Subject: Re: Economics of software distribution
From: Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@HALSP.HITACHI.COM>
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 93 17:43:29 PST

>I'm sure that somebody can make those packages work, and that many Unix
>hackers at universities would be willing to spend the extra time.  But by
>the standards of "real users", they don't work.  I've had similar
>experiences.  I got the freely available source code for `compress', but I
>had to tweak it and diddle it and patch it to get it to compile on my PC.
>Because the authors have/had no incentive to make it actually work for
>users.

Let me apologize in advance to Peter Deutsch, who is the author of 
a very valuable piece of free software, for the following message.

			[Flame on]

This is very unfair to the author of compress.  It was never intended to
run on anything but Unix.  It compiled out of the box and runs fine on my 
(weird) ISC 2.2 system.  Is it reasonable to expect to put a Cessna engine
into a Ford without a major rework?

Much free software is better written and better supported than much
commercial software.  I find that:

   o commercial software doesn't work.
   o I don't know why. (because I don't have source), and 
   o I can't fix it.   (same reason)

Free software works no worse than commercial software, and I can fix it
if I have to.  Maybe I'm just a crazy hacker; but I'd rather get
something that I can fix when it's broken than something that I can't.
My DOS development system crashes about twice a day.  Is Linux worse?

The "problem" with free software is how to set up a system to encourage
people to do it and how to get them paid for it.  Did Peter submit his 
mods to compress to distribution? Probably not.  Probably because:

   o It's a hassle.
   o There's not much in it for him.
   o Even if he wanted to do it, there is no way to incorporate the
     mods into the main release of compress, where it would do the
     most good.

			[flame off]

What do free software vendors sell?  I'd guess these things, all of
which are called support.

   o Hand holding
   o Custom modifications
   o Quick bug fixes
   o Early access to updates

The difficulty that vendors of free software have is getting customers
to pay for what they *thought* they were getting for free, namely all
the above and possibly more besides.  (Additions are requested.)

As an example of how customer expectations vary, consider the difference
in the way that chip vendors and software vendors handle, or at least
used to handle, bugs in their products.  Chip vendors refuse, or at least
refused, to admit that there is ever anything wrong.  On the other hand
Sun publishes a magazine of known bugs and fixes, which the customers
subscribe to at great expense.

Jonathan Ryshpan		<jon@halsp.hitachi.com>

	===============> I write for myself ONLY. <===============