Subject: Re: Epistemology of FS
From: Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com>
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2005 11:06:29 -0500

Ian Lance Taylor writes:
 > I think the economic impact on the IT market is profound, but as you
 > say it is extremely difficult to actually measure.

Impossible, I'd say.  I suggested to Alan Cox many years ago that
Linux should send an ICMP package to a server somewhere when it boots.
He was aghast, saying that that would infringe people's privacy.  RMS
and friends also raise privacy protection to a moral value equivalent
to the freedom of software.

I don't know when they started, but it had clearly been YEARS that
McDonald's cash registers were running my GPL'ed packet drivers, when
they contacted me in 1998.  That's a lottalotta economic value
created, and one which I never knew anything about.  Similarly, the
Pep Boys chain was using packet drivers in their stores.  Not as big a
franchise operation, but still.

I was on my way to Mumbai to help Rediffmail with their then-sendmail
server, now qmail servers.  Laid over in the Frankfurt airport.  Was
wandering around out of sheer boredom when I noticed that the airport
display system was rebooting.  They must have a crowbar in their
client which forces a reboot when the server goes away.  The systems
took a little while to boot MS-DOS.  While they were doing so, I
noticed a VERY FAMILIAR boot string go past.  I scurried over to look
at the last one to boot, and there, there on the screen, there at the
bottom of the screen, was the string "Copyright, 1991, Crynwr Software."

I had no idea.

 > It's hard to determine whether IT is really a productivity enhancer,

Nahhhhh.  In a free market economy, after twenty years, you have to
assume that the sign of the productivity change is positive.

 > Whether free software is improving the economy, through lower prices,
 > increased efficiency, etc., is an open question.  Free software is
 > changing the IT industry much as cheap data transfer is changing the
 > music and movie industries.  What the end result will be can not yet
 > be reliably predicted.

Sure it can!  You just don't know enough Austrian economics (sorry,
gumby, but it's still relevant; economics is currently chasing a
modelling chimera; intellectual error in academia dies hard; they'll
come back to Austrian economics in time.)  Everybody who seeks to make
a profit has a mixture of inputs to their operation.  You need a mix
of skills, tools, and materials.  The exact mix chosen depends on the
price and value of those things.  A radical change in the price of any
one component will make the current mix double-plus ungood (thank you,
Don Lancaster).  The proportions of the mix will change, with more of
the cheaper input being used.

In other words, free software means that the efficiency of the IT
industry has greatly increased.  IT products have become cheaper.
This will result in MORE total IT spending.  More programmers will be
needed in the future, not less.  RMS got the economics completely
wrong in his manifesto.  We recently had a discussion about economics
that ended up in me purchasing him a copy of Economics in One Lesson.

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