Subject: Re: Reasons why being proprietary hurts you more than it helps
From: Brian Bartholomew <bb@wizard.newengland.verio.net>
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 16:50:22 -0500

> There is no track record which associates proprietary documentation
> and drivers with greater success in the marketplace.

| I disagree.  Most highly successful vendors today are as proprietary
| and monopolistic as they can get their customers to accept.

> So were the unsuccessful vendors.  Should I then conclude that being
> proprietary drives one out of business?

Proprietariness vs. openness within a given company is better modeled
as a proportion, rather than a binary setting.  All profitable
businesses have some amount of proprietariness.  Being too proprietary
drives one out of business, although the region right before that
point is highly profitable.  You are proposing that a profitable
hardware business with a small investment in software IP give away
that IP when they gain net sales revenue from doing so.  That makes
sense from a profit-seeking perspective.  The problem is that the net
sales revenue gain from widget frosting isn't automatic.  The impact
on profit has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

You might convince me that widget frosting is always a win if the
company wasn't charging for the drivers (they were non-libre but
gratis).  If the lack of libre drivers is a significant barrier to
entry, then the company probably has too high a percentage of IP in
their software to be a suitable candidate for widget frosting.

A good set of example companies for this discussion might be the ones
going voice recognition on PCs.  When these products were first
introduced, all the computation was done on a proprietary hardware
card, and they could have benefited from widget frosting.  Nowadays,
if all the computation can't be done on a mainstream PC, it can be
next year.  These companies have mutated from "hardware" to "software"
companies.  I use quotes because much of the interesting stuff was
always software, they just chose not to sell it in that form.  At what
point did widget frosting stop serving their profit-seeking interests?


A member of the League for Programming Freedom (LPF) http://lpf.ai.mit.edu
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Brian Bartholomew - bb@wv.com - www.wv.com - Working Version, Cambridge, MA