Subject: Re: Cygnus and proprietary software
From: ian@cygnus.com
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 17:51:36 -0500 (EST)

In fsb nelson@crynwr.com (Russell Nelson) writes:

>ian@cygnus.com writes:
> > Cygnus releases have never been available for anonymous FTP from
> > Cygnus.  Cygnus customers are of course free to put Cygnus releases of
> > libre software up for FTP.  To my knowledge, none have done so.

>That's very interesting.  Makes me wonder if you couldn't position and
>market libre software in an identical manner to proprietary software?

That's basically what Cygnus does.  Look at the Cygnus web page;
you'll see a lot about how great Cygnus products are, and you'll see
relatively little--practically nothing, in fact--about how free they are.

I believe that most people who pay money for software don't actually
care whether the software is libre or not, so Cygnus is following a
sensible strategy.  The fact that the software is libre is a minor
additional benefit, not a significant feature.

>The major risk, it seems to me, is that some of your customers might
>feel misled.  Although, I guess you could minimize that risk with some
>fine print on the back of the box: "The software enclosed in this box
>is freely copyable."

I don't personally see this as a risk at all.  Why would somebody feel
misled if they suddenly find out that the software is freely
redistributable?  When people make a software purchasing decision,
they consider much more than just the software.  They consider the
brand name, the longevity of the vendor, the responsiveness of the
vendor.  Even for customers who don't really want or need support,
Cygnus is selling much more than just a CD.  In my experience in the
software tools field, the main ways in which most customers seriously
consider the software are to make sure that it meets some feature list
and to look at benchmark results.

This is not the say that no customer seriously investigates the
software.  Certainly some do.  Just not most.

Also, this is not to say that Cygnus hides or obscures the fact that
the software is libre.  It's just not a selling point.

>There is, it seems, a difference between one's legal rights, and one's
>moral rights in re freed software.  That might be the result of
>careful selection of customers by Cygnus, or it might be the nature of
>the customers that are attracted to Cygnus's software, or it might be
>just dumb luck.

I guess I pick choice 2.  I think it's simply that for just about any
Cygnus customer, putting software up for anonymous FTP is a cost which
would bring no benefit.

Cygnus customers are companies willing to spend fairly significant
amounts of money to solve their software problems.  Why should they
waste money by turning around and making the software available?
Doing so would just waste their time and energy dealing with bug
reports and problems that would come to them.  If they were willing to
deal with those bug reports and problems, they probably wouldn't
bother spending money on Cygnus software in the first place.

Not that I've done a survey or anything, but this seems like a
plausible explanation to me.

Ian