML Help really looks nice, with the added benefit of not being difficult to author. I say this with some reservations because I don't know how open their format ("compiled HTML") is. Certainly they wouldn't use something like .gz to compress, but the idea itself deserves merit. I don't assume it's a priority in Linus' eyes, which is too bad because a different group of people could be brought on board.

    yes, I know about man2html...
  • I think many of the ideas brought up here are interesting, at the least. But I'm surprised that the author (in describing a system where users would be charged for OSS) never makes the distinction between corporate users and private/educational users. The "rights" ascribed by RMS to users seem (to me) to hold true only for individuals, not corporate monoliths. Similarly, the problems ascribed to many corporate-sponsored Open Source projects (like Mozilla) seem to stem from an unwilligness of individual contributors to give time and effort to faceless individuals. (i.e., we'd all gladly give code to Linus- but how many of us would give code to Linus Inc.?)

    I guess what I'm getting at is that individuals and institutions who aren't using software to turn a profit shouldn't have to create profit for others. However, if I am General Motors and am raking in literally tens of billions in income for myself and my share-holders, there is no reason why some of that wealth should not be distributed back to the coders or the community in some way.
    My two cents- maybe another two or three later-
  • I'm sure there are more VB coders than all of those combined :) polls shmolls
  • IMHO, there are many problems with this article and its proposal.

    The author seems to recognize only two kinds of software: proprietary commercial binaries with source a trade secret, and the totally free (gratis and liber) variety. In so doing, he confuses freeware, free software, open source, and the plethora of sort-of-free-source licences we have seen recently. This simplistic bifurcation also overlooks the existence of closed- or open-source freeware, and of shareware, especially the sort of shareware where the monetary price really does reflect the value to the user (not crippleware, not time-bombed, send a donation if you find it useful). But I believe the proposed solution is very close to shareware--the more commercial kind of "shareware" where the monetary reward is determined by the producer and not by the user, and where the user is forced to pay up. The only difference is in envisioning a group of authors and a "point" system.

    But the biggest problem is that the author never says why free software or open source software must be commercialized. Programmers deserve to be rewarded, yes. But is money the only reward? Is money the best reward? Could not the reward be in the programming itself, at least for some people? The pleasure of an intellectual challenge, of making something useful, of making something that works? Even the pleasure sometimes of giving it away so that the total package may sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts?

    If we're going to think about the future of computing, let's at least think big.

  • >However there is a problem. Once the investment
    >in the software has been made the copies are
    >virtually free. Anyone else could therefore
    >produce copies without paying the original
    >authors. This would prevent the authors from
    >recouping the cost of production. This is an
    >example of market failure, and the solution is
    >one of the earliest forms of government
    >intervention in the free market. It is the body
    >of law known as "intellectual property", or IP.

    Oddly enough, IP is a also a maket failure. Consider:
    It is assumed that all products have a marginal cost; an assumption that is false for software. The cost to manufacture another unit starts at zero and stays there. Market value is largely determined by marginal cost. As units are sold, the market value of software dimishes toward zero. Yet, the IP laws allow software vendors to continue charging hundreds or thousands of times the market value of their product. This is a blatant market failure.

    Information as a product doesn't fit into Capitalism at all. IP always causes market failure, or requires huge government controls. Data need to be handled under a different set of rules. The best candidate I've seen to fill that role is Free Software, without any attempts to mix it with Capitalism.
  • Hm. Classical economics takes a very different definitional stance.

    Production is achieved by the combination of three factors: Land, Labor and Capital.

    Economic Land differs from the common use of the term, in that it includes all natural properties not owing to man, that is, in addition to ordinary land, air, water, sunlight, natural (uncultivated) plants and animals, etc., used for production.

    Likewise Economic Labor includes more than physical effort, but includes all mental processes and administration which go into production.

    Economic Capital is that produce of Land and Labor (and Capital) which is reinvested to enhance effectiveness of subsequent production.

    Money (and Credit) is not really a factor of production at all. This is a proxy for production, and to the extent that it is reinvested, it is treated like Capital (see definition above). Properly, Money is not part of Economics, but of Finance, which is a derivative study.

    This is very hard for many people to grasp, due to the way terms have been (mis)applied for so long.

    The bottom line is, Free (Open Source) Software is very much in line with principles of true Capitalism (aka Classical Economics), but different from modern Finance Capitalism (aka Neoclassical Economics).
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @11:05AM (#1949414)
    This is a midpoint between commercial software and OSS. Essentially you're trying to get the benefits (money) of commercial software in exchange for the rapid development model of OSS. Inevitably the movement will slide down that slippery slope right back to where we were before - heavily licensed software protected by obtuse patents and a incredibly huge beurocracy.

    Your primary point of this article was that it does not cost money to distribute software. So once the r&d has been invested in the creation of the product.. distribution is unlimited and costs nothing! This leads to the conclusion that if OSS can produce software for free(dollars, not time here)... and distribute it for free, any such mutation will fail in the long-term.

    OSS is indeed a gift culture, but it isn't as noble as you're portraying it - we do expect something in return. We expect our freedom.

  • The essay offers a really nice plain-english introduction to the basic ideas and "virtues" of capitalist economic theory. This is good, but not to the point. I would have liked to see more bytes spent on the commercialization of OSS.

    The author reguarly confuses the terms Free Software and Open-Source Software, and in some places seems not to realise the difference between free (of cost), and free(dom). This bothers me.

    The essay barely touches some very important issues:
    • How will a payment policy be enforced?
      (This is currently a problem, and will be even harder to enforce when the source code is awailable.)
    • How will the monitary value of the software be determined?

    Furthermore, the essay merely points out an alternative way to start an ordinary company/software-business, defying geographical borders and office walls. This may be good (and it may not?), but has really nothing to do with OSS or FS.

    The author seems to trivialize/ignore/miss one of the main differences between the current "non-commercial" OSS and FS and the standard capitalism.

    In capitalism, as he correctly points out, everything centers around how much the product is worth to the user, whereas in OSS/FS the actual cost-of-production is all that matters.

    The beauty of the current OSS/FS gift-model is that it insures that no-one is ever forced to pay more than the actual production cost of the product. And since in most cases there is little or no direct monetary return, everyone involved has a direct incentive to minimize the cost of production, e.g. by re-using works of others, and sharing workload. (On the whole, this is the key benefit of the OSS and FS models, and IMO the basic idea behind the GPL. Once a problem has been solved, once a software has been written, no-one should be forced to solve/write it again.)

    In this sense the OSS/FS gift-model causes more optimization (and benefit) for the whole society, than the standard commercial model does.

    I would have liked to see the author spend more time trying to savour this difference, and ways to translate respect into "rock-hard currency".

    </mytwocents>, Smu

  • by mcelrath ( 8027 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @12:47PM (#1949416) Homepage

    There are many possible frameworks for charging, most of which have also been tried by the closed-source software companies. For example:

    • Per-copy charges. A fee is charged for each computer with a copy of the software installed.
    • Seat charges. A fee is charged for each user authorised to run the software.
    • Concurrent user charges. The software can be used by anyone anywhere, but may only be used by a limited number of people at any one time.
    • Per-invocation charges. A fee is charged for each time the software is used.

    I will never use any software that nickles and dimes me. I do not want any company or person knowing what software I use when. Also, as you mention, the value of a piece of software is different for each person. There are 400 individual software packages included in RedHat's distribution. What is the value to me of a single invocation of perl? Small. Very small.

    Also, in the course of writing a perl script I will execute perl tens, hundreds, even thousands of times in testing it. What is the value of a single one of those perl executions? Zero. But much good may be derived from it if I develop a useful script. Development tools must not be charged for.

    In implementation, your charging scheme looks like taxation. There are lots of good reasons that people hate taxation.

    • A contributor may refuse the points offered. The project is then unable to incorporate the contribution. Because this is open source software the contributor can also offer customers an enhanced version of the "official" package and demand payment for the enhancement. In such a situation the users would have to pay twice, once for the main package and once to the person offering the enhancement. This would obviously be inefficient and a very unusual situation. However it gives contributors a lever when bargaining for points.

    Open Source Software already has a problem with fragmentation. Human politics leads to disagreements, which leads to software splits (Net/Open)BSD, egcs/gcc, emacs/xemacs/lucid emacs, etc. By making it economically favorable for a contributor to grab the source and run, you make it favorable for the contributor to fragment the project. This is not a Good Thing(tm) IMHO.

    In summary, it looks like an interesting idea, but totally unimplementable. You would have to create a central authority to handle "points", and this is wide open to fraud. I think one of the major strengths of Open Source is that it is economically free (beer). You would massively reduce the number of potential contributors to a project if now you must pay to hack it. "Many eyeballs" depends on a minimization of the effort involved in looking at the code. Once money is involved, you place a large stubling block in front of any potential set of eyeballs.

    -- Bob

  • Look at the problem from the other direction: How many people who have any self-respect would deliver pizza?

    My impression of the typical job duties of a pizza delivery person leads me to believe that pizza delivery is something you do only if there are no other alternatives, and you do it when you need the money for survival (yours or your loved ones), or to pay for something that will get you out of the pizza delivery job.

    Are there any people who actually _enjoy_ pizza delivery?

    Commercial software is capitalistic _outside of producers_ (i.e. when you go from producer to producer or producer to consumer, you have competition and economic exchange). Commercial software is very much not capitalistic _within its producers_ (i.e. within a single corporation, there is ultimately a handful of people who make resource allocation and production planning decisions). This is why commercial software is so inefficient compared to OSS--only a few people within a corporate software vendor have a chance to make important decisions about the direction of software development.

    Commercial software development is to natural selection in software what farming is to natural selection in biology. The resulting product in both cases is often something that would not survive for very long outside of its artificial habitat--and it's really the distributors, not the working farmers, that make all the big profits.

    Consider where Windows would be today if Microsoft and its large corporate customers weren't pouring _billions_ of dollars in cash on top of it every year, like a farmer in the desert pouring water and chemical fertilizer on ground that really shouldn't be growing anything but cacti and salt crystals. If corporations were not islands of planned economy within a capitalistic world, then corporations would not standardize on operating systems--they would tell their employees to select for themselves whatever tools create the best personal productivity and therefore earn the most money. Arguably it is this _lack_ of capitalism that is all that holds many corporations together--look at a venture capital startup software company and see if the desires of the executives match the desires of the customers or even other employees.

    By contrast, OSS is more like fishing or mining. (Hmmm...I hear the sound of an analogy being stretched to breaking). There is a lot of software out there, and a lot more people who would like to write some. OSS software vendors can be thought of as just a filtering mechanism that scoops up gigabytes of crappy software, extracts the 0.1% of it that can be packaged into a product, throws the rest away, and charges a nominal fee for the service. They may cultivate or manufacture some software with their own money (analogous to fish farming or chemical mineral manufacture) if they so choose, meaning that the two models for software development can be mixed to an extent.
  • Too true. Most of the significant contributions (aside from simple bug fixes) I've seen in "real" free software (e.g. Linux, gcc, etc) have been made by people who needed to build a tool to get some other job done.

    For an ISP who has to pay (and therefore feed) a solid technical person, all the costs for contributing to free software are already paid for. At that point the incremental costs of using closed-source software (with all its quality and service problems) are just too high.

    A number of research groups (both government-sponsored and from private industry) do significant work in the form of software projects, which become open-source.

    gcc has become a de facto standard compiler among chip vendors, particularly microcontroller (yeah, it has _multiple_ 64 bit registers and they call it a microcontroller...right...backinmyday, a CPU with more than 64 bits in all registers _combined_ powered a high-end desktop machine...) and risc CPU's, because a chip vendor has no interest in making it hard for anyone to use their CPU's, least of all themselves.n
  • In the most commonly implemented form of capitalism, you offer the best that you can in exchange for money, which is in limited supply: a scarce resource. And people have enacted many protections in this capitalism implementation to ensure that they maximise their share of this scarce resource.

    Although people write free software for many reasons: respect and joy are two of them. Everyone has respect to offer, and joy is just out there for the taking: they are infinite resources.

    This is a big difference between the two models.

    It the (very) abstracted form of capitalism that is at issue; it is the prevailing implementation.
  • I'm sorry I don't have time right now to be more than brief, but ...

    I am not clear on what you mean when you refer to OSS succeeding. Simply the fact that Linux and *BSD have made substanitial inroads into the server market (last poll I saw showed that 25% of webservers are run on Linux boxes) may be some indication of the success of free software. And I see no indication of a loss of interest.

    Do you mean a different kind of success?
  • In light of this definition of the success of free software, then, I guess I don't see the basis for your saying that the impetus in free software will diminish after its success (an event which, much as I may desire it, has a low probability of occurring anytime soon).

    As I understand what you are saying, you think that the motivation to write free software will dry up after Total World Domination because its motivating forces will disappear, perhaps the motivation that comes from fighting for a cause.

    There are more motivations than this, though. The desire for respect will still exist. I do agree with you in that I believe that at our core we are all motivated by self interest. However, I believe that this is a purely academic point, since self interest can manifest itself in any number of direct and indirect ways.

    For instance, I write free software because I am hoping that, in turn, others will free their software, and I can then examine their code for things I can use in my own work. More philosophically, I want to promote the free exchange of knowledge. But these are just two of the many motivations I have, some philosophical, some emotional and even some financial.

    I cannot speak for other developers, but surely everyone has a similar mess of motivations for writing software.

    And in the end, I think software will be written if there is a need or desire for the function it provides, and software is written for more reasons than simply to make money for the developer. And people themselves have more motivations than simply to make money.

    As to your example of the sure-fire million dollar idea, sure, there are many people out there who would do as you describe (you can't throw a stick in San Jose without hitting one). But there are plenty of people out there that wouldn't.

  • I think you overestimate the importance of status within the big picture of free software, i.e. the status of a single developer across all free software packages. I have heard that something like 100,000 developers have worked on Linux in one way or another. This sounds high to me, so lets say that only 10,000 have contributed over the lifespan of free software. How many of these are known by name across the community? A dozen,
    two dozen, maybe? A very small percentage.

    Community widw anonymity is already here, and yet this has not deterred developers from contributing.

    This is because a developer is not anonymous within a project, not to other developers within the project or to the project maintainer, anyway, and this is the status that (most) developers aspire to. I think that, for most people, the idea behind of contributing is more like "Maybe my patch will be accepted into Project Foo," rather than "Maybe I will be the next Linus Torvalds, a household name."

    You say that the push by the free software developer towards the end user is largely driven by the need to prove itself, and in regards to things like GNOME, KDE, the various end user tools like AbiWord and others, my gut tells me that I must agree with you. It seems like a lot of the impetus behind these projects is driven by the need to say, "See we have a GUI, etc., too.

    However, I don't think this applies to things like the kernel, and the various servers and network related things, nor to things like embedded applications of Linux, RT-Linux and others. These seem like genuine responses to existing needs.
  • I think you bring up a some good points here, most especially this one:

    Do you really believe that there are enough talented developers in every possible niche in all aspects of each software package to meet those various needs.

    This is something I have thought about from time to time, although in a different context. Let's face it: there are a finite number of developers in the world (although I think that the Internet probably greatly boosts growth in the developer population), each with a finite amount of time and energy he/she can devote.

    Whenever I hear about a new open source (or potentially open-source) project, I think, "That's nice. I hope there are still developers left to work on it".

    With respect to your other points:

    I think you misunderstand what is meant by a gift economy. I think that most developers are motivated by such things as the desire for respect or prestige, etc.. But your respect in this culture is proportional to the size and/or quality of your contribution to the culture. That's really all that's meant by a 'gift culture'. And the gift part must be important, because you can get prestige and the sense of working on something big on a closed-source project, as well.

    And I don't think we need worry about running out of interesting things to work on; I think that the environment in which an OS lives changes quickly enough that there will always be interesting probelms to solve. An OS is an ever-evolving thing.

    Chris Malek
  • So basically COSS is a means of tracking all contributions to a project and paying out royalties to the original authors? Sounds a lot like the Xanadu project, [] and I'm sure its destined for similar success.

    There is a lengthy and unflattering discussion of the Xanadu story in this Wired article. [] Ted Nelson's response to this articel can be found here. [http] Here's a quick summary:

    Ted Nelson is credited as the inventor of hypertext. For the last thirty years or so, he has been working on a project called Xanadu, an effort to create a hypertext 'docuverse' where information may be included (or 'transcluded') into any document while preserving the author information for all pieces and preserving the author's ability to collect royalties for every single piece of his work that is downloaded, no matter how small a fragment. It sounds like a good idea, IMHO, until you get to the royalties part.

    There are many lessons in software development that can be gleaned from the story of Xanadu. A lesson for COSS is that this type of system is ridiculously complicated, perhaps prohibitively so. And it is probably not even something that anyone wants. Another, more tangential, lesson for OSS in general is that lunatic leaders can be divisive and irritating enough to totally screw projects that are otherwise good ideas. But I digress.

    Even if Xanadu software shipped tomorrow (there is actually a program called zigzag), why would anyone want it when html has so much more infrastructure? Similarly, I think that COSS will not be able to attract people away from pure OSS. COSS may be appropriate for companies like Apple that are trying to recruit more eyeballs, but I think that most of us will stick to truly free software. I think that OSS is doing fine, and it is certainly meeting my needs as a programmer and an end user. I'm sure that a lot of you out there feel the same way. And with every office package and video driver that is released, the number of people whose needs are met by pure OSS solutions increases. I don't think that current open source hackers will get involved with COSS, and thus it will suffer from the same problems that proprietary software has. It will not benefit from many bug-fixing eyeballs, and people who get involved with COSS are likely to be just looking for a quick buck, the sort of people who will find a way to subvert the COSS system for their own purposes. These people will try to confine the exchange of information in such a way that they make money. Again, like the Xanadu project.

    Information longs to be free. It will not permit restrictions. This is not a moral judgement, it is just an observation.

  • Ok, point well taken. There is more to Xanadu than the brief description I gave, and being able to get commentary and rebuttal on pieces of text that you are reading is tres cool. Being able to add links to other people's documents without permission is pretty cool too.

    If you look at my original post, you'll find I did reference Xanadu directly []. I did my homework, and the brief description I gave of Xanadu was taken from their homepage. In the two brief paragraphs of intro, backwards link tracing is not mentioned, but the copyright/fee issue is discussed - it is obviously a priority for them.

    Xanadu is an intelligent and noble idea, but it is doomed because nobody likes being nickle-and-dimed and because of the delays ;-) in development. I do appreciate Ted Nelson's contribution to hypertext and I agree with his pronouncemnet that some type of transclusive hypertext will be prominent in the future of publishing, but if he wants Xanadu to succeed, he's going to have to drop the royalty thing. Or hope that people contributing to the docuverse don't ask for royalties in the first place. Also, I don't know that a single source for information is really a good idea, even if the system involved does foster free speech and complexity. Like Dalzell said, 'The strength of the Internet is chaos.' The idea of having one docuverse bothers me, even though I know very well that it is designed to be resistant to tampering and all inclusive.

  • I think this setup can work (of course I have a few modifications of my own to add), not as a replacement of OSS but as yet another third model of development. I think it might cause some apps which are not available today to become available cheaply, which is not as good as getting them for free (yeah, I know about beer and speech, but beer is also important), but it is better than not having them at all, or paying M$ et al.

    Maybe someone should write a draft license which will express these ideas concretely, and then we can discuss it from there.

    Even if this license does not meet Open Source specifications, I still think it has a flying chance of becoming useful and valuable. Of course there is the danger of having this thing squashed between the OSS and Commercial worlds, but it would be an interesting experiment.

  • I read this article and was left wondering why someone thinks that lower prices necessarily lead to greater sales of things. Ever heard of "luxury" items where an inverse relationship exists between price and the number sold? Anyway, this aside is really not the central point that I want to make. I would have thought that the "gift culture" definition so accurately used to describe the open source/free software philosophy would make it impossible to launch a "market theory" based on the idea of "commercial open source".

    Free does not mean "no economic cost", free means freedom of choice in software developed and in its use.
  • Johnson's thesis can be attacked on many levels. With aplogies to RMS, let us set aside ethical issues, and discuss productivity. The effort contributed to a software project may loosely be divided into production and administration. Johnson suggests diverting resources into administration in order to manage licenses and allocate "contribution points". So in addition to the essential administrative effort of coordinating the actual development, a non-essential layer of administration would be introduced to collect and distribute the money. How can one argue that this is the "fittest" approach? Adding cost and effort without adding productivity is an intrinsic flaw of the closed development model. Is Johnson seriously suggesting we adopt it?
  • I think this is the way it will be for a while as well. Get up, go to work, write windows programs for the computer illiterate, make money, come home and hack on linux. Yahoo.

  • The best method of creation is what nature has settled on -- natural selection.

    How can OSS claim this as a benefit unto itself? Natural selection occurs every day in the market place we call capitalism. Generally, good ideas prosper, bad ones fall by the wayside. In fact, your entire post, though you've used it to describe the benefits of an open source environment, actually describe a capitalistic market! Whether or not software is proprietary, generally speaking, good software will still prevail (Microsoft notwithstanding), and that which is poorly written will not.

    There's one other aspect of this issue that seems to get lost amid the hype. There are many factors that contribute to the creation of a software monopoly. One in particular, which has nothing to do with the software company itself, is the need for corporations to standardize their procedures. If it just so happens that these procedures include the use of the Windows OS on all of their machines, nothing in the OSS movement will change this. The operating system could just as easily be RedHat, and if more of the business community is using RedHat, that's what it's likely to be. Either way, you could easily have a monopoly.
  • Since we've established that what OSS proposes, and what we know as capitalism are the same, it seems like we'd be simply replacing one paradigm (capitalism), with another (OSS) - like interchangeable pieces of a puzzle. Other than very general assertions like, "society will benefit as a whole," no one yet fully understands the degree to which the "free software" paradigm will succeed, or even why.

  • License under GPL, LGPL or BSD. Customers are given the option to buy trading cards in support of specific developers...
    This is a cool idea. Cards should have denominations in units of tech support, but not cash denominations. Cash equivalencies should emerge from market pressures.

    Developers might post notes on their websites, telling which cards they are looking for. If I'm doing a lot of Python work, I might mention that I'll give a large chunk of tech support in exchange for a GvR card.

    Part of the appeal of this idea is that it's decentralized; one or two developers can start issuing cards without waiting for anybody else to do so. In the absence of a busy marketplace of card-trading, cards simply represent deferred tech support.

  • If OSS is indeed created the scratch an itch, the developers itch, how do needs that the developers don't have get met? Do you really believe that there are enough talented developers in every possible niche in all aspects of each software package to meet those various needs. eg: built in help systems. While developers and those fluent in the ways of computers may not mind reading a singular large piece of documentation, or reading many differently incoherants pieces of documentation, alot of people do. I do not believe that it is essentially impossible for these needs to be met, not merely improbable. For this to happen, the end users needs and the developers needs must converge into one. While there may be some effort to make Linux and what not more user friendly, I do not believe it will be obtained and sustained. OSS developers are essentially trying to prove a point. When that point is 'proven', that OSS software can be every bit as functional as commercial software, I believe it will die down.

    I do not believe that today's OSS is truely a 'gift economy'. Linus and other hackers write because they enjoy doing so, the giving part is small part of it in my opinion. They enjoy a certain amount of prestige, they enjoy the opportunity to be part of something big, etc. The question is, what happens when Linus and those who would follow in his footsteps merely dissolve into the background. When they no longer have anything tangible to prove and they no longer enjoy the lime light, will they still produce? It essentially will become a chore, and one that people will ultimately avoid.

  • While this help may be precise and accurate, you try telling this to the end user. This format is not sufficient for 95% of the population. Secondly, man pages tend to be a little less than complete. When is the last time you ever heard of anyone learning C based on the man files?

    The 'user friendly' aspect of this is just one of my points. My central issue with OSS is that is has divergent interests. That is, the developers and the end users have different needs and wants. For this reason, you'll never see easily digestible documentation. You'll never see OSS MRP systems. Etc, Etc, Etc. Now sure, some projects might happen to be OSS, but they won't be the driving force behind the product.

    OSS is not a be all and end all.

  • I agree with you for the most part. The computer industry will continue to evolve at a rapid rate, and thus it will constantly present a number of challenging technical obstacles for software developers. However, I have my doubts that OSS will continue to be popular once it has already 'succeeded'.

    The question you really have to ask yourself is: Do you think Open Source could survive today if all work HAD to be contributed anonymously? I, for one, do not believe this to be the case. While OSS developers may still continue to attack certain problems, it will be problems that appeal to them only in the most personal sense. Not the kind of broad scale supplantation that RMS and others seem to hope for.

    Another point, although off topic, is my beef with 'innovation' and OSS. I don't believe that OSS is neccessarily innovative. I certainly can't point to many empirical examples. Furthermore, I think most people are basically motivated by self interest. Sure, you can point to Linux. But this was a collaborative effort by neccessity, Linus himself couldn't have gotten anywhere without the Open Source Community. But what about projects that simply don't need a huge community. Lets say if you have a really great idea, and you know with reasonable certainty that you can make millions off of it if you and your buddy spend the next couple of months developing it. Are you really going to consider giving this to the public for free. I don't think most people are. I can't think of any OSS luminaries who have done so either. Even RMS can't claim he has done so. Emacs, gcc, etc, are all nice, but I don't think he ever had the opportunity to make commercial profits from them.

  • RMS and co. seem to believe that 'free software' is capable of supplanting commercial software entirely. By success, I mean that they would prove this empirically. This would mean that 'free' software would be a viable and superior alternative in most sectors. In other words, you would need 'free' games like quake 3. You would need free MRP systems. Free Real Video. Free 3d graphics APIs. Free music compression technology similar to mp3. You would need free word processors that can compete feature by feature with Word if this is what consumers want. Etc, Etc, Etc.....

    PS: I mean 'free' as defined by RMS

  • I know precisely what man pages are, and how to use them. But what other documentation does the OSS world offer. A hand full of HOW-TOs, a few RFCs, etc. There is no central repository. Its nothing close to being user friendly. How else do you think O'Rielly sells so many books?

    Are you really going to tell me that man and vi are viable alternatives for the average computer user? Sure, they could learn it, but they don't want to.

    Software developers, and especially OSS developers, are a different breed. To say that their needs and wants are identical to the needs and wants of the other 95% of the software market is foolish. How many OSS developers really spend a great deal of time doing financial planning? Or working with CAD systems? Most of these people are in the SOFTWARE industry, or at the very least in the computer industry. They have some form of technical training. Contrast this with the needs of the average accountant, salesman, clerk, businessman, etc.

    Almost by definition, the OSS developers have more time than they know what to do with. This alone sets them miles apart from many people that I know. You try telling a 'real' succesfull entreprenuer that he has enough time to develop software in his free time. To many people the statement that they have enough time to work and tend to their family is laughable. These people don't have the time to mess around installing and learning Linux. And they most certainly don't have the time to develop software.

    In other words, if OSS does indeed exist to scratch an itch, it will never exist where the developers never have an itch. Put simply, one market which will totally escape them is the needs of the business executive. There are many many more, I assure you.

  • Do you believe that OSS could thrive if all code contributions were anonymous? The more code, the more niches, the more anonymous each author really becomes. Alot of coding is drudgery, its not as if writing say tax software is a major challenge. It is not as if this will earn you major hacker credits in the community.

    OSS tries to meet the developers needs. These needs are different than the end users. While you may see some push by OSS developers towards the end user, I believe, if success is ever had, the developers will get apathetic. The only thing keeping OSS interests somewhat inline with the rest of the worlds' is the desire to 'prove itself'. All of this is of course assuming that OSS gets this far, and I have serious doubts about that as well.
  • If open source is the solution to all of the world's software problems, then eventually (to listen to some people here) all projects will be open source. Who then pays the programmers?
    The companies using it, often. At an ISP I started we used NetBSD, and that ISP funded a quarter to half of my NetBSD development work. When we found bugs or security problems, I fixed them; that was part of the cost of the software.

    It doesn't even require the GPL to get the changes back into the world, in most cases. The cost of maintaining your own version of the software, combined with the loss of functionality when your changes and new features are not reviewed and improved upon by others, is fairly high. Thus, if you're using the software to support another business, rather than making a business of reselling the software, it's cheaper to give your changes back to the project than to keep them private.

    And there also are a fair number of people who write software just because they like to; not for financial gain. Yes, eventually some of these people will go away, but they'll probably be replaced by others, because in the end hacking is a fun hobby. (You see the same thing in other areas: amateur radio has contributed huge amounts to the commercial radio industry in the past eighty years.)


  • I've often heard people talk about open-source software "maturing"; that is, people are starting to consider it an alternative to commercial software. Of course, we have been doing that for a long time, but we only form a small percentage of the total computer user base.

    However, as it is with Linux, most people equate this sudden mainstream focus on open-source as a good thing. I don't necessarily think so.

    I'm personally happy with Linux the way it is: a fringe OS that only hackers use. I could care less if Windows NT becomes the only OS you ever find in mission-critical settings. Just because we don't have the market penetration and the mainstream awareness doesn't mean we're any worse off. Look at all the progress that has been made in the last 8 years with little or no press coverage. Look at the GNU system utilities, which are 15 years old in concept and still going strong despite the lack of press coverage for much of their lives.
  • by Mr.P ( 12985 )
    We don't have MS Office? Great. Less bloatware. Ever looked at MS Office for Mac? Wow, great software, with a huge translation layer for Win32 calls. I shudder to think what their port to X would look like.

    The longer we stay on the outside, the better, IMHO. The day I have to start fielding calls from floormates and flatmates about "what's root" and "how do you copy files" is the day I'm going to explode.
  • Software is different from other commodities in that the cost of software is not extremely related to the cost of producing that software. The economic analysis that was applied to software made the assumption that any economic model for software would involve per user/per use fees. This makes sense on the surface, since the users of the software would pay for what they use, and the writers of the software would get paid, but the important difference is that producing new copies does not add any value to the product (i. e. nothing is actually being produced, just copied), but consumers must pay for it.

    Consumers must bear this extra cost without any gain. An ideal solution to the problem of software economics is to have some way of having programmers be paid an hourly wage, but give the software away. At first this seems like a ludicrous, since no company could make money on software. The only way that this system could work is if there is no company making money on software. The company which paid the programmer would not be in the software business at all, but be in some other business which used a software product. If the software that is available is not adequate for their purposes, then the company would pay their programmer to modify it so that it was adequate. They would give away the software thus produced, at no cost to them. The company would benefit from the changes in the software, and other companies or individuals would benefit too.

    Software would no longer cost companies or individuals, but software development would continue. The cost of software would simply be the cost of paying programmers. No money would be wasted on marketing or other such silly corporate processes. Everyone would benefit and it would cost far less. The only people who lose out are the Bill Gateses of the world who make lost of money without contributing that amount of value to the economy.
  • What if i am not satisfied with the decisions of the group and i wish to fork the code? Do i still have to deal with all of the silly licensing stuff?

    One of the big parts of free software is that no one has any more rights than anyone else. This method seems to restrict me from becoming a distributor myself, and giving away copies that don't have payment restrictions. I'd say this resembles proprietary software since even though i have some rights to copying, everything is still somewhat controlled by a central body.

    Is it truly free if there can only be one group in control of it?

  • It's nice to see someone here talking about Ted Nelson's work, even in a backhanded and somewhat distorted way.

    There is more to the Xandau concept than a hypertext system with a system of keeping track of royalites. As I understand it keeping track of royalties isn't really the hard part. For example, Xanadu is supposed to allow backward tracing of links, so that you can ask a question like "Who is talking about what I'm reading now, are there any rebuttals in existance?".

    In any case, keeping track of the licensing of individual little pieces of code without something like Xanadu, that does sound like daunting task. Quite possibility daunting enough to discourage people from following up on this "COSS" proposal.

    I'd suggest to anyone who's interested that they should get their information about Xanadu from some place a little more direct than Wired: Xanadu []

  • Okay, sorry if I missed your Xanadu link.

    In defense of Xanadu's focus on actually paying for information:

    1. this idea was developed long before the WWW demonstrated how much information people are willing to post for free.
    2. there is still a wide range of information which people are unwilling to provide for free. Some of it is available on the web to those willing to, say, front a Credit Card number, but much of it isn't. The WWW "docuverse" is, and will remain somewhat limited without convienient means of payment built into it.

    That said, yes, I also have reservations about the Xanadu method of handling royalties. Having a flat rate for each byte of information makes things more convienient for the people browsing around, but all bytes are not created equal, and if you've authored something that you think is worth more than the Xanadu flat rate, then you're just not going to post it on the Xanadu system.

    So the Xanadu "docuverse" will remain limited also...

    Personally, true backlinks and really good annotation capabilities strike me as being the really important features proposed for Xanadu, followed closely by real document IDs (independant of physical location, i.e. URLs) and integrated backup and version control.

    I can't say I'm optimistic about ever getting my hands on a real Xanadu system, though. But then, I'd also given up long ago on ever getting a real free Unix, and here we are...

  • Despite the length and convoluted nature of this article, it's easy to figure out that what the writer suggests is a bad idea.

    The system he proposes cannot be implemented. How would one determine what constituted a "use for value" and what the degree of one's gain is? I gain something even if I just run a piece of software once and decide it's not worth using--the knowledge that whatever I'm using is better than everything else I've seen for what I want to do. Another example: what if I examine the source code for something and learn a skill that I use a year later to make a million dollars? How much do I pay, and when? Or this: I run a company and use a "COSS" product. I make money in the short run, but it's eventally found that using that software introduced fundamental flaws into my product; I lose money, and eventually go out of business. Do I pay? I'm sure people can think of myriad other examples on their own.

    Then there's the monitoring. This is already infeasable because of the problems determining the value of using software. Add to this the problem of tracking users at all: what if someone doesn't have a 'net connection? How do you keep tabs on this person's use? (Not to mention the fact that this scheme could probably be cracked by a "m4|) pH4t h4X0R" in no time flat.)

    A theory is only good if one can apply it, to one's benefit. These ideas would only make a laughingstock of whoever tried putting them into practice. Open source deserves better.
  • The author's analysis of capitalism made a few major errors that are unfortunately all too common.

    First and foremost, capitalism is not founded on "the greatest good for the greatest number". Who is "the greatest number"? What is its "good"? Various political/economic systems have answered with "the People", "the Nation", "the followers of God", or "the Race". In practice, this approach to anything always results in the rights of individuals being trampled by whatever gang happens to be in power at the time. A "group", as such, does not exit--the concept is just an easy way to think about a collection of individuals.

    Capitalism is the social system based on the recognition of individual rights, specifically the rights to life, liberty, and property, where all property is privately owned. (Pursuing happiness is, in practice, impossible without these.) Practially speaking, this means that the government acts only to protect its citizens from physical force and its derivatives (e.g. fraud), staying out of the realm of economics. In personal interactions, this means that men must act on the principle of trading the best they can offer with the best that others can offer, which is exactly what the hacker culture does. It is not a "gift culture". People do not get respect simply for giving their work away, but by providing something that other hackers find useful or interesting. (Really, how much "props" do we give to the five thousand authors of open source text editors? I thought so.)

    Rather than being antithetical to capitalism, hacker culture is more an exponent of it than most businesses, who clamor for more government intervention to destroy their competitors or make entry into markets virtually impossible. Hacker culture rewards the best--those with intelligence and skill. Dismissing political pull of any sort, hackers insist on trading value for value, which may take the form of respect, money, or a better piece of software. Despite the noise, good hackers are not altruists--they gain a very selfish value from their work: joy. Those who don't, don't remain hackers for very long, or don't get very good at it.

    It's time we got past the FUD surrounding capitalism and recognize what it really is--the best system under which to write great software. For references, see [], Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand.
  • Decently written, and it shows a good understanding of the differing viewpoints of the OSS philosophy. I'm glad someone said what I've always thought: The best method of creation is what nature has settled on -- natural selection.

    Think about it: The Linux kernel and tools look like they do because someone needed them to. Unlike proprietary software, the unused parts of the Linux kernel get selected out, causing much greater efficiency. In the closed-source market, the company might add something no one needs (animated titlebars, anyone?), taking developers away from other, more important functions (networking). In open systems, developers act as the environmental forces shaping the evolved entity into the state it needs to be in.

    This is why OSS works so well and closed systems do not: response to market forces.


  • The author makes a detour into evolutionary psychology to attempt to explain gift cultures. Here he makes the usual mistake of thinking that all human behaviour can be explained with reference to reproduction. This is implausible on the face of it, as can be seen by the existence of strict homosexuals and monasteries. Humans, conscious thinking beings, have a much wider range of motivations than the simple desire to reproduce.

    Even in the terms of evolutionary psychology, the reasoning is suspect. The sexual selection strategy of peacocks is indeed interesting and instructive (although I'll note that Darwin anticipated sexual selection strategies, so the comment that the peacocks had not read the Origin of Species misstates Darwin's understanding of the idea he invented). However, when it comes to the example of the hunter (presumed to be male), it's hardly obvious that women are selecting good hunters on the basis of respect. A good hunter can do well for the very obvious reason that he is a good hunter, quite apart from the benefits of respect. Women might prefer to have children with such a hunter simply because those children would in turn be good hunters and would therefore do well, to say nothing of the benefits of having a good hunter caring for the children. Even if we buy into the notion that reproduction is the main determinant of human behaviour, this example gives very little reason to think that respect is a prim

    The author argues that selection for respect helped lead to potlatch cultures. Potlatch cultures developed in an unusual area with a large amount of resources available for easy gathering. It's interesting to note that the potlatch cultures did not develop traditional agriculture, but were nevertheless able to create large settled communities, simply because the natural resources were so abundant.

    Just as we in the U.S. prefer to elect a president who keeps the economy running strong, the potlatch culture villages preferred leaders who were able to supply their needs well. In a culture of abundance, it became possible for a leader to demonstrate that ability by showing that he had a super-abundance--so much stuff that he had no need for it, and could actually destroy it and still be well off. Clearly somebody that well off would be a good supplier.

    Of course, that explanation is just as simple-minded as the one based on evolutionary psychology. In reality, people's motivations are complex, and can not be so easily analyzed. The point is that there is no need to refer human actions back to reproductive strategies; other explanations serve just as well.
  • I think one of the key issues that many people are working on when they try to create "futures" for open source is this: Currently, a very large portion of open source software is written by people that have jobs writing (other) commercial software. Why? Because they need to eat. Not everyone can live off their fame. (RMS) Even Linus has a real job... If open source is the solution to all of the world's software problems, then eventually (to listen to some people here) all projects will be open source. Who then pays the programmers? I realize that there are other business models which can alleviate that strain (Cygnus, RedHat, etc...) but I'm still not convinced that it will be enough. I'd like to see someone provide a feasible economic model of how the entire world could operate on open source and still keep its programmers fed and clothed.

  • by Darkforge ( 28199 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @12:19PM (#1949479) Homepage
    For those who don't feel like reading the whole thing, the gist of the article is this:

    Commercial Open Source Software (COSS) would entail a commercial software vendor selling software licenses the same way they do now; however, they would also sell copies of the source code to their product. All users would still be required to pay the run-time license fee for the product, but modified versions of the software could be distributed (so long as the end users paid the license fee).

    In addition, the author suggests that contributors to the source code might be paid for their contributions, and suggests a compensation scheme based on "contribution points." The company essentially outlines how many points a person gets for a contribution, (ie 1pt for a minor bug fix, 2pt for a minor/simple feature, etc.) and in return for contribution points, the contributor receives some revenue. The author suggests that these points should not be tradeable, to avoid alienation from the product and investment scams. Even if contribution points aren't a good way to pay contributors, the author still maintains that some mechanism should be provided for doing so.

    My take on this is that the argument for selling your source is excellent. Many people believe that if anyone has a copy of a commercial vendor's source code then they will be unable to charge for it. This is pretty obviously wrong; we've seen a variety of cases where a sneaky hacker has busted in and liberated the source code to a variety of products, (the Quake source code was liberated in this way,) but the products made money anyway. This suggests to me that id could have easily have been distributing the source code to Quake, in c, and would not have suffered for it.

    In addition, the author notes that the most expensive software is used by companies in the course of business. Managers who pay for software licenses take that payment out of their budgets; if they don't, they run the risk of employees blowing the whistle on a company when they see that the company endorses software piracy. This makes companies somewhat easier to monitor for software piracy.

    Finally, many people want a packaged product, with manuals, tech support, and a pretty box; this can generally only be provided by buying a legal copy of the software.

    Selling the source is a great idea, but what about contributors? Well, it's hard to tell whether and how contributors should be paid for contributions. In many cases, I think we'll find that contribution schemes like the one listed above will be unnecessary. It's unlikely that someone will decide to fix a bug in someone else's software in exchange for the meager sum that a company is likely to provide for that service. Many coders will be unwilling to contribute to COSS on the principle that it isn't Free. Coders still might do so for the prestige value, however; they might also do so if they get frustrated with a bug in the software and decide to go in and fix it themselves. So it seems to me that paying contributors won't add much to the contribution pool, and that contributors will still contribute source anyway.

    The author's contribution scheme is especially flawed, IMO, because it could easily lead to feature bloat as programmers decide to code up lots and lots of minor features to try to get points. I also disagree with the author's claim that the points should not be made tradeable: it's hard to tell what would prevent the contributors from making contracts with others to accept a certain sum of money now in exchange for transferring all further contribution revenue to the buyer. While the author points out that trading leads to a whole body of rule/lawmakers who regulate investments, this is only another mark against contribution points.

    In sum, COSS is a good idea. Giving contribution points in exchange for contributions probably isn't a good idea. However, some other mechanism of contribution might work, and might be necessary to develop a large body of programmers working on the project.


  • by evin ( 31167 ) on Sunday April 04, 1999 @11:11AM (#1949487)
    RMS didn't found the FSF because of people who could not afford software. Free software is *not* about price - it's about freedom. The author wants to charge money for software (which is fine), but he wants to do so at the expense of freedom. This is not 'Commercial Open-Source Software' - it's proprietary software.
    Cygnus is a good example of a commercial free software company. They make their money developing and selling GPLed software.

    The more I read stuff, the more I find that 'open source' is meaning 'free of charge' rather than anything else. I suppose this is even partly intentional, to hide any freedom issues. Amusing how 'open source' was supposedly coined to avoid this specific meaning, when this is the only meaning ESR presents.
  • This article deserves more than a casual read. I intend to print and study it in some detail. Some questions occurred to me as I went through it,

    Who contributes value, who receives value, and who pays for it dont seem to me obvious at all.

    The article contains the premise that some people want or need to get paid for contributing to open software. Anyone know how many of the principle contibutors to oss fall into one of these groups? I don't know.

    Is peer regard or respect the primary pay for writing oss software? I'd rate the satisfaction I get from coding for its own sake way higher than the money I receive at my day job or the peer respect I get. But I'm mostly a user and evangelizer of oss (also my interests tend to be so arcane and the results so incomplete I can't imagine anyone else being interested) so maybe I'm way atypical. I think gift culture is a simplistic explanation for a more complex reality.

    What if the primary beneficiary of oss software is the society as a whole? If the outcome of all this is that oss enables an economy that eliminates scarcity altogether and makes everyone so rich they have major economic incentive not to rock the boat by going off on tribal crusades would that justify the inefficiencies in government subsidy? What level of lesser benefit would justify subsidy?

    Cool article - made me think. Isn't it fun to live on the bleeding edge of change and have issues like these to puzzle over?

  • Getting the job done and getting paid is a good enough reward. The question is how to achieve it. Here's a suggestion:

    For the time being, let's divide programmers in two groups:

    - The Rock&Roll stars
    - The dentists

    The Rock&Roll stars want to create a hit and strike gold. If they don't make it, they stay unknown and poor. If they do, their wealth increases by orders of magnitude.

    The dentists just do their job, day after day. However good a job they did for one customer, they still have to start from scratch in the next one's mouth. Of course, as they go along, they gather experience and may be able to process more clients in one day, but not by orders of magnitude.

    I'd say the Rock&Roll star depends on the existence of closed software to work.

    And the dentist could do very well in an open software paradigm.

    It depends what is the profile of most programmers: a teenage wonder kid with no responsibilities or a skilled adult in a particular trade.

    I have been creating open source software for customers for the last fifteen years and in all that time, not one of my customers ever tried to understand my source code, let alone try to learn how to code himself.

    They pay me by the hour to be able to focus on their own job instead of trying to learn of to make the damn thing work.

    So, on one side, you have end users and on the other, you have technicians.

    One side pays the other to spend time solving problems. That's pretty much in line with the idea of capitalism. And it takes care of feeding the programmers.

    Now forget the end user one moment and focus on the programmers.

    To do their work, they need software tools. They have a choice between paying for a closed tool kit or an open one.

    In my opinion, it is very easy to demonstrate that it makes much more economic sense for each individual programmer to share the tools than to sell it to each other.

    For each hour you put in maintaining the common software pool, you get many orders of magnitude more code back.

    While when you spend one hour's worth of salary on a closed source software tool, you get a few dollars worth of software and that's it.

    So what I'm saying is that the economic model under which Open Source software makes economic sense is one where most programmers are not confined within the glass walls of an ivory tower, but are supported by a network of paying customers.

    This may help bridge the gap between programmers who give away their work of love for the benefit of mankind and the volunters who also give away their time for the benefit of mankind in non-profit organisations (generally working in a Windows environment).

APL hackers do it in the quad.