Subject: Re: Paul Fremantle on Open Source Business
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: Tue, 25 May 2010 16:27:34 +0900

Rich Bodo writes:
 > Don Marti wrote:

 > > Much (maybe most) software has no market or community.
 > > Just bugs and costs.

While out of context I tend to agree, isn't this precisely what ESR
tried to debunk?  Sure, it has neither at present, but that's no
reason to assume it *can't*.  Rich's take:

 > From a bottom-line perspective, if you fear building a real,
 > contributing community,

is interesting/enlightening, but I think it misses the point.  I teach
an English class to 150 freshmen in business, regional planning, and
social science every year, where I present random topics in Economics
to them in English.  I always do a lecture on the Internet, and one on
open source.  In the past three years, when I ask "have you written a
program" not one hand has been raised.  That's nearly 500 kids at a
university that styles itself "the MIT of Japan".  (Of course that
says one hell of a lot more about Japan than it does about MIT.)

But most of them use PCs, and all are totally intimate with their
cellphones.  IIUC, *that* is an important part of what Don is talking
about.  To most software users, the technology is as remote as the
factory floor is.  They see their computers as hardware, and are not
at all interested in improving the software, not if it costs them.

It's not a question of "fearing" community contruction in such cases.
It's that the cost of building a community amounts to giving all your
people a year's leave of absence plus tuition to bring them up to
speed where they can start participating in open source.

So I guess I now need to change my thinking in light of the
realization that what Fremantle may be suggesting is that if you
commit to using open source, you will become good at finding ways to
open source even in such adverse situations, with reasonable
performance/cost ratios.

 > Run correctly,

*and* in a social situation where people program because they can't
stop themselves :-),

 > the community building efficiency of the open-source project is
 > unrivaled.  Any business that can benefit by building a software
 > community must recognize the awesome power of open-source software
 > projects in this respect.  Far fewer benefit than could.

I think you overestimate how many businesses really could benefit from
open-sourcing their software.  Granted, a lot of businesses
overestimate the long-run cost of doing so (one of ESR's main points)
and underestimate the benefits.  But the short-run costs can be
considerable, even if, like Canonical.com, you consider yourself an
open source company.  And I know some of the people who run Sun's Open
Solaris community-building group.  They dispose of a substantial
budget and a dozen or more full-time staff in Japan alone.  Then there
simply may be no hackers in your user community.

If that "awesome power" were something you can really build businesses
on, I would think there would be more companies doing it, and more
than a couple would be doing it really well.

 > Either type usually accepts that Open Source Software projects are are
 > software community building mechanisms, first and foremost.  Both
 > create a feedback loop whose benefits can outlast any company.
 > 
 > Fremantle likely does not accept this,

I don't understand.  He makes a point of talking about how you can't
be an "open source business" unless you at least engage, and
preferably foster, communities around the open source that goes into
your products.  Cf. simo's comments, which I expect Fremantle would
probably agree with.  While I agree that Freemantle probably is more
interested in the survival of the company than in that of the
community (is that all you're saying?), I also get the impression that
he thinks of community as "interdependent with", not "dependent on",
the business.  That implies that the community may outlast the business.

 > which is seems to happen when you spend too much time trying to
 > define a free software business.

That's a bit unfair.  Freemantle, like my buddy at Sun, has a job to
do as an evangelist and as a venture mentor.  He's not trying to
define "open source business" for the heck of it, he needs a
definition to do his job well.