Subject: From a mere reader
From: "S.L. Kochanski" <slk@cardbox.net>
Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 23:09:59 +0100

When I joined this mailing list, nothing happened for so long that I
thought something must have gone wrong. Then it woke up.

Now I feel like a mouse during the Titans' assault on Olympus. Pelion
piled on Ossa, thunderbolts flying... [I'm not sure who is playing the
part of Prometheus, but look what happened to him!].

What I am reading is definitely not what I expected or hoped for when
I joined this list. The dispassionate among you (those who are not
concussed by all those thunderbolts) will understand that the fact
that the list doesn't match what I expected is not necessarily a
criticism of the list, it could really and truly mean that I'm in the
wrong place. In which case, do please tell me where to go
(constructively if poss.)!

(Consider reading this posting as a piece of marketing research; or
consider me as a randomly chosen one-man focus group)

So - what *was* I hoping for?

Well -- many things. I'm a software developer, and a little fiddling
with my return address will tell you about the software package I
produce. It is sold in absolutely the standard way, as a
shrink-wrapped package, and I hope you'll forgive me for this if I
tell you that, unlike some, we actually support our users and take
bugs seriously (our oldest product has LITERALLY none); we don't issue
a new release every few months; we don't EVER issue an incompatible
release; we don't bloat; and we haven't named the company after its
founder's genitals.

The Windows platform was a good thing for software businesses. It was
a straightforwardly defined and stable interface to work to, and it
mandated the existence of a number of useful features, such as
graphics (that is, we didn't have to ask people "does your computer
have XXX?", because we knew that it did). That was Windows 3.1. Since
then, it has been downhill all the way, and I simply cannot see how
the Windows platform can survive beyond five years. Documentation,
implementation, and stability all seem to be declining. In the past
2-3 years, technical support has stopped being engineering and started
being medicine.

For me one of the great attractions of openness in software is
adherence to published standards. I don't care who makes the standards
as much as some of you seem to, as long as they are clear, relatively
unchanging, and kept to. [I also recognise that it's possible to argue
that these attributes cannot be attained without a particular kind of
standards-setting mechanism.] If someone is having a problem and I can
prove that it's someone else's fault because the standard isn't being
adhered to, that is one step towards a resolution.

The collapse of Windows means market fragmentation, and because every
fragment has its own attributes and support problems, this means
enlarging our team by a factor of 1,000 or more.

"Our team" = "people who have a stake in our product
succeeding". Possibly they make a living from it, or just a certain
amount of money, or maybe they get glory and fulfilment - enthusiastic
word of mouth has always been our best marketing method.

I see open software as a way of building such teams. But - forgive me
- I don't want to give it all away. One can bask in the glow reflected
glory of millions of users, but one can't eat that glow.

So what I found particularly interesting, among the shrapnel, were the
odd business models that were emerging -- how firms manage to provide
a public service but still, somehow, to make money -- what it is about
an open-source project that attracts or repels people -- stories of
the transition from totally proprietary towards openness: can one do
it and survive?

I do recognise that philosophical and constitutional issues have their
place, but I would (if it is permitted) be interested to hear more
history, more story, more anecdote: how it works in practice.

How - I keep wondering - do the luminaries of the free software world *eat*??

But then I'm only a poor programmer!