Subject: Re: My ears are red (was Re: the walls have ears)
From: "Karsten M. Self" <>
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 23:31:30 -0700

Paul Rohr wrote:
> At 06:05 PM 6/8/99 +0000, Karsten M. Self wrote:


> >Today's market is different in that there is a clearly
> >established standard (MS Word) and some highly competitive alternatives
> >(WP, AmiPro (? Still around ?), vim,...)
> Do you really see them as highly competitive?  From a feature perspective,

To you, not MSFT.  To MSFT if they stumble hard enough, but that wasn't
what I was looking at.  AbiSource has to appeal to those to whom neither
MS Word _or_ WP is an acceptable (or viable) option.

> you'd think they ought to be, but when you look at market share, it's a
> whole 'nother story.  Trying to out-do MSFT head-to-head at a proprietary
> business model is an easy way to lose.


> >Think Ghostscript/Ghostview.  Idea is to initially fund development of a
> >high-ticket or high-value item as proprietary, closed software.
> I understand the model, but I still don't like what it would do to our brand
> positioning.  It's very easy to explain to people that we're 100% GPL, so
> they can trust us.  People like and respect us for the purity of that
> stance.

Count me among them, but I don't want you to starve.

Until proven otherwise in court (and my bet is it won't be), GPL is
proof against proprietization of source -- so long as you're releasing
(and have released) core product under GPL, you'll be competing against
yourself if you try to go proprietary.  If you make a point of
guaranteeing that _all_ product will be GPL'd within some set time
(again, 1, 2 years, probably), there's some comfort level.  Deutsch,
FWIW, releases Ghostscript under GPL because he promised RMS he'd always
do it, he just doesn't do it _first_ now <g>....

I'll let others play with this, but if you think of this as a way of
structuring a development fund -- we'll develop this code for you if you
pay us for doing it and we'll let you play with it for a while before we
start giving it to other people -- some of the bitter taste may
sweeten.  The GPL should keep the slope from becoming too slippery. 
You're hanging short-term proprietary modules on OSS cores.  The core
should keep you honest.  (Core-modules, if you've missed it, is an
architecture I'm rather convinced OSS tends to promote, I'll iterate
and/or dig past posts on it on request).

> Call me crazy, but I see the combination of great products and a great
> GPL-based brand as a wonderful way to acquire and retain customers.  I love
> the idea of having customers who pay us because they *want* to -- all I have
> to do is keep making them happy and they'll keep sending money my way.  If
> they just paid us because they *had* to, they'd constantly be looking
> elsewhere for alternatives.

You're a guy, you should understand this.  It's ok to cause them to
_look_, it's the actual wandering away that you want to try to avoid
pushing them to.

A business should be looking after its own interests, just not so
exclusively that it inflicts pain.

> Hybrid models just aren't that intrinsically appealing to me, because you
> take on too many of the PR burdens of proprietary companies, without being
> able to reap all the financial benefits of being a full-bore (traditional)
> capitalist.  Straddling fences can be done, but without perfect balance, it
> can really hurt, too.

I'm a guy too.  Point made.

...and I'm not saying you _have_ to compromise yourself or go hybrid.  I
think it's worth hashing over, however.  I think I might do the same, in
similar straits.
> Am I the only one who thinks that FSBs are best off applying licenses like
> the GPL to ultra-high-volume applications, where the fact that not every
> user pays you hurts less?

IMO it's high-volume and technical user apps which are most amenable to
OSS.  OSs, office suites, web servers.  Fortunately, this is also where
much of the abuses in the current SW market reside as well.  My lawyer
friend's lack of an OSS docket app isn't going to have a major economic
disolcation effect in the same sense that monopolization of the desktop
and office SW markets does.

> >That's the legal side.  The marketing/business concept is what I like to
> >call "DPL" -- delayed public licensing.  The idea is to market the
> >product as proprietary for a time (a year, maybe more, maybe less), then
> >re-license it under a public license.
> I don't see how that'd work for a mass-market horizontal product (like, say,
> an office suite).  Early in the development of such a product, it's got
> fewer features, which restricts its usefulness to a smaller population.
> More mature products, with fully fleshed-out feature sets, are what sells
> well into corporations who spend all the money on software anyhow.
> However, under a delayed license, you're trying to force the people with
> money to pay early, so that it's available to everyone else later on.  Why
> would they do that?  It sounds like this could easily devolve into a "free
> rider" problem, at least in my markets.


Simply, different customers have different time horizons for their
needs.  I'm a large publishing company in dire need of an image-editing
enabled layout app and I'm convinced AbiWord is the way to fly, but the
image-editing module isn't there.  I might pay you to write it for me
(or for me and a few of my friends), but I'm going to insist it go to
those who pay for it for the first 12 months of its life.

You'd ultimately need to release the modules to get buy-in from other
customers, the ones who like your basic product, but aren't going to pay
(much) for a photo editor.

If the business model is successful, it may even lend greater
credibility to long-term viability for AbiWord as a product, because
there is a clearly visible growth path for future development.  If
AbiSource (or another organization, or freelance programmers) can
profitably write application extensions, then potential customers will
see the app as worth the user investment (aquisition, deployment,
training) because it has or will have features they need or anticipate
needing.  They might even be willing to pay for feature B (in part at
least) if feature A is already under funded development, even though
feature A is a "nice to have" but not "must have".

> To put it another way, I think I understand why that model works for Peter
> Deutsch, but I don't see how to make it work for me.

Try this:
Particularly "Some Ghostscript revenue comes from paid enhancements" (a
noticeable but not significant source of income...).

Deutsch is one of the more pragmatic free software developers I've met
(though I suppose Ousterhout and the Cygnus squad probably have similar
mindsets).  There's some distance between them and RMS.  I don't see it
as a rift, however.

Karsten M. Self (
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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