Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 09:44:01 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "craig" == craig  <craig@jcb-sc.com> writes:

    >> And that's the point.  Free software businesses and advocates
    >> would be ill-advised to bet on a large upper bound in my
    >> opinion.

    craig> I agree.  I'm not sure what they would be doing that'd
    craig> amount to a risky bet on such a large upper bound, though

_If_ my back-of-the-envelope analysis is correct, investing in a
free-software office automation suite would be.  I participated in a
thread on a different list where one of the participants put together, 
in all seriousness, the outline of a business plan for such (actually, 
the wordprocessor portion).  It was pretty plausible[1] but IMHO
doomed to failure.  Hasn't been tested yet, so I don't know.

    craig> if they put together a quality product *anyway*,
    craig> and the user base for that product doesn't happen to value
    craig> free software, it won't hurt them much to have put it under
    craig> the GPL.

As opposed to charging by the seat, they certainly do hurt.  But I'll
grant that our hypothetical free software business isn't going to do
that, not for the software itself.

The real point is that they've already taken the big hit before the
product was even released: the development costs.  Development is
expensive; you need to move lots of copies to amortize those costs at
libre software prices.  And as you point out, a competitor can easily
redistribute for less.  But I don't consider that the primary danger.
If the free software upper bound is less than 100%, that implies that
there is a proprietary product out there, and in the minds of customer 
it is significantly better to justify the price differential, if any.

    craig> If a competitor redistributes it for less, it might seem

But what if a proprietary implementation blows it out of the water on
features and matches reliability?  (The latter is unlikely IMHO; the
SEI begs to differ.  You may not trust the SEI's assessment, either,
but it should make you nervous, don't you think?  I'm nervous.)

Doesn't that cost free software credibility in the minds of the
audience?  If it doesn't in itself, don't you think that the true
masters of FUD will take advantage of it, even in unrelated fields?
Let's look into my crystal ball....

"Have you tried the free KDE word processor?  Yes?  And how did it
compare to Microsoft Word 2010?  You got what you paid for, I see.
<smirk> You see, we at MS have really turned around since the Linux
debacle that caused the bankruptcy in 2003.  Yes, the OS issue is
precisely analogous; try Microsoft Windows Back-to-the-Future
Technology with GalacticNet Explorer and Word for Windows-BTTFT, and
you'll see."

    craig> to, but that very act will help educate the audience as to

The _astute_ members of the audience.

    craig> the value of libre software, which can then be capitalized
    craig> upon by the business seen as the original *author* that
    craig> *chose* to GPL the software.

Sounds risky to me, betting on capitalization of reputation in your
next product when you haven't written it yet.  How many development
organizations out there are that good that that's not a bet
(relatively favorable bet isn't good enough)?

    craig> It's likely that there'll be some major attention to given
    craig> to people who *think* the GPL is a magic bullet and find
    craig> out otherwise, but astute observers will probably "get"

But FUD (please to call it "product comparison by independent lab")
can, and will, reduce the number of astute observations.

    craig> that, even if the business goes under, the *users* of its
    craig> products were not left out in the cold,

You're right that the costs are lower for the users of source-
available code in the event of the code being orphaned.  But they are
still positive.  You can't simply compare costs in the bad case; you
must also multiply by the probability of orphanage.  Again, rock-solid
revenue streams like those of Microsoft induce feelings of confidence
and continuity in users (perhaps unfounded for reasons you needn't
advise me about, but none-the-less very real).  Microsoft's very
record of inertia and sticking to worn out technology that was broken
when introduced is an advantage here.  Perfect opportunity for FUD.

I'm also less than sanguine about the possibility of hiring the former
employees.  (Assuming they _are_ former; obviously a free software
business will discontinue development of some products, and I don't
see why it can't deemphasize or even discontinue support of a product,
accepting the same reputation hit---perhaps less because of source
availability---as a business based on proprietary software.)  You'd
have to snaffle them up immediately; their new (or continuing)
employer would look dimly upon too much moonlighting.  That would take
an awf'ly astute customer with deep pockets.  (Especially since the
core guys have possibly already disappeared before the product sank.)
Granted, the possibility is there, and by definition the source is not
kept closed due to dog-in-the-manger attitudes.  But it's much more
expensive than working with a going concern.

Let's put this succinctly:  if you were offered a monopoly on the
market for software bought by astute observers, versus the monopoly on
that bought by everyone else, which do you think would make more
money?  (I'm sure you'd actually _choose_ the former.  But answer the
question as posed, please.  :-)


Footnotes: 
[1]  I think you, the author, are out there; I'm sorry if it didn't
seem so at the time.  I acknowledge it here.  I still don't think it
makes money.  :-)

-- 
University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
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What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."