Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: Crispin Cowan <>
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1999 19:26:51 +0000

Bernard Lang wrote:

> On Sat, Oct 23, 1999 at 08:57:14PM +0000, Crispin Cowan wrote:
> > >     Crispin> Now *this* claim would seem to be rather specific, and
> > >     Crispin> need supporting.  Why would an all-free-software world be
> > >     Crispin> a poor world?
>   Questions (I do not have the answers):

Consider the view that commodity software is just an inducement to sell
hardware.  If all software was "free" (in RMS's terms) then the major
economic motivator to write mass-market software might be to sell hardware.
Similar to the dawn of radio and television, when there was no reasonable way
to meter the use of broadcast mateials, and content was created first to sell
hardware (receiving sets) and later to sell advertising.  RMS's contention
seems to be, in part, that there is no reasonable way to contain the copying
of software, and so only bizzarre legal fictions make it illegal to do so.
This is (I believe) the source of why he calls it "domination" to be
prohibited from doing that which there is no natrual barrier to doing
(copying software) and every economic incentive to do so.

By analogy, I can imagine a world in which no one ever tried to market
software; it was always free content created to encourage sales of hardware
and/or to carry advertisin media.  I am unconvinced that it is *necessarily*
the case that that would be a poorer world.

>   whould we have Gnome and KDE in their present state, if it were not
> for the competition of proprietary software ?

Would the Sun NeWS windowing system have died on the vine had Sun not made
the mistake of attempting to keep it highly proprietary?  NeWS was much
better than X.  The basic substrate was postscript.  You could create a
heart-shaped window, and have it move around the screen doing figure 8's
while you typed into it.  And the Enlightenment people think they're hot :-)

>   Isn't it the case that the development model of free-software tends
> to be centered around the needs of the experts, i.e. those who can
> develop a technical answer to need ?

The free software model suggests that if there is a mass-market need for
software, then either someone will write it for fame and glory, or a hardware
vendor will write it to sell their hardware.  If there is not a mass market
need for the software, then those that need it will pay expert consultants to
create it.

>   Why are they so few free multimedia tools ... do they appear as
> frivolous to the average power user ?

Huh?  "So few"?  GIMP was the *first* major free app. for the GNOME desktop.

>   Should games be free ? What about novels ?

"Should <foo> be free?" was not the question.  "Would the world be a poorer
place if all software was free?" was the question.  "Should <foo> be free?"
depends a lot on context, and whether <bar> is free is a big part of the

Crispin Cowan, CTO, WireX Communications, Inc.
Free Hardened Linux Distribution: