Subject: Re: How accurate is Metcalfe's law? (Was: Ximian software)
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: 09 Jan 2002 12:21:47 +0900

>>>>> "Ian" == Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com> writes:

    Ian> There are some great ideas which have been extensively mined:

You've got the wrong kind of greatness in mind.  Those are great
inventions, creating _potential_ social value.  Putting those
inventions at the service of users (what economists call "innovation")
is a different kind of idea which programmers give short shrift.

    Ian> Let's turn this around and think about what technological
    Ian> ideas Microsoft, as the canonical example of getting value
    Ian> from software,

Exactly. The point is that Microsoft software has generated huge
social value, far in excess of the paltry few billions that Bill &co
have skimmed off.  That is because it works for a class of users
(business and home) who are very poorly served by Unixoid ideas, and
somehow were partially missed by Star/Mac as well.

This is obviously more because of the lack of innovative ideas than
the lack of inventive ideas.  We FS advocates far too often focus on
the potential that proprietary software leaves on the sidewalk due to
transactions costs and monopoly burden of IP.  But we have yet to
demonstrate that we can notice _and exploit_ a G$1 idea unless it
really hits us where we live (cf Apache etc below).

This value would (IMO) likely have been postponed for decades without
IP.  As you note, most of the basic ideas in Windows had been around
for a decade or more.  "Microsoft Windows" as a collective
implementation of them was a pretty mediocre idea that nevertheless
has picked up more than a few G$1 bills that Unix-y and Mac-y folk
left lying on the sidewalk.

If the Mac and MS Windows didn't exist, would KDE and GNOME be
anywhere near as developed as they are, if they even existed as
coherent projects?  I doubt it very much.

Contrast with Apache and Emacs, which clearly led MS's versions in
many ways, and GCC/GNU system/Linux which developed concurrently.  I
don't think those differences in timing are accidental.  I think they
have to do with the fact that programmers left to themselves by and
large work on stuff that makes programming more fun and useful to them
and their buddies, not on stuff for people they will never meet and
often abuse ("luser") or caricature ("PHB", "bean counter") in the
abstract.

    Ian> I would argue that Windows and MS Office are also maintenance
    Ian> of a certain class of existing ideas.

Exactly.  A class that I believe that free software will typically lag
about 10 years behind the proprietary world in serving.  I'm not the
only one, either.

    Ian> The basis for Emacs is arguably TECO.

I don't care what the basis is.  A TECO-based Emacs would be merely a
strong competitor to vi, rather than a completely different animal.


-- 
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences     http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
              Don't ask how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.