Subject: Re: Stupid quote!
From: kragen@pobox.com (Kragen)
Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 10:18:10 -0400 (EDT)

On Fri, 19 Jun 1998, Tim Wicinski wrote:
> the problem with the buying/renting analogy is that one buys a house,
> but we don't buy source code.  my girlfriend is an economist who does
> market analysis on real estate markets, and she says it's not that great
> an analogy.

I don't see this as an indictment of the analogy.  All analogies break
down somewhere.  Good ones spark insight while doing so -- the places
where they fit can spark good insights, but so can the places where
they don't fit.

We should probably compile a short document on this analogy; I think
it's really quite a good one.  Here's the beginning of an outline:

I think owning a house is a little closer to having proprietary source
code of your own than to using open-source software.    Open-source has
most of the advantages of having proprietary source, but few of the
disadvantages.  These could be enumerated.

Advantages of buy vs. rent for homes:
1) You can fix things when they break, instead of waiting for the landlord.
2) You can add new features, instead of begging the landlord.
3) You can take bids from different contractors for (1) and (2).
4) You can possibly do (1) or (2) better than a landlord would.
5) There's no landlord who can get foreclosed on and cause you to lose 
	your home.

All of these apply to either having proprietary source of your own, or
using open-source software.

6) You can sell the house for lots of money when you move out.

I don't think this applies, really, to either one.  I'm not familiar
with anyone selling their proprietary source code to someone else,
except when they weren't the primary users -- that is, they were
landlords, not homeowners.

Disadvantages of buy vs. rent for homes:
1) If things break, it costs you money to fix them.  If lots of things break,
	it costs you lots of money.
2) You can lose lots of money if prices go way down and you sell the house.
3) You can lose lots of money if prices go way up and your property taxes
	soar.  (Santa Fe, New Mexico, has lost most of its inhabitants over
	the last twenty years by this method.  Many families that had been
	there for centuries had to move out when the movie stars moved in.)
4) You have to pay lots of money up front to build or buy the house.

(1) and (4) apply, at least, to owning proprietary code.  (2) and (3)
don't have any analogues in the software world that I can see.  (1) and
(4) don't apply to open-source software unless you're the maintainer.


Things that have no analogue in real estate

1) If a thousand people are using the software, it works the same for
you as if you were the only one.
2) Houses don't need technical support.
3) The many-users phenomenon yields some of the biggest benefits: peer
review and "speeding featurism", which is a sort of warp-speed creeping
featurism.
4) Users of proprietary software are much more at the mercy of the
software's owner than tenants in housing.


Comments, corrections, additions?

Kragen