Subject: Re: Returns to service professionals (was Re: New ESR paper: The Magic Cauldron)
From: DJ Delorie <dj@delorie.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 13:09:42 -0400


> I fear that these companies consider their applications as their
> competitive advantage.

Why is that a fear?  *Every* company has to have a competitive
advantage.  Companies like AOL provide a service, and that service is
managed through software.  Giving away their software also gives away
their service and their advantage.  They'd be nuts to do that.

Now, I'm not saying that *all* their software is part of that service.
For example, I wrote some software at Cabletron (which is a software
company, sort of) that didn't affect their products nor their profits.
*That* would be a candidate for GPL'ing (in fact, they're considering
it).  But I wouldn't expect them to open the CGIs they use on their
e-comm site; those are part of their competitive advantage.

But, of course, getting such companies to help the community in
*other* ways is a good thing.  I just don't expect them to give away
the company jewels.

> I guess I see the Internet still in one of the "robber baron"
> periods, where everyone thinks of what they can take out of the
> ecosystem--after all, it's free, a land of opportunity--and
> doesn't worry about the long-term consequences.

Not quite a valid analogy, since the "robber barons" hurt their
victims (and the economy) directly, whereas copying software doesn't
detract from the original one whit.  The ratio of users to
contributors is pretty high these days; expecting all users to
contribute is folly.  There are zillions (meaning I don't know how
many ;) DJGPP users; very few actually contribute, but who cares?
Those that want to contribute do.  Those who want to have a say do.
Those who are content to quietly accept the status quo don't bother
us.  Life goes on.

It's one of the things that the masses don't understand about open
source - if someone wants to use the software privately (or doesn't
want to use it at all), you can just ignore them (unless you have
visions of grandeur, of course).  What's the difference between AOL
not opening their software, and AOL not existing?  In neither case do
they contribute directly to the community, but their mere existence at
least brings more people into the possibilities of contributing.  Net
gain just because more people are on the Internet, if nothing else.

> Think strip mining, clear-cutting, commercial farming with heavy
> use of chemicals, etc.

Another bad analogy.  Copying software doesn't leave the original
author with less software, nor does it prevent the original author
from continuing with their original development plans.  Your examples
are exclusive of other options for that land.  I don't mind analogies,
but please pick better ones.

> All of which is to say that I think that Nick (as reported by Frank)
> is right: the money isn't in software, it's in providing net-based
> services, and the question we ought to be spending some time on is
> how open source plays in that space.  What kind of licenses, and
> what kind of business models, make sense when software is key to a
> company's success, but *software distribution* isn't a significant
> revenue vector for that company?

If a company consumes software but never contributes software back,
and uses that software to provide a service that they charge for, are
they even part of the equation?  If so, enlighten me.  I mean, if some
company secretly uses free software internally and doesn't tell
anyone, who cares?  They aren't part of the community.  They don't
effect development.  They don't affect our options and futures.  I
wouldn't even consider them anything other than a potential marketing
point, and even that's only if they're willing to put their name on
something they have no control over.

Open source is about community.  If someone doesn't want to be part of
the community, oh well.  Let's give them the freedom to choose that
path at their own peril, and worry about the people who *do* want to
be part of the community.