Subject: purchasing power of the smaller set within buisness (was Re: Support as insurance)
From: "Bradley M. Kuhn" <>
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 1999 10:44:16 -0500

Bob Young wrote:

> Customers want solutions.  They don't want source code, or to have to
> learn the license terms (or the likelihood of that license being
> enforcible if you chose to break it), of the software they use.  Hell,
> they'd prefer to live without software altogether if they could.  They
> only buy it (or buy warranties, or support, or whatever else it is you
> sell in the guise of software) because they believe that it is going to
> help them look after their customers better than their competitors do.
> And they have little interest in becoming fully informed on their choices
> - after all they've got better things to do with their time, like look
> after their customers.

Bob has a very good point here.  However, I think it applies most to the
*macro* level of business, but not the *micro* level.  I am talking about
small-time purchases---not corporate-wide "we are a Microsoft shop"
decisions, but small divisions who need to get a job done.

I will attempt to explain with an anecdote:

I worked at a division of Westinghouse (back when it still existed).  We had
a proprietary embedded compiler running on a proprietary OS (Solaris).  We
had bugs in Solaris that stopped us from getting work done, and real
*show-stopper* bugs in the embedded compiler that had our software
development team loosing 5-6 hours a week [0].

We had purchased support for both products.  The embedded compiler people
told us: "you are too small for us to care" (we were a small division of
Westinghouse) and the Solaris support vendor told us the same thing (their
only work-around was upgrade to a newer version, which we couldn't do
because the compiler didn't work on it!)

I kept making the point to the management that if we had the source to these
products (particularly, the compiler) we would be able to fix the bugs
ourselves.  The message got through.  When a new project (same management)
started, they bought a gcc-derivative with source for the embedded chip set
they chose.

The point I am making is this:  Bob is right that *normally* customers don't
care about the source, etc..  However, I have seen even upper-middle
management care when the employees (mainly me :) complain enough that:
"if we had the source, we would work more efficiently".

In a division of 100 people, 3 of us made the difference and they changed
their minds on the next project (admittedly, they never did drop Solaris).

I guess the driving point here is that management, and marketing people, can
be educated when they are told that their workers would be more efficient if
they had free software.  This isn't going to change the fact that the CEO of
the company plays golf with a Microsoft exec and buys his products, but it
can change small-time purchases, I think.

[0] During the linking phase, you had to organize your object files on the
    command line in a *certain order* or the compile would core dump.  The
    only reliable way of finding the "right order" was trial and error.
    With 100 or so object files, and one being added every week or so, this
    wasted a lot of time.

         -  -  Bradley M. Kuhn  -  -