Subject: Re: Economics of software distribution
From: gnu@CYGNUS.COM
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 93 02:31:33 -0800

> As far as I know, the vast majority of free software was developed
> with subsidized funding.  This includes university funding, either
> direct or indirect, indirect government funding, and private funding.

As far as I know, the vast majority of commercial software was developed
with subsidized funding.  This includes university funding, either
direct or indirect, indirect government funding, and private funding.

In the commercial software world, private funding is called "investment".
It's still an investment, whether the result is free or proprietary.
The question is:  what result does the investor expect from their investment?

In the "mass market software" realm, the logical conclusion is that
they expect to get profit from selling the software.  I think that this 
conclusion is wrong.

If you draw a box around just the companies that produce software for
distribution and sale, well then sure, *all* of them are investing in
development so that they can distribute and sell the product.

But most of the investment in programming occurs among *users* of
software.  As Richard puts it, how much investment has been put into
the Lotus 1-2-3 interface by Lotus, versus how much investment has
been made (into learning it, trainings for it, books about it, etc) by
all the users put together?

All of Cygnus's customers are users of the software.  None of them
distribute and sell it (except sometimes as an advertisement for their
real business).  But they invest money (in Cygnus) to make development
and ongoing support happen.  When we occasionally talk to a software
*vendor*, they think we're crazy.  But there are a lot more software
users than software vendors, and we're foxlike crazy.

Why does every shop have its own homegrown source-code control system,
and its own homegrown bug tracking system?  Its own tweaked sendmail
config files?

I think it's because nobody freed the one they wrote (til Tichy freed
RCS, then Prisma built and freed CVS).  And this is what Tiemann was
trying to say about coordination rather than wasted effort.  (Defense
industry programmers wouldn't have had to charge such high prices to
begin with, if they had bothered to share their software around rather
than reinventing every wheel from scratch.)

The beauty of Richard Stallman's idea is that the most of the software
we need is already written -- it just needs freedom and distribution.
The global networks provide the distribution, the GPL provides the freedom.

Christopher Maeda said:
> But what started this thread is the question of how to bootstrap
> "mass-market" free software.  This is precisely the kind of software
> that universities and research institutions will *not* do because it's
> not interesting.  No university research project is going to write
> (eg) personal calendar managers that run under Microsoft Windows.

And that's precisely wrong.  I bet there are fifty personal calendar
managers that run under Microsoft Windows -- each one written by a
bored or hyperactive programmer in some company somewhere.  They're
kicking around among the local users and their friends, in slightly
buggy binary versions.  And none of them know about each other, and
none of this software will either be made commercial or be made free.
Unless we get the word out that it's more fun and less work if you
share your sources and distribution rights.

	John