Subject: Re: Non-proprietary software?
From: ian@airs.com
Date: 28 Sep 1998 00:04:13 -0400

   Date: Sat, 26 Sep 1998 20:19:25 -0500
   From: Brian Bartholomew <bb@wizard.pn.com>

   Why do people buy their Linux distributions from the name-brand
   distribution company, instead of from a vendor that sells bit-
   identical copies of the name-brand distributions for 1/10th the price?
   The brand doesn't seem to copy as well as the bits.

Why do people pay more for the same product when it's in a name brand
box in the supermarket than they do when it's in a generic no-name
box?  The answer to this is probably approximately the answer to your
question.

Despite what some old-fashioned microeconomics courses teach, it is
folly to expect purely rational behaviour from consumers.  I
personally fully support any FSB which can get a bit more money by
exploiting irrational behaviour.

   Much of what the software industry does to justify higher prices
   actually leads to worse value for me, the consumer.

This characteristic is hardly unique to the software industry.
Capitalism implies tension between producers and consumers.  While
there certainly are publically spirited producers, many producers who
offer a better deal for the consumer are primarily motivated by the
possibility of increasing their market share.  When capitalism works
well, those producers who offer a better deal actually deliver it.
Alas, it doesn't always work well.

   > If software becomes are a commodity, where are you going to get
   > those US dollars?

   Farmers make sufficient money to do farming instead of something else.
   Programmers could work the same way.

Let's not overstretch the programmer/farmer analogy.  Farmers make
consumables.  Programmers do not.  We will always need somebody to
produce food.  We may not always need somebody to produce new programs
(I personally hope that we don't).

   > However this puts any individual producer (farmer) in the very
   > difficult position of being in intense and never-ending competition
   > with every other producer, with no way to differentiate their
   > offerings other than by price.

   Yes, but is this so terrible?  Look what the competition did for farm
   efficiency.  Look at our standard of living relative to 50 years ago.

Society is also paying hidden costs due to what farmers have been
driven to: the dramatic loss of genetic diversity in food products,
the heavy use of chemical pesticides (particularly outside the U.S.),
and the steady reduction of fresh water reserves (particularly in the
U.S. midwest; this is not solely due to farmers, of course).  Also, I
personally find the factory farming of animals to be morally
abhorrent.

But this is way off topic for FSB, so I'll stop.  Sorry.

   Why should programmers be treated any
   differently than other medium-skilled white collar workers?

They shouldn't.  I periodically marvel at the remarkably high pay that
programmers receive.  But it's not like programmers have a strong
union.  For whatever reason, it seems that people are willing to pay a
lot for programs.  Heck, they're even willing to pay for free
programs.


One view of this mailing list is that it discusses ways to combine a
particular moral view of software--that it should be libre--with
existence in capitalist society.

If I follow you, you seem to be saying that it is not enough for
software to be libre.  It must also be a commodity.  Why?  Libre is
what I want.  Why should I care about anything else?

Ian