Subject: Re: business case for mechanized documentation
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2006 15:50:05 +0900

>>>>> "Rich" == Rich Morin <> writes:

    Rich> At 12:41 AM +0900 4/8/06, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:

    >> (1) To what extent can OSS hackers have the impact on (say)
    >> Solaris that they can have with Linux or a *BSD?

    Rich> Easing this involvement through better internals
    Rich> documentation seems like an appropriate move, regardless of
    Rich> any other considerations.

You're missing the point.  If the answer to (1) is "not much", then
Sun's answer to your proposal is likely to be "why throw money at it,
when those few who need local forks can read source and support each

    >> (2) How big is OOo, something that I'd think one talented
    >> hacker could have visible impact on?

    Rich> One of the interesting things about Open Source is that a
    Rich> talented hacker can make a small, innovative change that has
    Rich> substantial effects.  For example, the Semantic MediaWiki
    Rich> effort involves very little code (relatively speaking), but
    Rich> its adoption could transform the behavior of MediaWiki (and
    Rich> thus Wikipedia).

That's my point, too, but what I'd like to know is how much of the
benefit of that might get captured by the firm that pays for the work,
and whether it will cover their expenses.

    >> 10 programmers vs 5000 staff (maybe not the same units!) on
    >> Solaris sounds like a drop in the bucket, but if you consider
    >> 20 staff (including managers and support) for docs vs 100 staff
    >> for the whole project, that's a big hunk.

    Rich> Some of the benefits from mechanized documentation accrue
    Rich> without any specific effort on the part of developers.

True, but *all of the costs* of developing it fall on developers.  How
much is Sun going to be willing to pay?  Or are they just going to do
it because it's so cool?

So how big are OOo and MediaWiki?  Can they fund "mechdoc" out of
pocket change, or are they going to balk?

    >> (3) Can Sun et al let control slip away, or are they going to
    >> need to dedicate further staff to the care and feeding of
    >> hordes of volunteer hackers attracted by the documentation?

    Rich> As noted above, I don't think any external party is likely
    Rich> to "fork" Solaris any time soon.  Or were you driving at
    Rich> something else here?

If they're not going to fork, then the patches go to Sun.  Linus can
afford to be "that bastard who drops patches on the floor"; Sun
cannot.  If this really is going to matter, either Sun must devote
resources to integrating (or explicitly refusing) patches, or somebody
needs to fork.

    Rich> In any case, let's not get lost in a discussion of Sun and
    Rich> Solaris.  Novel and Red Hat have similar support issues for
    Rich> their versions of Linux, as do other large projects (eg,
    Rich> Apache, Mozilla) for their non-OS offerings.

Sure, but if we dodge all the particulars by saying, well, it'll work
for somebody else, when do any questions get answered?

It's a truism that business is not about implementing good things.
It's about making a profit.  We need to talk not only about total
benefits, but also about costs and how much of the benefits can be
captured by the innovating firm as revenues or cost reductions.
That's best done in terms of particulars, specifically those of the
firm(s) you're trying to sell to.  No?  (I've never done it myself,
that's an honest question.)

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