Subject: Re: "Reasonable Profits"
From: Craig Burley <burley@gnu.org>
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 13:20:15 -0400 (EDT)

>That's a long explanation for why I think libre software (as compared to
>proprietary commercial software) is typically and even necessarily
>gratis or near-gratis for the software considered as software itself,
>i.e., divorced from any accompanying services or goods.  It may be that
>you and I are thinking in different terms here; if so I hope I've
>clarified my argument at least a little.

Yup, but I still have one question.

Exactly why won't developing an important app and distributing it
under the usual shrink-wrap/CDROM work, assuming the app is GPL'ed
(and available over the net), if the app has the usual "don't run
if a license isn't available" kind of protection typical in lots
of proprietary software?

Think of a major app like a Verilog simulator, which commands a
high price, and is almost exclusively used by large-scale businesses
willing to pay a lot for the software *and* the support.

Sure, they can edit the source code they get to remove the license
protection, but then they'd lose the support.  Same if they grab
the GPL'ed version.  Right?  Why would they take that chance to save
.5% of their annual revenues, when the cost might be 50% of their
revenues due to shipping late and/or buggy silicon?

To get the benefits of GPL'ed software, there'd probably have to
be some "blessed" way to use the license-less source for development
and other purposes.  A special source-code-support with registration
and licensing, that doesn't violate the terms of the GPL, seems
feasible here, and yet wouldn't exclude ordinary people from submitting
some useful patches (as these perhaps wouldn't fear being "found"
to be using a patched version of the source).

Note that I'm not saying libre software can be treated exactly as
proprietary software...just that, given a scenario like the above,
I don't see big problems with the ROI.

The worst-case scenario that is specific to GPL'ing the code seems
to be, lo and behold, all the customers discover they can edit
the source code for themselves and find support anywhere they want.

For the latter, being the best support source is important (which
is true anyway); for the former, being one of the vendors of a
product that probably triggers the movement of an entire sub-
industry to at least recognize Open Source solutions could at
least make the programmers you hired to do the work happy (since
they can do the same work even after leaving your company).

In summary: I keep reading how source availability isn't important,
when people try to explain why the GPL is "overkill", "dangerous",
and so on.  So, if it's not important, provide it to people who
won't take advantage of it, and put them in the position of having
to pay for the privilege of *not* editing the source just like they
do for proprietary software.  :)

(And, yes, sometimes I *do* think about the prospects of starting
a for-profit company that'd try such a model.  I don't think it'd
work as well for a Fortran development environment, though that
would be a "natural" for me to try first.)

        tq vm, (burley)