Subject: Re: A few thoughts.
From: (Frank Hecker)
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 21:36:14 -0400

Michael Tiemann wrote:
> Sorry, but the "from scratch" issue is a red herring.

It's unclear to me in which sense you mean it's a red herring.  David
Welton's question as I understand it was whether people creating "really
new" (his words) software were likely to introduce it as closed-source
or open-source software (e.g., based on the desire to profit in some way
from the software).  So I was trying to think of some cases where
software innovations first appeared in open-source form and those
products continued to be popular.  If we want to argue for open source
based on the idea that it encourages software innovation then I think
this is an important area to look at to see if we can or can't
empirically justify this hypothesis.

> Netscape's browser was a "reimplementation of existing product
> categories", as was Microsoft's Excel, Oracle, and a million other
> bits of proprietary software.  Truly "from scratch" software is
> truly rare

Well, just off the top of my head I can think of the following software
categories (and "from scratch" products, where I can remember them) that
I would count as innovative (to greater and lesser degrees) in the sense
David Welton seems to be using: spreadsheets (VisiCalc), graphical web
browsers (NCSA Mosaic), document processing systems a la
runoff/Scribe/TeX, WYSIWG word processors (Xerox Star?), 2-D and 3-D
computer-aided design software, relational databases, time-sharing
operating systems (Multics?), web search engines using web robots,
presentation graphics software a la PowerPoint, ERP software a la SAP
R3, software for engineering finite element analysis, computer animation
software, "data mining" software, and software to do "rational drug

> , and would probably be almost unusable, since it would be
> compatible with nothing anybody knows how to use or manage.

I'm not clear what exactly you mean here, especially regarding how it
would apply to the list of software products/categories above.  Maybe
you're referring to the introduction of truly new fundamental concepts
in computer science, UI, etc.  I agree that those have historically been
rare, with most products being based on concepts from existing products
(as the concept of a WYSIWYG word processor was based on the existing
concept of an interactive editor for plain text).

My benchmark of innovation is rather whether the software in question
gave rise to a recognizable new market space (with multiple competing
products and companies formed around those products) that did not
previously exist prior to the first product of that type appearing.

Frank Hecker          Pre-sales support, Netscape government sales