Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 13:59:23 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "craig" == craig  <> writes:

    craig> But, yes, in the end, as I've said for many years now, if
    craig> the customers don't *value* having the source code
    craig> available to them, BSD license will beat GPL "hands down"
    craig> for business.  Not because it *is* more valuable, but
    craig> because, due to what I feel is a failure to properly value

Them's fighting words.  You're welcome to your feeling, and it may be

But without measurements, nobody, least of all you, will ever know.  I
wish I had them, but in their absence, I think theory speaks in

In theory, customers with (actual) large value of source availability
will soon learn so.  So you may be ignoring the large transaction
costs to exploiting available source (your words certainly do; I don't
know that your conclusion does, but it differs from mine).  Or
possibly you are simply making what I consider an implausible
assumption:  that in a world of uncertain value of available source,
clients with greater actual benefits to the source (thus likely to
overcome transactions cost) are as unlikely to realize it as customers
with small actual benefits.

    craig> source code on the customer end, the market effectively
    craig> *makes* it more valuable.

    craig> However, the customers seem to be (slowly?) waking up to
    craig> the values source code offers them.

Maybe they're not waking up to a value that's been there all along;
maybe it's a new environment.  Ie, more productive programmers = lower
transaction costs of using available source and more dependence =
higher value to doing so.

One problem with programmers' discussion of management decisions is
that programmers rarely consider all the costs that management does;
they don't have the experience to do so.  (Of course, the big problem
with programmers not discussing management decisions at all is the
converse ;-)  Keep talking guys!

    craig> the assumption that source code is of little value will
    craig> have nearly vanished.

Who assumes this?  I would say almost nobody.  The issue is whether
clients will have the resources to exploit it.  If not, the value is
less than the cost.  Note that one of the necessary resources is the
knowledge, in management, that you have the other resources; as
high-level languages have come to dominate, managers will start to
realize that in-house programmers or non-author consultants without
specialized knowledge of the application may be sufficient, but when
managers had the impression that programming was a black art and all
the geeks around them were mere sorceror's apprentices, they didn't
have that essential knowledge of possibility.  And from a manager's
point of view, geek hubris is just as dangerous as any other kind.

    craig> Always remember: the only reason people make money off of
    craig> proprietary software is that people are willing to buy
    craig> software without having free access to the source code.
    craig> The moment that's no longer the case,

I assure you, that will forever be the case.  People will always be
willing to buy closed-source products, if (1) they monopolize an
important feature and the price difference is not too great, or (2)
the closed-source software is cheaper and the price difference is
great enough.  There is no exception to those rules for business
demand (really; that's both theoretically and empirically verified)
and most people are suprised at how small a price difference is
necessary to generate some substitution in demanded quantities, even
for consumer goods.

The fact that (2) is not true for any known (to me) products today
doesn't mean it will always be so.  At some point, some customers may
be willing to risk lock-in through closed-source licensing, while
others will refuse to do so and demand source-available licensing
(thus submitting to lock-in by NDA), and sufficiently public-spirited
ones may contribute fees sufficient to acquire an open-source license
(it's conceivable though I think unlikely that avoiding lock-in would
justify this).  Broader source availability will result in higher
license fees.

Watch your back, sourcExchange.  I'm sure entrepreneurs will show up
who use your methods to provide a market with all kinds of licenses
available, and they might just eat your lunch if there aren't enough
open-source fanatics who refuse to deal with such a market around.

My point, with respect to Craig's argument, is not that he's wrong,
but simply that this is not a bang-bang issue; market penetration for
free licenses and in particular the GPL is going to be an interesting
statistic to watch for some years, at least, and there's no guarantee
it will ever have a majority, let alone go to 100% (although we can

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."