Subject: Re: Urban Legends about Free Software
From: adam@NETCOM.COM (Adam J. Richter)
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 93 01:23:14 -0700

	While we're on the subject of misconceptions about free
software, I'd like to add a few to the list that deal with differences
between free software and proprietary software which are more perceived
than real.

        I've heard it said repeatedly that free software is only
written for software development tools that programmers like to write
for their own use.  I do not doubt that a disproportionate amount of
the software that programmers produce is software that they want to
use themselves.  However, I don't think that this is a general trend
in unix software and not something endemic to free software.  At UniForum
last month, Esther Dyson was moderating a panel discussion and asked
the audience to pick between "application software" and "system
software" for the following two questions.  The results are my estimates
of the audience's show of hands.

                                          System        Application
                                          software      Software

    TO SELLERS: What do you produce?        66%           33%

    TO BUYERS:  What are you                 0%          100%
                in the market for?
        

        To a certain extent, Ester Dyson's question is unfair since
users are presumably interested in operating systems primarily for the
purpose of running applications.  On the other hand, walking around
UniForum, I began to see Ester Dyson's point.  I saw more companies
that were selling GUI toolkits, debuggers, coverage tools, profilers,
simulators, and project management software than I could keep track
of.  I saw comparatively few companies selling application software.
To me, this evidence suggests that programmers writing software that
is interesting primarily to programmers is a phenomenon which is not
unique to the free software world.

        I don't think that the phenomenon of the struggling software
business is unique or particularly concentrated in the free software
world either.  I have a number of friends with struggling proprietary
software companies.  As I mentioned in a previous letter to the Free
Software Business mailing list, I think that the big problem that
struggling free software businesses have is in their a lack of
coherent marketting, rather than in the freeness of their software.
It is difficult for me to imagine companies that sell free software
being much more successful simply by switching to proprietary software,
rather working more on designing and marketting their products and
services.

	The front page of the 15 March 1993 issue of _Computer Reseller
News_ carried a story entitled "Software price war threatens free
support", with a caption of Phillipe Kahn saying, "If prices stay
in the $100-to-$200 range, you'll have to unbundle support.  That's
the case."  The article discusses how the unbundling of distribution
from support could be a big opportunity for third party support
vendors, a familiar refrain in the free software world.  It appears
that price pressures for proprietary software are getting to the
point where they will not support the most common feature that
people point to when arguing for buying proprietary software over
free software: bundled support.

        Also see the front page article of the 12 April 1993 issue of
_Open Systems Today_, "Sun, IBM Revamp Support."  It appears that Sun and
IBM are also decoupling support from their software prices, although
they seem to be attaching software support to their hardware support
prices.  Nevertheless, I think that this article supports the idea
that the market is forcing the decoupling of distribution from support
in proprietary software.

	It seems to me that proprietary software is looking more and
more like free software every day.

Adam J. Richter				    Yggdrasil Computing, Incorporated
409 Evelyn Ave., Apt. 312, Albany CA 94706  PO Box 8418, Berkeley CA 94707-8418
(510) 528-3209				    (510) 526-7531, fax: (510) 528-8508
adam@netcom.com				    yggdrasil@netcom.com
Another member of the League for Programming Freedom (league@prep.ai.mit.edu).