Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: "Karsten M. Self" <>
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 17:35:10 +0000

Jean Camp wrote:
> >"Stephen J. Turnbull" <>>
> >
> >    >> Here's the kicker: if I figure out how to maximize social
> >    >> benefit, I will probably be able to do the profit maximization
> >    >> (and any combination in between) as a corollary.
> >
> <> writes:
> >    Jean> And I will guess they are mutually exclusive solutions to
> >    Jean> the equations that are the question.
> >
> >"Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
> >Well, you are either drastically underinformed, or you didn't
> >understand the implicit model at all.


> There is no reason to assume that the socially optimal and profit
> maximization occur at the same point because free software is a public
> good: 

This is the classic problem with public goods.  Social and private
marginal return create different values for optimal production and
optimal supply.

Stephen's quote doesn't seem to me to imply simultaneous solution of
equations, but means to compute both, though optima may be asyncronous.

> Anyway by defintion FS is a public good, but the reasonably predicted lack
> of supply does not occur. To me this does not imply that  economic models
> will never fail. ;->

Non sequitor.  A supply of free software (undeniable) does not equate to
a socially optimal supply of free software.  It's the latter which is
the connundrum of public goods, and is typically cited as a (possible)
failing of the free software model.

> I disagree because, as the other thread points out (as does
>  the critical difficult part is creating some
> functioning mechanism to address the problem of  PAYING the free software
> people well enough. 

This payment addresses the private marginal benefit and the supply side
of the equation.  Stig Hackvan (devlinux) subscribes strongly to the "FS
will fail to reach a socially optimal supply" theory -- he's talked at
length with Peter Deutsch (Alladin Ghostscript) who feels pretty much
the same way.  Stig sees a crisis of developer support in FS.  I
appreciate his concern but feel it's ungrounded.

My own feeling is that while FS, in varying degrees of purity, may fail
to produce a socially optimal level of software, it does address serious
failings in the proprietary shrinkwrap model having to do with
proprietary control, vendor lock-in, and lack of incentive to provide
features beneficial to users in favor of those beneficial to the
software vendors.  In a trade-off of failings, FS is the lesser of two
evils.  And frankly, there's probably room for both models, though I see
FS as dominating mass-market and technical software.

Karsten M. Self (

    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Welchen Teil von "Gestalt" verstehen Sie nicht?


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