Subject: Economics of software distribution
From: jla@GNU.AI.MIT.EDU (Joseph Arceneaux)
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 93 13:07:12 -0500

I find rms' challenge to Peter very interesting.  In fact, I'd have to
say I find rms' position on money very contraditory -- I believe he
was quoted someplace as saying he has nothing against making a lot of
money, and seems to charge premium rates for consulting, but at the
same time holds that low pay is a primary principle of the FSF.

In the GNU Manifesto, rms speakes of the "post-scarcity" world where
no one has to work very hard to make a living and people write
software and music because they enjoy doing so and they're good at it.
I think the paradigm of free software, and free information in
general, is to remove this information from the list of marketable
commodities.  In such a world, I think one could make a living writing
free software, just as lawyers today make livings creating and
manipulating the legal system, which is information available to
everyone.

However, we do not now live in such a world, and I agree with Peter
that the only way to write free software is to fund it with other
activities.  What I wonder is whether it is possible, and whether
writing free software will help change the world to one where
information is free.

I think one of the ideas behind GNU was that if a sufficient body of
free software existed (OS, compiler, etc.) then the trend would shift
towards using and creating free software.  I don't think this is the
case -- despite the quality of GCC, it seems relatively few processor
manufacturers have officially adopted it.  Even if GNU became the
standard environment, people would still develop proprietary
applications on top of it.

I think that, unfortunately, the trend is against free information.
The American Library Association recently stated it opposes plans to
put the Library of Congress online.  The ALA fears that pubishers
would no longer allow books to enter the library system if people
could read them for free across the network.  Of course, people
respond that some mechanism for access fees will be implemented, but
that's missing the poing -- the information in the library used to be
freely accessible.

----
Joseph Arceneaux
Independent Unix Consultant
jla@ai.mit.edu                PO Box 460633
+1 415 285 9088               San Francisco, CA 94146