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The Almighty Buck

New ESR paper: The Magic Cauldron 163

Thanks to webmaven for sending us 'The Magic Cauldron', the latest piece by ESR. The paper "anaylzes the evolving economic substrate of the open-source phenomenon." As always, very timely and interesting reading, considering the IPO announcements and more news of investment from folks "oustide" of the Linux world.
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New ESR paper: The Magic Cauldron

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  • ESR addressed both of your counter-examples in the paper.

    These two quotes come from the following section near the bottom: http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/magic-cauldron /magic-cauldron-3.html


    "In the short run, one can escape this trap by making bug-fix releases pose as new products with a new price attached, but consumers quickly tire of this. In the long run, therefore, the only way to escape is to have no competitors -- that is, to have an effective monopoly on one's market. In the end, there can be only one. "

    "And, indeed, we have repeatedly seen this support-starvation failure mode kill off even strong second-place competitors in a market niche. (The pattern should be particularly clear to anyone who has ever surveyed the history of proprietary PC operating systems, word processors, accounting programs or business software in general.) The perverse incentives set up by the factory model fuel to a winner-take-all market dynamic in which even the winner's customers end up losing."

    So according to Raymond, one can in the short run call bug fixes and patches new versions and charge for them but this leads to a condition where you tend towards a single monopoly player and customers dissatisfied with poorly supported sofware - sound familiar?

  • The illustration ESR uses of a company selling fitting software for sawmills is relevant here, but I think he missed a point in that example.

    There may be no advantage for the company he spoke to in opening their sources. But that company has potential customers who might have written their own software. Since many sawmills compete only within a fixed geographical area, they may feel that they have little to lose by giving that application away, and much to gain from all the usual arguments.

    So where does that leave our software supplier ?

    It's not sufficient to consider whether your product should be open-sourced - you also need to consider the effects on your business of someone else open-sourcing a replacement.

    -adrian
  • Yep, forcing me to view it using a particular program on a particular platform - gotta love the OSS movement.

    "We let you do whatever you want! - as long as it's Linux"

    ;)
  • > And also like the doctor who heals the patient,
    > the lawyer that provides legal advice, the
    > stock broker that provides financial advice,
    > the psychiatrist that provides therapy.

    Explain to me how any of these, except perhaps the first, is a Good Thing?

    :)
  • Jeez, just get the SGML source and do whatever you want with it. The source is quite readable, and you can use it to generate whatever type of output you want (pretty much).

    Heck, you can even use the RTF filter to make a document that is suitable for viewing in MS Word.

    SGML is very cool, perhaps you should learn before flaming.
  • I have a question that I hope someone out there can answer. At the end of Chaper 3 of TMC, ESR writes:
    "Lowering the cost of a good tends to increase, rather than decrease,total investment in the infrastructure that sustains it. When the price of cars goes down, the demand for auto mechanics goes
    up -- "
    This just has me confused, and seems to be wrong. If this is basic economy theory then I'll shut up and go away.
    How does this follow? In the old days, cars were cheap and there were LESS mechanics, no used car dealerships, etc. People used cars for a couple of years and disposed of them to buy new ones. You could do that - they were cheap. As cars became expensive, all that infrastructure grew up to support used cars and keep cars running longer. Am I missing something?
    Look at TVs and VCRs - there used to be shops where you could get them repaired. Now there aren't - because they are CHEAP.
    This should read "Lowering the cost of a good *eliminates* the infrastructure that exists to support it".

    - Brannen
  • I think that you should organise it differently. If you program then you work. You can charge for labour. Just make a contract for it. There's nothing special about it. In construction work they do it all the time: charge hours and material. Programming takes time and requires some material (hardware, an office, etc.). That's still the most costly thing about it and that's how you can earn your money.

    From this point of view, making a program for somebody is just another service. This is how you earn your money and has nothing to do with OSS or CSS. Most software companies that work on a project basis work that way: they estimate how much work it is to build the program and charge for building it.
  • Anonymous Coward wrote:

    On the other hand, there are examples of people buying "old unsupported software" Witness some people going back to older versions of Word Perfect, or buying classic video game compilations.

    Older versions of WordPerfect are still supported. You can even get things like the HP LaserJet 5si printer drivers for WordPerfect 5.1. In fact a writer friend of mine has recently contacted Corel with a question about WP5.1+, and not only got a knowlegable response (consider that Corel had no part in developing WP until version 7), but found that program development is still very much active, particularly maintaining internationalization and driver support.

    As his article pointed out, video games are a special market all their own, with different rules.
  • You give Bill Gates too much credit. Despite the official line, MS is not a bunch of inovators under the command of the great Bill Gates. It is a company that reacts well to the moves of others. If Bill Gates was never born and Steve Jobs was never born, and Xerox execs still didn't know what they were sitting on, someone else would have come along and stolen the technology.
  • I don't see many of these forking problems you talk about in any of the major open source projects. The Linux kernel is not forked, Apache is not, the was a fork in gcc which was handled well and eventually rolled back in as the main version once it had proven itself. Just not that big a deal.
  • You've got a large company with about 15 significant competitors. You have developed an in-house piece of software "Y" to run all aspects of a new (and highly competitve) line of business. The software has extreme use value, but no sale value.

    Well, to your company's programmers this software is open source. After all, your company can get access to the source to fix and improve things.

    You don't want to release the software to the public, because it contains trade secrets. That's fine.

    In actual world, many trade secrets are not worth keeping, because others have already thought and implemented similar things. In addition, there maybe parts of the internal system that could be released and be useful, without any secrets being given away.

    One additional advantage for a company to release code as open source is that it can create a pool of programmers familiar with your software. This makes it easier to hire new people.

    ...richie

  • Nor is there a big developer following behind closed source CD player applets for Windows or the Mac. What you are missng is that many of those submissions on Freshmeat are small projects that require few members and in most cases add to or complement existing projects. There are hundreds of applets out there using GTK and designed for Gnome integration, the same can be said of QT/KDE or Gimp plugins or Apache modules. ESR's point was that open source development is not inherently unstable as some people claim and that the growth of open source submissions is proof of that.

  • Posted by FascDot Killed My Previous Use:

    The Golden Rule is: "Treat others as you would have them treat you". This says nothing about ignoring your own payoff. In fact, what it says is "When you want to increase your own payoff, increase the other guy's, too."
    "...Raymond's Comedy of the Commons, where a cooperative few can support a large number of non-cooperators."
    You should distinguish between coding non-cooperators (Microsoft, etc) and user non-cooperators (non-programming Linux users, etc). The first can be excluded by such simple means as the GPL (see www.az.com/~drysdam/GPL-as-strategy.html). [az.com]
    The second group is not a tragedy since there is no pool of resources being used up.
    ---
    Put Hemos through English 101!
  • Brooks' Law is "Adding programmers to a late software project makes it later." I strongly dispute Eric's claim that open source overcomes Brooks' Law. While open source may have advantages, super-speed in initial development is not one of them. It may be quick to *fix* vital bugs, but that's another matter. How fast is AbiWord being developed? Mozilla? (And how does the latter compare to the "Internet time" upgrades we used to have with browser versions?)

    P.S. It was a pleasure working with Dr. Brooks as a grad student.
  • I also am not an economist, but:

    In the old days, cars were _not_ cheap. Cars were an expensive luxury. Today, cars are cheap. This can be demonstrated by counting how many cars peope used to own, and how many they do now. You will find that, on average, the number of cars per person (or per family) had gone significantly up, and is still rising.

    "Cheap" is only a relative term, in relation to how much people can afford.
  • The other side of this coin is that most vendors buying this factory model will also fail in the longer run. Funding indefinitely-continuing support expenses from a fixed price is only viable in a market that is expanding fast enough to cover the support and life-cycle costs entailed in yesterday's sales with tomorrow's revenues. Once a market matures and sales slow down, most vendors will have no choice but to cut expenses by orphaning the product.

    This is interesting, because it makes me think about Apple. Remember when they orphaned the IIe? What if, instead, they continued support on a pay-per model for the outdated product?

  • by DonkPunch ( 30957 ) on Thursday June 24, 1999 @07:48AM (#1834656) Homepage Journal
    I plan to write followups to both "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and "The Magic Cauldron". I have a few ideas in mind for titles. Hopefully, these will be in the same spirit as the originals:

    1. Knights of the Boardroom Table
    2. Open Sorcery
    3. A Code Jester in King Richard's Court
    4. Slaying the Proprietary Dragon
    5. Use the GPL or I'll Get Medieval on Your Arse

    (All due respect to ESR, of course. I'm just having fun here.)
  • It's interesting, but it's pretty much a rehash of ideas that have been discussed almost to death everywhere over the last six months or so. I'd say ESR's basically out to round all of that discussion off and summarise the results: I think we need that, particularly from someone as respected as ESR. This is the kind of article that you'd want to point your boss at, but it doesn't really say much that's new.

    That said, it is a good summary of the ideas, and though it isn't as revolutionary as CatB was in it's day, it should serve the role it was designed for.

    ESR as econosocioanthropologist . . . it works for me . . .

    himi
  • >I'd like a real, not some second rate sociological
    >mythmaking about tribal 'gifts' and so forth.

    See this piece [tripod.com] for once such discussion.

    -matt
  • The discussion and advocacy of open-source development in this paper should not be construed as a case that closed-source development is intrinsically wrong, nor as a brief against intellectual-property rights in software, nor as an altruistic appeal to `share'. While these arguments are still beloved of a vocal minority in the open-source development community, experience since [CatB] has made it clear that they are unnecessary.

    Do you find it hard to commit yourself to your own ideas, Eric?

  • {{I first tried to post this as one message, but it didn't work}}

    First, what William said: "...thoughtful replies. I'll try, but it won't be easy -- you cover too many topics."

    But unlike William, I'll only respond to a single theme.

    >Linux can only follow Windows precedents;

    Linux was network and internet aware and responsive before Windows knew it existed.
    Linux multitasked from day one, Windows was retrofitted for multitasking. Linux has been multiuser friendly from day one, Windows only started down this road a year or two ago. Linux knew how to use many different hardware architectures very early in it's evolution, Windows (NT only) can now use 2.

    The only (broad) area where Linux is following "Windows precedents" is in the GUI area. And lets not forget that Windows followed the Macintosh into that realm (who in turn was following Xerox PARC).

    If we change that statement to:

    "Linux can only follow precedents"

    The argument carries a little more weight -- all of the items I mentioned above were adopted from previous/contemporary operating systems.

    However it carries weight only until we look a little further and realize that nearly all software was adapted from another source. Like the world of literature and movies, there are very few -original- ideas out there.

    Linux "only following precedents" is not a weakness, but a strength. Linux (like any free-open system) can, and has, adopt any good idea it sees providing there are people interested in it. Microsoft (like any closed system) can only adopt good ideas when it can make money off it (or at least not lose money).

    -mat
  • by parkrrrr ( 30782 ) on Thursday June 24, 1999 @08:00AM (#1834664)
    (A final note before the exposition: the discussion and advocacy of open-source development in this paper should not be construed as a case that closed-source development is intrinsically wrong, nor as a brief against intellectual-property rights in software, nor as an altruistic appeal to `share'. While these arguments are still beloved of a vocal minority in the open-source development community, experience since [CatB] has made it clear that they are unnecessary. An entirely sufficient case for open-source development rests on its engineering and economic outcomes -- better quality, higher reliability, lower costs, and increased choice.)

    I want to see some statistics that prove that people who agree with Stallman are only a minority of members of the open source community. Without that, this looks like just another attempt by our friend Eric to minimize the very real concerns many of us have about the real freedom of our software. Yeah, all that other stuff is nice, too, but three out of four (quality, reliability, and choice) are quite possible with proprietary software too. All you need are developers who care about the product and the customers rather than just the stock options.

  • >... there is no economic incentive to carry out
    >the research to do something truly innovative

    Most of the "innovations" currently in vogue today came from pure research labs. The mouse, hypertext, multi computer/preson collaborative document creation (workgroups), and network video conferencing all came from Doug Engelbart in 1968 (at Stanford?). A graphical user interface with icons and a pointing device came from Xerox PARC in the same era. And of course the Internet grew out of Arpanet which was developed by the Defense department and universities.

    The only area I can think of (at the moment) where a commercial company being truly "innovative" is id software and Castle Wolfenstein (which reincarnated as Doom and Quake). Oh yeah, there's also the Amiga and the Video Toaster, but the innovation there is primarily in making existing technology affordable and accessible.

    >(emacs still thinks there's no mouse).

    I don't quite understand this statement. I've used a mouse with emacs before (admittedly, I don't normally use emacs). Besides emacs is not Linux, it's emacs.

    Anyway, to at least approach the main gist of your comment - Where's the Economic Sense in Open Source?

    It costs too much and develop, maintain and support a software system after it grows past a certain level of complexity or number of users. Let your users develop, maintain and support each other where they can.

    Your salable value is in your expertise, experience and in-depth understanding of the system. This body of experience can be sold as publications, contract development work, and "branded" products. At home I buy white box computers and parts. At work I buy Digital, Dell, HP and IBM because we need the value and reliability they add.

    -ma
  • ASCII output from nroff looks much the same; maybe that's how the flat ASCII was produced. Just view it using 'more' or 'less', which turn A^H_B^H_ into 'AB' and underlines it.
  • While individuals put money in their pocket, overall every industry loses money. It's the nature of the beast, that is, CorpGov LLC standard "Private profits, Public risks". The military (funded by you and me) issued in the radio, television, internet, and every other product. So we (the peons) fund the research while those on top reap the benefits. Hell, the government was gonna give AT&T the Internet but the giant CorpGov LLC couldn't see the forest for the trees. It's all a pyramid scam with you and I on bottom. http://parsons.iww.org/~iw/oct1997/graphics/pyrami dcapiw.gif There is no profits in reality! Only those that got and those that don't. You and I are shut out of the "cash flow".
  • I'm confused about the following case:

    You've got a vlarge company with about 15 significant competitors. You have developed an in-house piece of software "Y" to run all aspects of a new (and highly competitve) line of business. The software has extreme use value, but no sale value.

    What I don't see Eric's model capturing is the fact that you would want to keep "Y" closed-source to prevent competitors from gaining benefit from the technology, code fragments, business models, etc of "Y". You're not afraid of your competitor making and selling "Z" from it, but from using it to gain insight into your business or to enhance their business in a way that causes revenue loss not directly related to software.

    Does this connect with anyone?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't think open-source is unstable, I just
    question the assumption that open-source implies quality.

    In my experience, most open-source stuff released on Freshmeat is very often, someone's first project or learning experience. And most of the code is very ugly.


    In general, only the Cathedral style projects IMHO, have nice clean code. The GNU stuff, the BSD stuff. Linux code in comparison looks like a nightmare hacked up by amateurs.

    At my previous company, code-reviews and API contracts were enforced. Everyone had to document their interfaces and use proper object-oriented design and analysis. (we used Rational Rose).

    Result? Code that was nice, clean, abstracted, modularized, and documented with a high amount of use. Most people on the team were also familiar with design patterns, and everything was documented with respect to this.

    In contrast, I find most of the open-source stuff to be very poorly thought out. The only projects where it isn't happen to be one where there is a superstar maintainer who doesn't allow bullshit into the tree.

    The problem with the release-early release-often mentality of OSS is that people end up patching and building code on top of a design that is really just a throw away prototype.

  • I have about 20 different projects sitting on my harddrive that I haven't released to anyone because I don't think they are useful to anyone but me. I wouldn't want to foist bad unusable code on Freshmeat just to say "me too"

    Too bad that you don't release them. How do you know that no one else would find them useful?

    ...richie

  • I have about 20 different projects sitting on my harddrive that I haven't released to anyone because I don't think they are useful to anyone but me. I wouldn't want to foist bad unusable code on Freshmeat just to say "me too"

    Too bad that you don't release them. How do you know that no one else would find them useful?

    ...richie

  • Regarding ESR's comments on passwords, I did not interpret that as you did:
    ESR gives the example of passwords as "information that does not want to be free". However, if that's the case, then why do we have to go to such lengths to keep our passwords secure? Why encrypt them? Why tediously remind users not to write them on Post-It notes on their monitors? It is precisely because unsecured information leaks around easily that we have to take security measures.
    I took this as simply an example of information that should not have a clearing cost of zero just because the marginal cost to distribute or reproduce it approaches zero. Not as an example of "information that doesn't want to be free". Obviously information doesn't "want" anything and just as obviously treasure maps and important passwords tend to get distributed widely if not guarded closely. Remember the goal here is to provide economic justification for open source software and the readers ESR most wants to influence are probably the least likely to accept that "information wants to be free". ESR divorces his case from that argument, thus his readers don't have to accept that argument to accept ESR's point.

    ---------

  • He's already given you your answer [tuxedo.org] . You just didn't read it far enough.
    -russ
  • My biggest problem with the way esr writes is that he has an unfortunate tendency to joust with straw men. His deconstruction of "The Tragedy of the Commons" is a rather sophmoric set of straw men. It always surprises me to see such fuzzy thinking from people who otherwise pride themselves on rational thought.

  • Eric Raymond makes a very good point in noting that the value in software is more in maintenance and support than the product itself. In light of this, there is perhaps an additional business model that supports this notion without requiring source code to be freely available.

    Consider a software company that leases software. Business's pay to use the software on a yearly basis (for example). This gives the software company a steady stream of revenue based upon the number of people using their software. In return, the users get support, timely maintenance releases and future features.

    To make this example more concrete, consider the accounting industry. They certainly can benefit from software that deals with the everchanging tax codes. Now, most accounting firms are small and it doesn't really make sense for them to collaborate on a software project when they have no programming expertise. They're accountants, not hackers. Also, due to their size, it's not feasible for them to hire programmers for this task.

    Here, a software company fills a definite need. As experts in their domain, you can expect the software company to keep abreast of the frequent regulation changes in Washingtion, DC, and update their software accordingly. Accountants need to do accounting, not hacking away at some monstrous piece of software on a regular basis.

    So, the accountants, in essence, pay to use the software as service (one that's updated regularly), not as a product. Here, the software company has no reason to release their code. What might happen? A competing software company might snatch it out from under them and take their revenue away. It is after all service based, but someone had to make the initial investment to get the ball rolling. The company benefits from closed source, and at the same time has enough revenue to properly maintain and support their software.

    This, I think, is a viable alternative to the business models that Eric suggests. Unfortunately, not everybody who uses software is a webmaster capable of writing his own, nor is it the agenda of most companies to delve in writing software. They'd rather being doing what they're good at, and leaving the software to experts, namely a software company who steps in to fill the need.

    Note, this is not the typical consumer software market, but these applications probably account for more software and certainly more revenue (SAP?).

    So, in conclusion, there's money to be made from software as a service, and let's leave the coding to people who specialize in it, rather than laymen who just want to use the software.
  • > Not true. When I was doing consulting work, we regularly could underbid proprietary solutions by using Linux, giving us a significant competitive advantage while actually maintaining a higher margin than our competitors.

    Each software has their strengths. The advantage of MS products are that they support the most common features of the business market. The advantage of Linux is its easy customisation and ability to solve once-off problems while maintaining profits to the smaller consulting companies. It all comes down to the same basic issue, if you look after the customer properly, then the profits will look after themselves.

    LL
  • If you really want pure ASCII,
    do this on vi.

    :1,$s/\^H.//g

    -Siva
  • If you really want pure ASCII,
    do this on vi.

    :1,$s/\^H./g

    -Siva
  • Software leasing is a common model in the world of IBM mainframe business applications. The software vendor leases an accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, purchasing, etc. package to the customer. Price is often based on machine size or number of users. Various levels of support are available. (You get what you pay for. :) Actually, these deals often involve a LOT of money, and are often negotiated individually with each customer (no shrink-wrap licesnses here).

    A given package may consist of several hundred COBOL programs. (Yes, you may well shudder) Source code is usually provided under a non-disclosure agreement, and the vendor is usually happy to have you customize the programs for your specific environment - nothing is better for locking in a customer.

    IANAL, but I doubt if this qualifies as open-source.
  • chapter 6 :
    "Let's say you hire someone to write to order (say) a specialized accounting package for your business. That problem won't be solved any better if the sources are closed rather than open; the only rational reason you might want them to be closed is if you want to sell the package to other people. "


    Hypothetically, as a company (that doesn't sell software) I open my accounting package that I had developed in house. Assuming it was reasonably well written, it becomes popular and benifits from improvements made by the community.

    Now, my competitor also starts to use it, but without the initial startup cost. Neither of us gain with respect to the other, except I had to pay for the development.

    Am I reaping benifits that I don't see?
  • Although I agree with your points and think YOU're dead on, I still think ESR is off.



    He says:


    All of these trends raised the payoff from opening the source. At some point the payoff curves crossed over and it became economically rational for
    id to open up the Doom source and shift to making money in secondary markets such as game-scenario anthologies. And sometime after this point, it
    actually happened. The full source for Doom was released in late 1997.


    id never changed their strategy as to how to make money, they kept making close sourced games that had better (proprietary) engines than anybody else at the time.



    Your point, which I agree with, is that eventually, it became more of a headache for id to keep supporting Doom than it was worth, especially since they were actively working on something new.



    This is a very different thing than embracing open source, or using open source as your model. Instead it's basically giving something away which is no longer cutting edge and isn't bringing in much revenue anymore (with the advent of other games like Duke Nuken etc..) and is in fact more of a headache than it's worth due to people wanting ports and support issues.



    I agree Carmack is the man for having released the source and educating tons of people out there on writing high quality portable games, but using id as an example of a company which shifted it's model to an open source one is completely off base. If anything, id proves the point that if you're doing something that's really cutting edge, it pays to keep it closed source and make a mint off of it, at least if you're good enough to do it with high quality. (granted very very few are as good as JC)



    Anyways, I still think ESR is way off base on the whole thing and is confusing the matter more than anything.



    -Nic

  • Maybe you're just too smart? Software is seen as a typical public good, and public goods have always been considered to be susceptible to the TotC.
    -russ
  • Now, my competitor also starts to use it, but without the initial startup cost. Neither of us gain with respect to the other, except I had to pay for the development.

    Am I reaping benifits that I don't see?

    If the package is being used by other people, you will always be able to find programmers that are familiar with it and can maintain it and improve it.

    If you keep it to yourself, once the main developers move on to other things you'll have hard time finding people that can work on your system. If you need bug fixes or new features you'll have to spend money and waste time to get new developers up to speed.

    ...richie

  • >Freshmeat needs MODERATION.

    Or at the very least, reviews. This is something I've been thinking about and really missed for open source stuff. Can't code but want to contribute? Think about setting up a reviews site and reviewing what does exist.
  • You said it yourself: "... and benifits from improvements made by the community."

    You now have a better accounting package than you started with, with no extra investment on your part. You then just need to answer the question of whether the advantages you gain from the better accounting package outweigh any competitive advantage you might have from being the only one with a not-as-good accounting package.

    Of course, in an increasingly free-source world, odds are that sooner or later someone will create a free source accounting package, and then your competitive advantage will dissolve anyway...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd love someone to explain this better. How are developers supposed to make money in this brave new OS world?

    The only avenue I see in ESR's document is to be picked up by some benevolent Accessorizor who thinks my efforts will help them sell more accessories - the 'Open R&D' idea.

    That sucks. Let me explain my situation:

    I am a partner in a small software development firm. We have 5 staff (including the partners), and write applications for a specialised sector of the market. The major application we develop is a high-ticket, low-volume product.

    We may have some small competitive advantages over others in the same arena, but that's not important. Niche application software does not win on technical merits, however much I would like it to. It wins on how good a job the sales people do at convincing the customer that our product is better for their purpose than someone elses.

    Right now the product is closed source. It is never likely to be something everybody has on their desktop, in fact we think the product will have a limited lifespan, say 5 years. As technology advances, the functionality that our particular software offers will not be as necessary as it is today.

    I can live with that, and I think that closed source is the best way for this product to remain. It's sort of like the Doom example, before they open-sourced it. Plenty of reasons for ID to open-source Doom, AFTER they had made back the R&D cost, plus a little profit. But should they have open-sourced Doom from the beginning? Not in my opinion.

    Judging by some of the comments here, a few people would disagree with that statement. I don't think that's reasonable. I'm not in this for the money (well, maybe a little). I love to program. I'd like to have the freedom to program whatever I want, help write open source software, change the world, etc. and than means I need a way to support myself financially. I'd write open-source software all day long, if someone would only pay my bills.

    If we keep our product closed, I can probably make enough money from it to finance my personal programming projects. If we open the source, I don't see how I can do that. Can anyone point out what I'm missing?

    I'm an Anonymous Coward because I fear the flame.
  • I agree. It seemed more an act of reciprocal generosity on Carmack's part. Basically a sort of "hey kids, thanks for helping us sell DOOM with all those pwads and stuff, here, now you can play with all of it".

    I doubt releasing the DOOM source brought id much additional revenue.

    BUT...

    I do think id's games are a very strong example of the power of the open source development model, but not one that is relevant to commercial enterprises, since id kept a lot of "secret bits" to themselves, and mods to Quake or DOOM had to be non-commercial. But by allowing mods to be made, and releasing the code and tools to help people make them, id allowed the formation of an entire community of developers who increased the value of the game well beyond what they paid for it. Of course it also benefitted id, since it made the games much more popular.
  • In Phillip and Alex's Guide to Web publishing, it says that a sound business idea never suffers when publicized. Imagine that 100,000 people knew about your business idea - would you still think it was worthwhile doing? If not, then it's probably a bad idea to begin with.
  • by mikec ( 7785 ) on Thursday June 24, 1999 @11:57AM (#1834698)
    > A key fact that the distinction between use and sale value allows us
    > to notice is that only sale value is threatened by the shift from
    > closed to open source; use value is not. Let's say you hire someone to
    > write to order (say) a specialized accounting package for your
    > business. That problem won't be solved any better if the sources are
    > closed rather than open; the only rational reason you might want them
    > to be closed is if you want to sell the package to other people.

    This is not true. ESR misses a very important and commonly stated
    reason: a company may believe that exclusive access to a piece of
    proprietary software provides the company with a competitive
    advantage. For example, a microprocessor-design company might embed
    considerable experience and research in a computer program to improve
    the quality of CPU designs. They might quite rationally believe that
    if they gave that software away, their competitors would use it to
    improve their own processors and take business away. H&R Block may
    quite rationally believe that their tax software is enough better than
    the competition that it garners them customers or increases the
    efficiency of their preparers. BMW may quite rationally believe that
    their engine-design software allows them to build better engines for
    less money and sell more cars.

    In many cases, this is delusional, but in other cases it is
    undoubtedly quite justified.

    It is odd that ESR missed this point, because I think it is the
    fundamental reason behind the difference between the GPL and BSD-style
    licenses. RMS realized that there is a large incentive for companies
    to "take software proprietary", and went to great lengths to prevent
    it in the GPL. If "taking software proprietary" were wholly
    irrational, there would be little reason for going out of one's way to
    prevent it.

    ESR actually alludes to this, tangentially, later in the article:

    > (One objection sometimes raised to open-sourcing hardware drivers is
    > that it may reveal important things about how your hardware operates
    > that competitors could copy, thus gaining an unfair competitive
    > advantage. Back in the days of three- to five-year product cycles this
    > was a valid argument. Today, the time your competitors' engineers
    > would need to spend copying and understanding the copy is a
    > substantial portion of the product cycle, time they are not spending
    > innovating or differentiating their own product. Plagiarism is a trap
    > you want your competitors to fall into.)

    However, his rejection is rather specific to hardware drivers, and
    rather flippant as well. The real reason it is rational to
    open-source a hardware driver is that the expansion of the potential
    market to Linux and BSD users more than makes up for the loss of
    trade secrets.


  • What exactly, if not freedom, *does* he want?

    High quality software that doesn't crash?

    It seems to me that esr is interested in the results of Free Software, but doesn't much care how he gets them. (Of course, Free Software is the easiest way to get there currently.)

    Later,
    Blake.

    I speak for PCDocs
  • AFAICS, Eric's own belief system precludes his being "against freedom" in any moral sense; in these writings, I think he's attempting to show that the moral arguments aren't necessary to make a case for free software, that a case can be made purely on practical, utilitarian grounds. This may be a counterreaction to the long-time vocal majority of "zealots" (as perceived by most of the rest of the world) who espouse Stallmanesque philosophies.

    That said, I still think it's a poor decision that he doesn't even briefly allude to any principled stance of his own, even in passing. I'm sure he's not "anti-freedom" -- in the absence of evidence to the contrary -- but it would go a long way toward quieting some of the more invective flaming.

    BTW, does anyone else think Microsoft's recent "Darwinian strategy" of throwing their competing products (WinSE/2000) at each other is the same mistake Apple made when Jobs pitted the Apple II, Lisa and Mac camps against each other?

  • Yep, the benefit is that, if you audience is large engouh, the competitors will be able to make beneficial changes to it that you wouldn't have made that you will also be privy to free of charge (unless you messed up when you designed your license and didn't GPL it so your competitors can close it on you).

    Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. ESR is not advocating OSS for EVERYTHING. There is a time for OSS and there is a time for CSS. It is a strategic business decision that can result in some amazing synergies. If it is just you and one other competitor, you are correct, OSS'ing your software probably won't help you unless your competitor agrees to develop it further as well. A larger audience attracts more developers which attracts more innovation free of charge. The business decision in that case is to decide how much that free innovation is worth to you. You are right about your development costs, they are sunk, you can't get them back. OSS will help you get some free innovation. Consider it interest on your original development money...

    -Chuck
  • Sorry, my info is not free unless I decide so.

    This begs the question as to whether or not there should be any such thing as "your info". It's not obvious that information should be owned since it behaves differently than other, physical things which we can own. Specifically, when I get some information from you, you don't lose it.

  • who said anything against getting paid to write useful commercial software? we're talking whether or not it's free/open source, not whether someone gets paid for it.
  • So basically, RMS argues that because it is easy to copy software, and because it is nice to be able to modify it on occasion and fix bugs, etc., that everybody has a _moral obligation_ to produce free software.

    That's what I don't buy. ESR argues that open source software is good because it enables a development model which produces high-quality, extensible, flexible software. (The business models are essentially justifications of these basic premises.)

    Frankly, if Microsoft software were high-quality, if developing using VB and COM and ASP were a dream, if NT were scalable for enterprise-level tasks, I wouldn't care that it wasn't free software.

    But none of these are true, and the evidence shows that open-source/free software is better. I choose the tools that will let me do what I want to do as quickly and efficiently as possible. I find the moral argument of "it's easy to do, so we should have the right to do it!" to be silly.

    Adam
  • As a programmer, I rather like depositing "recognition" in my bank account. But working on something which helps people is good, too -- as long as the bills are paid. The best thing to do is both. Obviously.

    An automobile can not readily be placed in my computer and copied, whereas a software program can. And I can't really buy a CD-ROM of software for $99 and own it like a car -- I can just buy a license which allows me to use it.
  • People please don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. ESR is not advocating OSS for EVERYTHING. There is a time for OSS and there is a time for CSS. It is a strategic business decision that can result in some amazing synergies. If it is just you and one other competitor, you are correct, OSS'ing your software probably won't help you unless your competitor agrees to develop it further as well. A larger audience attracts more developers which attracts more innovation free of charge. The business decision in that case is to decide how much that free innovation is worth to you. Original development costs are sunk, you can't get them back. OSS will help you get some free innovation. Consider it interest on your original development money...

    OSS is a major conceptual shift, one that many can't immediately grasp. Don't give up, you will benefit from understanding it.

    -Chuck
  • In Bazaars whatever works well wins over whatever does not. Whatever doesn't work well but is clean outlives whatever works well one version at a time. People need clear code in order to go forward. Microsoft needs its own spin doctors in order to go forward.

    Totally different ball game.

    You forget that just because there's computers everywhere doesn't mean that every buyer is a veteran. More and more people will get ripped off.

    Speaking of spaghetti code what are you comparing Limux to?

    release early is a means of destroying the myth of get the latestr code. realease often scales extremely well with the interest of the user without making arbitrary decisions about the user's expertise. I think it's just beautiful. You don't care about new documention for foo driver which has no effect on what you do, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DOWNLOAD IT. But don't tell me to wait till BSD or MS or IBM or Apple's schedule says they'll release their security upgrade.

    Finally I don't know what you're smoking almost everything that I've downloaded has run perfectly
    (in alpha series).

    Software is not Hardware. You can use half a program quite easily. You cannot drive half a car.
  • by cynicthe ( 33709 )
    Ypu don't buy everything you see on television do you?
  • This is not true. ESR misses a very important and commonly stated reason: a company may believe that exclusive access to a piece of proprietary software provides the company with a competitive advantage.

    ...

    It is odd that ESR missed this point, because I think it is the fundamental reason behind the difference between the GPL and BSD-style licenses. RMS realized that there is a large incentive for companies to "take software proprietary", and went to great lengths to prevent it in the GPL. If "taking software proprietary" were wholly irrational, there would be little reason for going out of one's way to prevent it.

    I don't think this is quite accurate. I recall that one of the big issues RMS had as the Netscape Public License was being discussed was that its initial draft required all changes to be submitted back to Netscape; RMS argued that an essential part of software freedom was the freedom not to distribute one's own private changes. So in your example, the company would be under no obligation to publish their changes outside their own organization; however, they couldn't then distribute their code to anyone outside their organization without triggering the GPL provisions.

    What RMS wants to prevent (and the GPL is therefore designed to prevent) is not an organization taking GPL'd code and making it internal and secret, but having them then go out and resell the software without providing their new product under the GPL as well.

    My problem with this is that the odds that most commercial software houses would choose to redistribute GPL software because a GPL library already exists is MUCH lower than the odds that they'd simply reimplement the functionality themselves, causing more proprietary differences between code that really should be doing the same thing. RMS cited a couple of counterexamples in his paper on why the LGPL was worse than the GPL (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/why-not-lgpl.html), but frankly, I just don't buy it.

    Adam

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 24, 1999 @12:29PM (#1834717)
    To me, anyways, after reading this latest piece. The notion of being reimbursed for your efforts (as Stallman and others insinuate) through software 'support' simply does not apply, especially as regards games. People bought Doom because they wanted to upgrade from the shareware 'teaser', not because they wanted software support--the people who make money in this case are those who wrote the help books; if id simply GPL'ed Doom in the first place, they'd have been out of business long ago. 12 year old kids aren't going to ask for help playing games, they will ask from their friends. The reason they released Doom was simply because it was obsolete at that point.

    Raymond's argument instead infers that an evolutionary ecosystem would have built around the Doom code, a la Linux, to somehow make it better. This simply has not been the case--old code is dead code. Why in general would any gaming company want to GPL their source code?; games have a very short lifespan, and their success is based on the fact that they have something others cannot copy.

    In the Linux world, you have (too) many versions of Tetris and Minesweeper, mostly as coding exercises, but nothing really unique or compelling--which I suspect is Open Source/GPL's real weakness: lack of originality. Linux can only follow Windows precedents; there is no economic incentive to carry out the research to do something truly innovative (emacs still thinks there's no mouse). The tech carrot pulling the industry these days is $$$, *not* 'making software that doesn't suck'; rather the inverse seems to be true, i.e. making sucky software guarantees $$$.

    Scenario B: what if Bill Gates got hit on the head tomorrow with one of his many inhouse videocams, and decided to GPL Windows and Office? (Raymond should have brought up this at his talk); what possible advantages could there be? Netscape did it in hopes of making a new open standard and breaking the Microsoft stranglehold; as far as I can tell with Mozilla, they haven't succeeded. As for Windows, they own the standard OS as well as the desktop suite. What advantages could there possibly be for MS? So that MS can make money printing books instead? So that Corel could take and rebrand it Corel Office? So that IBM could finally have Windows back from Bill?

    Someone please explain this 'logic' to me; though a lot of this appears as a troll, I am perfectly serious--I'd like a real, not some second rate sociological mythmaking about tribal 'gifts' and so forth.
  • Because parts and time cost money. Most mechanics do not work for free neither do most parts. Programmers however love to work for free as long as they are getting the proper recognition...
  • ESR didn't "deconstruct" the tragedy of the commons. What he did was demonstrate that it does not apply to software. The TOTC applies to expendable resources -- resources which may indeed be renewable, but which are depleted by overuse faster than they are renewed, like the grass in an over-grazed commons.

    Software doesn't get depleted. gcc does not lose half its use-value as a compiler if 2000 instead of 1000 people use it. In fact, it doesn't lose any value. Indeed, it may gain use-value if some of the new users discover bugs and submit patches, or just bug reports -- or if one decides to port it to another platform, or improve its optimization, etc.

    How can use-value of software decline as it becomes more popular? If you can demonstrate a general decline in the usefulness of software as it becomes more heavily used, then you can apply the tragedy of the commons to software. Otherwise, it does not apply, as ESR aptly demonstrated.
  • What exactly, if not freedom, *does* he want?

    You must not have been around for too long; ESR has been quite vocal in his desire for "software that doesn't suck". This is why he supports open source.
  • Huh? Such as? From ESR I see ideas like "In other words, software is largely a service industry operating under the persistent but unfounded delusion that it is a manufacturing industry.". This is startlingly apt- and explains otherwise inexplicable things about the Linux movement, not to mention where the profitability really is in the broader PC industry! Your counterexample is? You're not specifying.
    Personally, in contrast to the fellow who said 'I support RMS's ideas because I believe in utopia', I support RMS's ideas because I do _not_ believe in utopia... somebody mentioned how RMS is the way he is because he pretty well got chased out of the MIT AI lab by proprietary software. No hackers anymore to talk with- just users and competing proprietary LISP machines- now fast forward a few years- where are they now? Nowhere. This killed off a healthy software ecology and died off in meaningless conflicts leaving _nothing_ in its place, wasting a huge amount of time and effort. My personal take on that history is that it is rather disgusting. Hard to see how the people could have acted differently at the time- but still disgusting.
    In theory, capitalistic jealously guarded intellectual property might result in progress. In the real world it appears to be all too susceptible to stagnation and corruption- software rot, feature creep, attempts to prolong the useful life of some code long after it is dead. In contrast to the usual use of Microsoft as a culprit, I'll say that Netscape (the traditional, not Mozilla) is a great example of closed software rot and failure to develop acceptably. By contrast, you have something like Apache- when matched in benchmarks it loses to IIS, but in actual normal use (its true purpose) it's been proven resilient, effective and in many cases (such as heavy latency or really varied load atypical to controlled intranet-like tests) it's greatly superior to IIS in practice. If it was a classic commercial product- there would be no alternative but to slant things the same way as IIS does, and get them to perform equally well on benches and equally unreliably in the real world (there are always tradeoffs). Since it is open source and maintained by those who actually run it, the likelihood is that it will continue to be optimized for real use EVEN IF that means it continues to do poorly at strange and artificial benchmarks. ESR talks almost as big as Alvin Toffler, but he happens to be trying to understand that real world which you (the above AC) do not seem to comprehend. Pragmatism rules most things. If open source leads to healthier software then it will continue to thrive, whether you can accept its politics and morals or whether you think them hopelessly naive. It's still early yet- wait and see, but don't wait too long. The open source train is at the station, and there comes a time when you have to make up your mind to get on, or you'll just have a hell of a lot of running to do to catch up later ;)

  • > [A] company may believe that exclusive access to
    > a piece of proprietary software provides the
    > company with a competitive advantage. For
    > example, a microprocessor-design company might
    > embed considerable experience and research in a
    > computer program to improve the quality of CPU
    > designs. They might quite rationally believe that
    > if they gave that software away, their
    > competitors would use it to improve their own
    > processors and take business away.


    This is the case of a "trade secret". It is a very limited case, which applies to a tiny sector of in-house software. ESR does make reference to this sort of case, when discussing Zope [zope.org]. Zope is a Web-publishing kit which was open-sourced at the suggestion of investors in a Web design group. The investors believed (correctly) that the group's value was not in their software, but in their people. While the example of Web designers does not map directly to chip designers, it does at least show that ESR considered this case much more extensively than you claim.

    It's possible that such a case as you suggest could arise. However, do you really think that chip design is so automatable that the algorithms embeddable in software create more of the value than the designers do? Or that chip designers have produced a revolution in expert systems, capable of replacing their own knowledge with stored-program knowledge? I doubt it. Stored knowledge is static; the rapid pace of chip design is kept up by continuous design revolutions. And those come from people, not programs.
  • The interesting thing is that he seems to believe that we should not force freedom onto other people. So one would think that he might be against the GPL. But this paper makes perfectly clear why we should use the GPL to make sure we will always hava free software.

    The GPL makes sure that "the grass grows taller when it's grazed on" as shown by the examples given in the paper and explained in the Coping With Success [tuxedo.org] chapter as follows: "Perhaps more importantly in present time, the software licenses that express these community norms in a binding legal form actively forbid Red Hat from monopolizing the sources of the code their product is based on. The only thing they can sell is a brand/service/support relationship with people who are freely willing to pay for that. This is not a context in which the possibility of a predatory monopoly looms very large."

    I find it funny that a paper that contains a note about how we don't need the vocal minority which tries to convince people about the moral value of Free Software shows so clearly how that vocal minority keeps the players "good" and cooperative through the use of the GPL.
  • And number 3) leads to 3a) You take your competitor's code, which he had to release as well since you used the GPL, and merge that with your own new innovations, thus creating an even better product than your competitor.

    But not only that, if you read all of ESR's article you'd realize that he explained why this isn't really a problem to begin with, though it was in a bit of a round-about way. Re-read the part where he talks about knowing when to go open-source, and why beating a competitor to market with an open source product is a good thing (think mind-share, here). Not only that, but he also refutes the argument given by many hardware companies about making their drivers open source or providing specs w/out an NDA (think short product cycles for this one).

    Anyway, the point is that if you've already got the market-share and the mind-share, most of your customers will be loyal to you (and if you don't have the market-share or mind-share yet, being the first to open-source in a market will help create at least mind-share).

  • by William Tanksley ( 1752 ) on Thursday June 24, 1999 @02:43PM (#1834725)
    You have some very deep and important points, but the sheer length and scope of your post militates against thoughtful replies. I'll try, but it won't be easy -- you cover too many topics.

    First, support for gamers is provided primarily by new versions of their games, which is exactly what the kids paid money for. This is what ESR, and most people in the computer industry, define as 'support'. Tech support is an incidental, needed for certain specific things but in other cases capable of being provided by almost anyone.

    Your definition of "earning money for support" is therefore wrong because you misunderstand the meaning of the word "support".

    You later claim that ESR is wrong, and id actually released DOOM because "it was obsolete at that point." But what does "obsolete" mean? It still runs; software rot has yet to make it stop working. The problem was exactly what ESR had said: other companies had slowly made the unique value of DOOM into something non-unique. This is the true meaning of your word "obsolete," in this case. At any rate, my point is that you and ESR are both correct here: they released DOOM because it was not optimal to keep it.

    And since then, people have improved the DOOM code. It's only a game, so there's no reason to spend a lot on it, but it's still reasonably popular, even considering that there's better tech out there.

    As for your later protestations -- look around. Look at Aegis, LyX, TeX, Enlightenment, and so on. Open source is not in the least constrained for ideas, and never has been. Don't weaken your argument with such patent gibberish. It doesn't even make sense from a theoretical point of view -- you can't pay people to have good ideas.

    Finally, you ask why MS should make Windows Open Source. Good question; it's not hard to come up with a list of business reasons for. It's also trivial to come up with a list of reasons against. In the final analysis, it's their decision, and having them choose one way or another contributes nothing to either of our arguments -- although if they chose open source it would be contributing a lot to Windows users.

    Next, Mozilla. Mozilla has for the first time produced an entirely standard browser, and has set Netscape in the limelight. Sounds good to me.

    Finally, your stuff (up to this point) is indeed serious and worthy. But the part about mythmaking -- what a cheapshot. Read the essay before you make your snide little comments.

    -Billy
  • ESR wasn't saying that id had turned into an open source company, he was saying that Doom, the product itself, had changed from being something that was better as closed source to something that would be better off as open source. He wasn't saying anything about id, just about the game.

    His argument was that software goes through a sort of life-cycle, shifting over time from new and unique and very profitable to old hat, and with just about no money value. He was saying that it's perfectly sensible to make the thing closed source while it's new, because that's the best way to milk it for money, but after it gets to be old hat it's far easier to turn it into open source. Doom was merely an example of that kind of software.

    "All of these trends raised the payoff from opening the source. At some point the payoff curves crossed over and it became economically rational for id to open up the Doom source and shift to making money in secondary markets such as game-scenario anthologies. And sometime after this point, it actually happened. The full source for Doom was released in late 1997."

    This quote is perhaps a little bit confusing, but it's still talking about Doom, rather than id as a whole. id switched from making money from Doom by selling it to making money from Doom by selling other stuff related to Doom, and then they gave up on it altogether and switched over to Quake . . .

    He's talking about strategies for each bit of software, rather than for the company as a whole.

    . . . just the ramblings of a tired and confused mind . . .

    himi
  • As his article pointed out, video games are a special market all their own, with different rules.

    On the most part, this is correct - however, I think one of the ways to allow games to be open-source (and still be able to make money on them), is the last strategy ESR outlined - that of separating the source from the content (or something to that effect).

    In essence - it could work almost like Ultima Online - give the game engine out as OS, but sell the content - the service for playing online, new quests, etc. (however UOL works - never played it myself). For a non-network game, OS the game engine (unless it is a next generation 3D "better-than-Quake Arena" style engine), but sell the content; the graphics, the maps, the sound files.

    You could also sell out add-ons or other options to change the game (the best would be where the engine would be flexible enough to support almost any game you want - then you would just sell the data files - kinda like how there is a game engine to play Infocom adventures, but the data files all make a different game. I know this isn't a very good example, being that the Infocom games are text adventures, but you get my point). The advantage to this would be that the game would no longer be locked to the engine - your game might be OK with the bundled OS engine, but someone might take that version and make it better (add networking or better resolution rendering or something), and make it the wanted "platform" for your game, making others want to get the data for your game - thus allowing you to sell more product (the data). If you GPL'd the source, you could (in theory) get those changes back from the community and incorporate them in the next release or patch for others to use, which would make your product even better.

    Does this sound feasible to anyone?
  • He gave a perfectly good answer: "Look at Zope. Depending on where the real value comes from in your situation, the benefits may well outweigh the drawbacks. Size it up yourself."

    Or do you think opening Zope hurt its creators' business? Funny, their investors don't think so.
  • Just like being an outcast at my school doesn't mean what I say is irrelevent.

    It does mean, however, that what you say will likely be ignored by the majority of people at your school.

    Since you are an outcast, if you come up with a great idea, you will have no success in trying to implement it by telling everyone about your great idea. In fact, now that your idea has become closely associated with you, few in the majority will listen to the idea even if it comes from someone else. So when someone else Believes in your idea, they will have to present it differently and distance themselves from you in order to be considered by the majority.

    ESR is a severe realist and is doing all he can to get as much as possible of RMS's ideal accepted by as many people as possible. We are very close to a situation in which music is free (speech), simply because it's easy to copy. I'm not sure how the music industry will continue to make a profit in decades to come, but I know it won't be based on limiting access to the musical "binaries". In the same vein, once all software is open-sourced, we will be in much the same situation. The majority will realize that they can do anything they want with the software...and they will. We will achieve de facto freedom before we achieve de juris freedom, simply because those who make the law always have an interest in the status quo. I like the course ESR has plotted; it means we might have software freedom in my lifetime. And while I don't disagree with RMS's ideals, I do disagree with his methods. If we depended solely on him, we would NEVER see software freed.
  • What BS, Mr. AC! That's character assasination based on bogus issues irrelevant to ESR's argument (including "credentials"). Do you have anything of substance to say about his argument? Hmmm?
    --
  • ESR offers a nice summary of the situation. I'll attempt to generalise it by looking a little bit more closely at the software development cycle and relating it back to some basic economic principles.

    If we accept the analogy that software development (and indeed all intellectual endeavour) is based on exploring and developing the (potentially infinite) Noosphere, then we can look at the common law practices that developed and codified as a result of the gold explorations as it evolved from the goldrush days to today's highly efficient staged exploration, extraction, processing, refinement and disposal.

    This can be considered the 5 stages of software development

    alpha) from exploring the basic idea
    beta) ramping through prototypes
    gamma) sale of industrial strength product
    delta) major iterations
    epsilon) obsolescence and shutdown/maintenance

    Now economics can be basically divided into consumption and capital goods, what ESR defines as the sale and use value in measuring software. The sale value is all important as it is the final "good" that is ultimately consumed, the end application in other words. The use goods are the intermediate software needed to produce the sale goods (compilers, drivers, OS, etc). By themselves they have high development costs but are under external cost pressure so as to minimise the final sale product. This explains the commoditisation of these products through OpenSource means as unless there is extreme specialisation (high performance compilers, embedded systems) people prefer familiar toolsets and reduced learning curve.

    However, the economic justification of charging money is that the developers of these tools have to eat while spending time producing and refining the languages and techniques. No gnu compilers, minimal OpenSourced products as the entry costs for beginners is too high. This has to be balanced by the fact that for profit or personal satisfaction, the compiler writers have to eat or get reimbursed for their time. So the economic requirements at the different development stages are quite different.

    alpha - exploration - grubstake, a bet on a pie in the sky that your idea might turn out to have some commercial applications

    beta - extraction - seed money to dig through the possibilities and identify the gold seam

    gamma - processing - development and sale of a useful entity

    delta - refinement - adding increasing value and generating higher order goods like jewelery from the basic gold

    epsilon - disposal - the whole enterprise has to be profitable to ensure that there is enough funds (e.g. professional indemity) to ensure that the customers are taken care of even if disaster strikes. This would be considered in the context of environmental cleanup after the seam runs out.

    Now the current economic model of software patents and IPOs give rise to a rather unhealthy situation in my view. Essentially companies are rewards for the first to strike gold and gain a monopoly in a area which they can exploit to the hilt. As ESR pointed out, this leads to rather questional quality and poor customer satisfaction.

    OpenSource offers a viable alternative BUT the problem is that unless it can offer a decent mechanism of supporting the intermediate tools (ie compilers, OS, 3D world construction) the only outcomes will be small toy programs which are done as academic exercises or learning experiences. This can be seen in the relatively unsophisticated capital markets of SE Asia as apart from government supported conglomerates, businesses are run by small family groups.


    Thus the OpenSource movement needs to address the intellectual property rights issue to really grow from being a grassroots protest against existing proprietary software practices, to being a supported industry in its own right. Though I've got a few ideas, I'd really like people to suggest what would be a workable system given the entrenched myriad of vested interests in the current software patent approach.

    This includes the usual "dirty tricks" that have plagued the development of mineral extraction. Claim jumping, absentee landlords, appraisal dilution, highway robbery, economic externalities, legal responsibility to upstream and downstream suppliers and customers, etc... Fun and games if you're young and desperate but not something that suits a family man (or woman).

    Despite its appearances, the IT industry still acts like a roughshod mining town chasing a vaporush than a professional outfit!

    LL



    PS. Even I'm not immune from opportunistic monetary rewards as I would like to be remembered for originality in coining the phrase vaporush but unfortunately there's no way of directly capitalising on it. Such is life.
  • I just realised how much ESRs business models are like Patterns [c2.com]
    All he has to do is change the format a bit and they'll fit right in at WikiWikiWeb [c2.com]
  • And you are making a fundemental mistake of thinking in only a single political demension. To wit: if OSS is not compatible with the traditional capitalistic approach to software (propriatary IP), and it involves people working together for a common good, instead of fighting each other (in dog-eat-dog competition); then it must be "communism".

    First, expand your thinking about politics [self-gov.org]. Communism, in practice, involves using state power to enforce utopian ideas about how people should work together for a supposed common good - ignoring actual conditions - and has been a miserable failure. OSS, on the other hand, has appeared and grown despite the common practice of the establishment and the state. This is because, as ESR points out, it is functions well in the free market - it's just that it uses a different set of business models. And there is nothing wrong with the service industry: while janitors and burger flippers are the low end, true; there is also the high end of doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers. Programmers and consultants have always tended twoards the high end, and will continue to do so, IMHO. So that first quoted paragragh is just fear-mongering.

    The second paragraph is even worse, containing baseless accusations about the character of the OSS community. If you have something of real value to contribute, then do so! If it requires a radical new approach, then lets see it! If you have to fork an existing code tree to accomplish your grand vision, then go for it! But it just sounds like some lamer whining to me.

    As far as I am concerned, the orignal post deserved it's flamebait moderation.
    --

  • 1) You are assuming that the proprietary-to-company stuff is open sourced, such as, e.g., the license key generator. This is a ridiculous assumption. Nothing requires you to distribute your software even if it is covered by the GPL. Not to mention that any competent project done in today's world is going to have a modular plug-in architecture, meaning that you don't even have to link your proprietary business practices into the code base as a whole (i.e., they don't have to be covered by the GPL just because the rest of the project is!).

    2) Let's face it, most business process software has been hashed and rehashed until it's so old-hat that there's no competitive value in keeping it proprietary. How many #@%@ accounting systems are out there in the market anyhow? Why should I think that my own new accounting and inventory management software gives anybody any competitive advantage? There are industry and government standards that force any accounting or inventory software to be pretty much the same. By Open Sourcing it, I accomplish two things:
    a) I allow others outside of my company to take on some of the development costs. As my boss once told me, "nobody is ever going to buy us because we have a nifty internal accounting system, they're going to buy us because we have a nifty product." This, for example, is why ISP's use Apache. The bigger ISP's have the internal talent to write an HTTP server -- heck, I have enough talent to do that, HTTP is a dirt-simple protocol (though the 1.1 spec, thanks to Microsoft's help, is considerably nastier) -- but it makes more sense for them to all use Apache and individually contribute modules and improvements that fit their own needs.
    b) I get a larger debugging pool. In fact, I might release the GPL'ed version to the net first, before upgrading to it in-house, just to let others be my guinea pigs first. After all, if it turns out that my Accounts Recievable program is eating accounts, I'd rather that someone else discover it first!

    One more thing: Once a project reaches a stage where any improvements will incorporate company-proprietary business methods rather than industry-standard or government-legislated business methods, there's nothing forcing you to continue distributing it. You've gotten help in building the basic framework, others can take that basic framework and do what they like with it, and you can happily use your own proprietary version in-house without ever releasing it to the general public. The GPL doesn't stop you from making your own proprietary version. It just says that IF you distribute it outside of your company, you have to make the source code available too and must allow the person who got it to distribute it too.

    -E
  • For a paper that reads like a simplified version of the Other Eric's, you might want to wander by my home page [tripod.com] to read something I did last year and sent to the Other Eric back in January for comment. (Please note that the Other Eric had parts of 'Cauldron' already up on his web site back then, so we sort of cross-pollinated, I think).
  • by gavinhall ( 33 )
    Posted by FascDot Killed My Previous Use:

    Not only are quality, reliability and choice possible with proprietary software, but each of those has a "good enough" variant that is very dangerous. And, unfortunate as it may be, many in the "Open Source" community are accepting "good enough" Free Software, too.
    ---
    Put Hemos through English 101!
  • i appreciate everything that ESR has done, and I admire him for the things that he has accomplished, but I am starting to get the feeling that he likes to hear himself talk. Great ideas and all, but I don't think ESR is the do all end all, if he was gone tomorrow another person would get the lime lite and nothing would be different. I am so glad he is here to tell everyone what they must think, except for us "Vocal Minority"
  • We have to scenarios here...

    1) The in-house software is closed-source. The enemy gets a hold of it and the source and use it. They violated the law. Too bad, go cry.

    2) The in-house software is open-source. You don't sell or release it. The enemy gets a hold of it and the source and use it. They violated the law. Too-bad, go cry.

    At least with option 2, when you decide to sell it to another company, they can actually fix it and keep using it when your company goes under. Adds a lot of incentive to buy it, doesn't it?

    Hehehe.
  • First, let me congratulate esr on yet another thought-provoking essay. I'd like to bring up just one point, however, that was brushed over in this essay, specifically section 4 - "Information wants to be free".

    Eric, you've setup the basic of an economic model to base open source on. This lays to rest many questions of the economics behind the free software movement. But you skipped over a central point - one that's debated and brought up daily across the geek community - the idea that information should be free.

    Two cases: MP3s and "warez". Despite wide-spread media campaigning and propaganda, not many people consider this to be "wrong". The simplest arguement - is that it's free - and if it's free, why should I go elsewhere (possibly with more hassle) to have the priveledge of paying for it? Especially considering the cost-benefit of getting caught is so low.

    This is an issue that desperately needs to be analyzed and thought out. Programmers modus operanti is "copy rip copy" from other programmers. It makes economic sense - why reinvent the wheel? MP3s mean (nearly) zero cost to aquire something you want (music), and this broadly applies to almost anything that can be distributed digitally. Today that means about everything.

    What's stopping people from simply pushing the download button and getting something for "free"?



    --
  • You forgot number 3.) You sell open source software, your competetor looks at your source, combines it with his own, makes a better program, puts you out of business and it is not illegal, because you cannot prove it.

    I am all for Open Source, but I also understand why some companies do not want Their software Open Source, unti they have better ways to regulate it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am very much in agreement with the views
    of Stallman. I find the attempts of esr to
    marginalize these views to be quite
    distasteful.What exactly, if not freedom,
    *does* he want?
  • He's got pretty big shoes to fill though.. you may remember:

    Understand My Job Please!

    I agree that another person would take up the job, but as far as doing as good of a job as he has done? I don't know about that. I mean the guy just spoke to over 20,000(?) microsoft personell, he's got a big pair, (and I don't mean shoes here)..

  • > So basically, RMS argues that because it is easy
    > to copy software, and because it is nice to be
    > able to modify it on occasion and fix bugs, etc.,
    > that everybody has a _moral obligation_ to
    > produce free software.


    On the contrary, I read his argument as saying that because proprietary software makes it illegal to help our friends by sharing the software that is available to us, that we have an ethical obligation to avoid using it -- and, if we are programmers, to avoid contributing to the ethical dilemma by writing proprietary software.

    According to RMS, the dilemma is as follows:

    1. I should help my friends, especially when it is easy to do so. (If it's easy to help, I have no good reason not to help.)
    2. Copying software is easy, because every computer comes with a copy function, and media and bandwidth are relatively cheap.
    3. Therefore, when a friend needs a copy of a piece of software I have, I should give him/her a copy.
    4. However, if the software is proprietary, it is illegal for me to distribute copies. (It would also not help my friend if I caused him/her to be a lawbreaker.)
    5. Therefore, I am torn between wanting to help my friend (point 3) and wanting to respect the law (point 4).

    (This is also the sentiment behind that awful song of RMS's about sharing with your neighbor.)

    One "resolution" of the dilemma is to just go ahead and bootleg software. The problem here is that it doesn't resolve it at all -- it just accepts what may be the lesser of two evils.

    Another "resolution" would be to encourage your friend to buy the proprietary software. This may not always be reasonable; perhaps the reason your friend needs a copy from you is that the software is prohibitively expensive (as a great deal of, for instance, 3D design and animation software is).

    RMS's resolution -- to encourage people to use free software, and to produce enough free software that people can get by on free software alone (the whole idea of the GNU system) is a much, much longer-term approach than either of these. However, it's also one that avoids these other approaches' problems.
  • While, yes, this is an alternative - it does have one glaring problem that all closed-source software has:

    What happens when the company is no longer in business? Where do you get an upgrade?

    Actually, leasing could be considered worse - IANAL, but I believe that if Company "A" with Leased Software "X" wend out of business, that software would have to be returned to the company that produced it (the developers), correct?
  • A microprocessor design group's worth is in *both* the people and the accumulated organizational knowledge, some of which is embedded in software. The software isn't "more important", but the
    choice isn't software vs. people. The choice is secret software vs. public software. Sometimes the advantages of making it public outweigh the disadvantages, sometimes they don't.

    And the point isn't specific to trade secrets. Lots of companies have software that they believe, rightly or wrongly, gives them a competitive advantage. That doesn't have to mean it's a trade secret. It can simply be a major investment that they don't think their competitors can match---or at least not match without neglecting something else.

    Ignoring this point leaves a big hole in ESR's thesis. He is saying, "Look: you aren't planning to sell it anyway, and if you give it away you can still use it yourself, so why not give it away?" The answer he will get is, "Because my competitor will pick it up and use it to my disadvantage." He needs a convincing answer to that argument.
  • The question you have to ask in this case is, "how much are my customers willing to pay for support?" Given that these are niche applications (ones with only marginal returns on technical superiority) I doubt that you'd benefit from open source in the conventional manner; it would benefit you in marketing -- where ESR talks about "perceived future value." Allowing a client company access to the source (perhaps you might want to consider a license model where modifications can only be redistributed internally unless they're released back to public) will give them the confidence that your software will be maintainable for its five-year lifetime.

    Furthermore, if I understand your situation correctly, your clients are effectively out-sourcing an expensive software development project that would be of at most minimal use to another company. This situation would seem ideal for a model where the 'sale value' pays for the services of one (or more) of your programmers, who would then customize the software to fit the client (preferrably on-location). Your company would extract 'use value' by then charging for that programmer's maintenance visits (number and extent at the client's option) and technical support for those changes. The open-source model here only damages your company if you can't do a better job of code maintenance & support than your client can.

    This scenario means that your maintenance & support contracts would have to contain a clause requiring the client company to send codebase changes back to you, so that your support could stay up to date; but the programmer(s) making the changes for the client (the same ones who were either too busy, too few, or too inexperienced to implement this application in the first place) would probably welcome an eye closely familiar with the code checking their changes.

    -_Quinn
  • ... This may be a counterreaction to the long-time vocal majority of "zealots" (as perceived by most of the rest of the world) who espouse Stallmanesque philosophies.
    I don't think the idealists are the zealots they are made out to be. They aren't the ones who whine for companies to open their source. They aren't the ones who obsessed over the Mindcraft study. And I very much doubt they are the ones who send nasty emails, who put up Linux as being more than it is, who want to destroy Microsoft...

    Maybe the idealists are focused on freedom, and maybe compromise isn't their nature. But people who jump on bandwagons are the ones that make the wagon look bad. GNU has been there all along. And maybe people thought it was communist, judgemental, impractical, maybe naive... but not obnoxious or immature.

    I don't think there's much to gain in purging idealism. [though even if there was something to gain, it would still be wrong]

  • Not true. When I was doing consulting work, we regularly could underbid proprietary solutions by using Linux, giving us a significant competitive advantage while actually maintaining a higher margin than our competitors. We used a 4GL under Linux, BTW, and served as the IT department for school districts too small/poor to have their own. We could whip out some software pretty quickly too -- for example, when the state of Louisiana changed reporting requirements for school discipline, it took me two weeks to write an entirely new discipline system to replace the old one that had collapsed under its own weight. (Well, it hadn't collapsed, but it had reached the limits of what could be done to it due to structural design limits built into it, sort of like trying to turn MS-DOS into a 32-bit OS, eh?).

    So tell me: underbid the competitition, make more profit. If that's not competitive advantage, what is?!

    -E
  • This is particularly interesting when you think about that "In other words, software is largely a service industry operating under the persistent but unfounded delusion that it is a manufacturing industry." What you're talking about can be taken two ways: one, it could mean 'buying three upgrades from Netscape' and then you keep with the last one, or to a Microsoft it'd mean 'buying IE for three months, then it self-destructs or MS takes it away from you again unless you pay'.
    See the difference?
    In the first case this gets deeply into the new perspective on code- that gee, it never _does_ seem to be totally finished, so what you're paying for is the active work of a bunch of programmers. The resulting object is no more tangible than the tape-recorded voices of hired mediators in a nasty dispute- this is not about the _result_, it's about hiring people who can execute the process and come up with the answer to that situation, and each situation will be different.
    Programmers are like talking-professionals, expressing themselves in programming languages to solve that day's problems. The result (as ESR has resoundingly figured out) is valueless very quickly, but can be intensely valuable right at the moment. You're not buying an heirloom item, you're buying the expertise by which a programmer can perfectly adapt code to the needs of the moment to solve problems for you.
    In that second case, where MS takes software away from you, this reveals a continuing total failure to understand where the value actually lies. This concept actually comes from MS, which wishes to rent its software so you can't own it and can't keep it. It overlooks the fact that last year's software does not retain its value acceptably- it's like a bullying tactic, needless. Most people will not _want_ the known-buggy, out of date last year's software anyhow- and those with a reason to stay with a version that works for them will be arbitrarily punished. It's a lose-lose situation because if someone was going to upgrade, they'd upgrade anyhow- and if someone won't, punishing them for it will not appreciably change their decision.
    The really ironic thing is this: Microsoft's rampant selling of windows alphas might be the smartest healthiest thing they could do compared to these other ideas. That's charging people to keep pace with the continuing work of programmers. The difference with this and open source is that in the MS case, you have no access to the programmers, where in open source, what you'd do is go to them, throw money and say 'code me THIS!' and have them develop exactly what you want. Then you are the first to have it, and though it becomes part of the global source library, presumably you asked for the new thing for a _reason_, a practical reason like having a special web hosting service that needs to do THIS really well, for which you already have buyers and mindshare. If you can execute on the potential of an open source software tool better than your competition, then you win that competition- it's as easy as that, and has nothing to do with hoarding special bits of code.
    A little example is co-opnet.org [co-opnet.org], a cooperative website compiled from a set of work files, like a non-JIT perl site or something. I'm actually on the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation co-opnet.org has evolved into- and I'm also the author of the GPLed sitebuilding software that the site is made from. Anybody could take this software (it's Mac-based but hey- you have source!) and try to get business with it but _we_ know nonprofits, _we_ know the ropes, _we_ can execute better than Joe Schmoe who comes around and thinks he can take our clients. We're only barely begun (gonna get a real ISP hosting setup together, for starters, currently it's a virtual hosting service that's not going to survive slashdotting in the slightest) but what we're doing, EVEN THOUGH it hinges on the use of special software to make a website that's maintained in a certain way, does not require that said software be proprietary.
    This is what I see companies like Microsoft as missing- it's not about the _software_ at all, it's about the tasks being done with that software. With Quicken, are you buying dialog boxes and GUI and a database? No- you're buying a promise that your money will be managed responsibly for you (a promise that isn't being kept, to hear some reports from that area). With Office, are you buying fancy text objects and spreadsheets, the code of that? No, you're buying the promise that you will be helped to communicate more persuasively, to keep your accounts in a more enlightening manner, to calculate and extrapolate things you wouldn't be able to figure out otherwise. In this light the _wizards_ and example files and stationery files are by far the most important part of the product (and they are mostly data!) and the actual code fades into meaninglessness.
    How much hatred for Microsoft would be justified if they chilled out, stopped trying to kill other technology, and focussed on being _the_ place for lusers and pointy-haired bosses to go and be walked through the creation of good business letters, home finance spreadsheets, business plans, you name it? That's their gift- they do have the patience for that, and few Linux people could remotely rival them in that area. Yet, it's so very centered on _process_ and not the mockery of property that applications currently are... (okay, so you can have _one_ copy of this string of bits, but it has to stay on this machine, and after a while is it okay if we pretend that it doesn't work and ask you to never use that string of bits again? Oh, and though you bought the box the string of bits came in, don't even think about looking at them or we'll put you in prison...)
    Process is the direction to look in, for the turn of the century. No matter how many nifty tools are devised, people simply will not know what to do with them unless they are told- or better still, coached through it in an interactive, personal sense. Much of this coaching, being language and imagery, can easily fall under copyright simply because it is not computer code, but human expression, and it could be considered separate from the actual computer code which could be open source- but, then, even this is thinking too small- really, what the future holds is this:
    Microsoft
    Good morning! Welcome to Your Database. What do you want to do?
    Customer
    Uh, hi! I want to make a database for my house. Is that OK? I mean, can you do that for me?
    Microsoft
    Sure can! Okay, do you have the mozilla whiteboard open? We're going to start billing now if that's alright with you- click 'Whoa!' to pause if it starts costing you too much. Okay, most people mean 'a database for their personal finances *shows example* which includes house amortization *show* and gives you a sense of what your overall finances need to be like. This can help you manage your finances responsibly. Is there anything extra you need to include?
    Customer
    Er, yeah- you see, my wife is a lawyer but she works out of the home, so we need to keep more accounts because of the tax people, you know? That's why I came here. I don't understand any of that stuff, but what will I need?
    Microsoft
    Okay! *zwip of information lookup* You're talking about having a separate category in postgreSQL to keep your wife's expenses, and it has to *zwip* be one that stands up to an audit, so we'll be *zwip* needing to configure it with some redundancy to be legally accountable under US Code #1326758723...
    Customer
    *panicking* what's _that_?
    Microsoft
    *zwip of information lookup, wave of patience from Microsoft rep who is happy to be patient as the customer is being billed by the minute...*
    Face it: if Microsoft did that for a living, it would _rule_. They are admirably suited to doing it, and it wouldn't have to step on anybody's toes. THAT is process, and with a little effort they'd be better at it than anyone- and could clear the field and leave computer software to be developed by and for the users and hackers- they'd be doing what they do best, handholding, and would not have to deal with what they do worst, actual performance and lasting value.
    There is money to be made from _use_ of software as a service, and let's leave the coding to people who specialize in it, rather than trying to slant it heavily so that laymen supposedly can do sysadmin type things. Let Linux diversify in a thousand ways and become ubitiquous- and let Microsoft be the helpdesk to the world, not the IT chief.
    The sooner they figure this out the better off they shall be- every dollar they spend on trying to retain hold of protocols and standards is a dollar WASTED, a dollar that they are not spending in trying to be the paid consultant to a world full of kids researching term papers and Moms trying to keep family accounts for tax purposes and Dads trying to put together a really great trout fishing boat.
  • There will always be a place for closed source. ESR admits that, even if RMS never will.

    I think the school consulting firm I once worked for is an ideal example: they had spent ten years and over a million dollars building up their software. They didn't make money off of the software itself, but the service contracts were lucrative (state and federal guidelines change yearly, sometimes monthly, and the software must be immediately updated to reflect those changes). Open Sourcing the project would have chopped the service contract money by allowing others to also offer service, while not adding any other forms of revenue. Closed Source was the right answer to that product, as it is for many other limited-use items.

    -E

  • Isn't ESR just totally off base on the whole Doom analogy?

    If I remember correctly Doom source was only released after Quake was out (or at the very least after Quake was well into production). And I'm pretty sure there's very little shared code between Quake and Doom, considering the engines are drastically different, as is the networking.

    ESR seems to imply that id switched to an open source model, while really, I think Carmack just decided to be cool and release Doom source because he thought it would be a nice way for people interested in 3D engines to cut their teeth. Releasing Doom source was no threat whatsoever on Quake, as it was significantly more primitive. To this day, Quake and Quake 2 (and Quake 3) are still closed source, because Carmack is still pushing the envelope and doing things better than anybody else.

    id released source because they wanted to give people something to learn from, not because they wanted to increase their quality. To this day they depend on closed source software and traditional testing to make their (high quality) games.

    So where does ESR get off making them an example? Didn't he do his homework, or am I just mistaken?

    -Nic
  • AtariDatacenter asks:

    You've got a vlarge company with about 15 significant competitors. You have developed an in-house piece of software "Y" to run all aspects of a new (and highly competitve) line of business. The software has extreme use value, but no sale value.

    What I don't see Eric's model capturing is the fact that you would want to keep "Y" closed-source to prevent competitors from gaining benefit from the technology, code fragments, business models, etc of "Y". You're not afraid of your competitor making and selling "Z" from it, but from using it to gain insight into your business or to enhance their business in a way that causes revenue loss not directly related to software.


    You seem to be talking about trade secrets, specifically, where something about the software can reveal valuable secrets about how your company operates. In at least 95% of such cases, forget about Closed vs. Open, you shouldn't be distributing your software at all. It should be in-house only, with perhaps distribution with a few trusted consultants and partners under an NDA. Don't think that the competition can't reverse engineer the trade secrets out of your closed source distribution, it would just cost a little more for them to do it.

    For those few companies who have to distribute software that they want to keep the mechanics secret (eg. hardware drivers), first they should review their secrecy motives. If there is something real there, it is both inexpensive and more effective to keep the secret parts in hardware (eg. a Flash ROM chip on your card), and publish the rest.

  • Doesn't the Doom example cover this? Once everyone has a "Z" that does what once only your "Y" did, you can actually increase the value of your "Y" by open sourcing it.
    --
  • There is a distinction between closed-source development being a bad or inferior plan and it being morally or ethically wrong. While RMS believes that closed software is ethically wrong (because it does not permit users to share), ESR apparently believes that closed source is not wrong, but simply limiting.

    In a sense, this means that ESR comes off as having more confidence in the success of free software on its own merits, whereas RMS feels the need to actively fight and incite people against closed software. RMS seems to think that free software is endangered or placed at risk by the continuing popularity of closed software.

    I suspect that RMS gets this attitude from his own history in the MIT AI lab, where free software was forced out in favor of closed software by managerial decisions and local culture changes. However, I find it to be inappropriately applied to Linux-based and other modern free systems. While the AI Lab was a single site, Linux is a worldwide distributed phenomenon; it cannot be shut down in the way that the systems RMS mourns were.
  • by caliban ( 15401 ) on Thursday June 24, 1999 @10:47PM (#1834781)
    I couldn't help but notice that ESR managed to write a 20 page essay on the future of software without mentioning a certain company from Redmond or a certain individual worth ~$90,000,000,000.00 even once :-)
  • You say that Mozilla was no success. I also thought a bit like that before Milestone 7. If you compare M6 and M7 and have a bit of imagination how, lets say, M12 will look like, I think Mozilla is going to be THE browser. It just took some time. But So did MS Explorer. The first versions were just bad copies of Mosaic.
  • It's interesting to see more economics and game theory come into play. These kinds of arguments can carry weight with people who don't feel the intuitive appeal of the open source idea. It's also good to verify any intuitive inkling with some more objective analysis.

    Moral Calculations, by Laxlo Mero [amazon.com], is an interesting book that discusses a lot of general game theory, and in particular, a couple modes of cooperation. The classical model for thinking about cooperation (see The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod [amazon.com]) is the prisoner's dilemma [cc.ca.us]. It's a positive-sum game only if we both cooperate, but as individuals, we are always tempted to defect. A number of people have pondered what incentives could be used to encourage cooperation. Axelrod's contribution was the observation that repeating the game many times with the same opponent introduces new long-term pro-cooperation incentives.

    Mero's book looked at the Golden Rule and Kant's categorical imperative. For purposes of game theory, the Golden Rule says: optimize the other guy's payoff, ignore your own. This flips the payoffs and always favors cooperation. The categorical imperative says to do whatever you would want everybody to do, if you had such legislative power. In other words, ignore the off-diagonal payoffs; again this favors cooperation.

    Another mode of cooperation might be a communal rule: consider only the sums of the payoffs for each situation, never those of any individual. Adherence to this ethic is good for the community as a whole, and probably the individual practitioner in the long term. In the short term, the practitioner gets to look heroic, which involves additional payoffs.

    The Tragedy of the Commons is a multi-player prisoner's dilemma. If the payoffs are increased by some constant, you end up with Raymond's Comedy of the Commons, where a cooperative few can support a large number of non-cooperators. Add to that Axelrod's long-term incentives due to recognition of others and reciprocal behavior, and that's more or less the OSS world.

    One last book recommendation, an excellent book on economics, Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, by David D. Friedman [amazon.com].

  • "Information wants to be free" was originally not a rallying cry, but a statement about security and confidentiality. That "information wants to be free" means that in the absence of artificial restrictions such as security classification, or when those restrictions break down (as in the case of a secret being leaked to the press), information will tend to spread as far as there can be found interest in it.

    The military, for instance, spends a lot of effort on keeping information under tight control. (Remember the drills in how to throw things away properly in Cryptonomicon?) These amount to efforts to wall up or shove back the "natural" flow of information in the direction of those who seek it.

    ESR gives the example of passwords as "information that does not want to be free". However, if that's the case, then why do we have to go to such lengths to keep our passwords secure? Why encrypt them? Why tediously remind users not to write them on Post-It notes on their monitors? It is precisely because unsecured information leaks around easily that we have to take security measures.

    As the examples of passwords and military secrets make clear, the fact that information wants to be free -- that it, like liquids, tends to seek its level -- does not mean that we want, or should want, all information to be completely free.


    The use of "Information wants to be free!" as a rallying cry against copyright or trade secret laws is a completely different use of the expression from the original use. It implies that because digital information, such as MP3s or software, is easy to copy, that it makes little sense to go to all the effort of "securing" that information against copying. This does not have to be a moral point; it can simply be the practical utilitarian argument that we would gain more from the unrestricted copying of interesting information than we would from its bottling and sale.

    RMS's ideal of sharing comes close to this idea. Computers make it easy for us to share useful software with our friends, RMS argues -- and we would be much better off if we could legally help our friends out by giving them the useful stuff which we have found. Because it is easy to share software, and because it would help our friends to do so, we have an ethical interest (not to say obligation) to share it. However, proprietary software does not allow us to do this; hence, RMS argues that it stands in the way of us being nice to our friends.

    I'm not sure I agree fully with RMS's arguments, but there they are.

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst

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