Subject: Re: A few thoughts.
From: hecker@netscape.com (Frank Hecker)
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 21:36:14 -0400

Michael Tiemann wrote:
> Sorry, but the "from scratch" issue is a red herring.

It's unclear to me in which sense you mean it's a red herring.  David
Welton's question as I understand it was whether people creating "really
new" (his words) software were likely to introduce it as closed-source
or open-source software (e.g., based on the desire to profit in some way
from the software).  So I was trying to think of some cases where
software innovations first appeared in open-source form and those
products continued to be popular.  If we want to argue for open source
based on the idea that it encourages software innovation then I think
this is an important area to look at to see if we can or can't
empirically justify this hypothesis.

> Netscape's browser was a "reimplementation of existing product
> categories", as was Microsoft's Excel, Oracle, and a million other
> bits of proprietary software.  Truly "from scratch" software is
> truly rare

Well, just off the top of my head I can think of the following software
categories (and "from scratch" products, where I can remember them) that
I would count as innovative (to greater and lesser degrees) in the sense
David Welton seems to be using: spreadsheets (VisiCalc), graphical web
browsers (NCSA Mosaic), document processing systems a la
runoff/Scribe/TeX, WYSIWG word processors (Xerox Star?), 2-D and 3-D
computer-aided design software, relational databases, time-sharing
operating systems (Multics?), web search engines using web robots,
presentation graphics software a la PowerPoint, ERP software a la SAP
R3, software for engineering finite element analysis, computer animation
software, "data mining" software, and software to do "rational drug
design".

> , and would probably be almost unusable, since it would be
> compatible with nothing anybody knows how to use or manage.

I'm not clear what exactly you mean here, especially regarding how it
would apply to the list of software products/categories above.  Maybe
you're referring to the introduction of truly new fundamental concepts
in computer science, UI, etc.  I agree that those have historically been
rare, with most products being based on concepts from existing products
(as the concept of a WYSIWYG word processor was based on the existing
concept of an interactive editor for plain text).

My benchmark of innovation is rather whether the software in question
gave rise to a recognizable new market space (with multiple competing
products and companies formed around those products) that did not
previously exist prior to the first product of that type appearing.

Frank
-- 
Frank Hecker          Pre-sales support, Netscape government sales
hecker@netscape.com   http://people.netscape.com/hecker/