Subject: Re: Lehman Report, Software patents, and more
From: ghost@aladdin.com (L. Peter Deutsch)
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 94 21:31:16 PDT

>    > I think the potential is there for
>    > Linux to evolve into an end-user friendly OS.
> 
>    The potential has been there for Unix to do that for almost 20 years,
>    and it hasn't happened.  Why do you think that is?
> 
> Because the people who demand it have never had the hardware to run
> Unix.  Heretofore they've run DOS because they *had* to.  They finally
> have enough hardware to run a real OS.  And guess what?  A real OS is
> as complicated as Unix.

Yes, that's true.  But Unix has a cultural history of being user-hostile;
it's starting out way behind Windows NT, MacOS, and even OS/2 in that
respect.  There's also a chicken-and-egg problem: the people who really
understand what feels good to users mostly don't take Unix seriously.

An interesting example in this area, which I ran into recently, is Tcl and
Tk.  It's free software -- *really* free, not GNU-free -- and might become
a competitor to Visual BASIC.  It doesn't have great UI values, but it's
pretty tasteful, and seems like it might be easy for someone with only a
modicum of programming habits to use.

>    What would they pay for?  I can't distribute a supported end-user version
>    of Ghostscript at a competitive price: my time would be nibbled to death
>    by support calls from clueless users.  I would either have to pay beaucoup
>    $$ to get end-user-quality documentation written, or beaucoup $$ to hire a
>    support person.
> 
> So don't.  If there's that many users, then there's reason for someone
> to take the financial risk to write _Ghostscript: The Book_.

There isn't enough content in Ghostscript to make that worth doing, unless
electronic publishing becomes a reality.  If I added up every question
that every user has ever asked about Ghostscript (other than bug reports),
it wouldn't fill 100 pages.

> That's
> one of the nice things about free software, is that the software,
> documentation, and support, are all separable as products.

That's true for a lot of non-free software too.  I can't even begin to
count the number of books out about MS-DOS, MS Windows, Microsoft Word,
etc., etc.  The kind of support that shades over into consulting also has
that property; there are zillions of consultants who help people
understand and use non-free software.  The only intrinsic advantage that
free software (or at least GNU-style free software, for which the source
code is required to be available) has in this respect is that a
sufficiently motivated person can offer support based on having read and
mastered the source code.  And since, as I observed before, there are
strong incentives for authors of free software to document the software
poorly, the opportunities for this kind of support may be limited.

On a related topic, if there is some kind of moral right for software,
once created, to be freely available to everyone modulo production costs,
why does that right not apply to the documentation?  After all, like
software and unlike support, documentation, once created (in electronic
form), has essentially no reproduction cost.  I really want to hear the
argument as to why charging for (electronic) documentation is any more
justifiable than charging for software.

L. Peter Deutsch :: Aladdin Enterprises :: P.O. box 60264, Palo Alto, CA 94306
ghost@aladdin.com, ...decwrl!aladdin!ghost ; voice 415-322-0103 ; fax 322-1734
	    "Implementation is the sincerest form of flattery."