Subject: Re: So what is an FSB anyway?
From: tiemann@cygnus.com
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 93 02:41:39 -0800

  [ various things about Free Software Businesses (FSB's) deleted ]

  o Once free software hits its stride, can it and proprietary
    software coexist in the same market?  Or will gcc drive out
    pcc?

I think a more general (and interesting) question is how free software
companies will compete.  Cygnus is the official maintainer of GDB for
the FSF.  Some upstart company can decide to offer commercial support
for GDB, but how should this work?  Do they toe the line and work
cooperatively with Cygnus (and the FSF), or do they begin making their
own changes?  In the latter case, chances are very good that their
changes are not in the interest of the FSF (because they do not
further the GNU project specifically), and thus Cygnus has no
obligation (by agreement with the FSF) to ever merge their changes.
Cygnus may also have no interest in merging their changes because that
costs eng effort which the upstart competitor will not pay for.

How does the free software market account for the profits and losses
of its industry as free software programs splinter?  We have already
seen half a dozen companies try to do their own thing with GDB, and
it's pretty clear that overall their individual efforts have a
negative, rather than a postive impact on the value of GDB.

Can a market predicated on the theory that competition is good survive
if we determine that competition is more harmful than cooperation?

  o How does a FSB develop new software?

The same way a proprietary company does.  It's no more paradoxical to
spend money on developing a free software package that potentially
everybody can use without paying for a copy than it is to develop a
proprietary package that potentially nobody will ever buy.

  o A FSB that sells support has an incentive to do a poor job (not
    fix all the bugs).  Of course, they also have an incentive to do
    a good job.  All in all, they need to keep their customers happy,
    but they also have to give their customers a reason to continue
    purchasing support.  In my experience, users who have no problems
    have no need for support either.

If your clients all live in 50-story glass office buildings, there
will be a high demand for window-washing services, but not much demand
for landscaping.  You don't have to do a bad job of washing the
windows to remain employed.  In my experience, there's always a need
for support of some kind or another, it's usually a question of
tailoring the support to meet the clients needs.  In the limit, you
can sell insurance policies (but note that to do so you have to be a
damn good sales person, which is not of interest to most technical
folks).

Michael