Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Tue, 1 Jun 1999 20:07:35 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "John" == John McDermott <> writes:

    John> -- On Mon, 31 May 1999 18:26:08 +0900 (JST) "Stephen
    John> J. Turnbull" <> wrote:

    >> However, you will never hear my mother, or 99% of the other
    >> hundreds of millions of users of Microsoft Word, tell
    >> "if-only-I-had-source" anecdotes.  And _that_ is my point.  You
    >> argue that users always have a value for source, and I say, of
    >> course.  But if it costs too much to use it, they won't act on
    >> that value.

    John> Seriously, though, the issue is not that your mother can fix
    John> the refrigerator or software, but that *someone* can.[1]

Of course it is.  _But that's not enough._  Since you evidently believe
I haven't thought it through, I'll give the details.  My wife is going 
to be pissed; late for dinner again....

Have you ever received a bug report from your mother?  I have from
mine; it was useless.  And she didn't appreciate me grilling her about
it, either.  "I'm not broken, the computer is."  (This, on a trans-
Pacific call; my dime---per two seconds.)  Needless to say, she won't
do that again.  Even with source, I would have been useless, and I'm
her loving son (I've never said a word about the phone bill; don't you
tell her).  I don't think she would respond well to a polite "RTFM,
Grandma" on comp.os.msdos.word.

So she sent the box off to the same vendor she bought it from, and got
it fixed, and paid the nominal $50 fee for the upgrade.  In other
words, my mother wouldn't have benefitted at all from open source; the
vendor would have, if anybody did.  What incentive do you see in that
story for my mother to demand open source software?  Sure, it could
have gone the other way, but the odds are against it.  It's not worth
it to her; spending the $50 in the rare case of a showstopper is
easier and cheap considering the hassle.

I stand by my statement, that most users by head count will not
benefit enough from having source available to them personally, or to
anyone who won't charge them all the traffic will bear, to demand it.
That's what the whole "thin client"/"network computer" thing is about.

My point is not that users won't benefit from free (libre) software.
Of course they will; in reliability, in choice, in price.  But rather
than fly to Redmond to picket MS for free software, they'll free ride
on us[1] hackers who will compete MS willy-nilly into freeing source
(or at least claiming to).

My point is not that I don't think some users, an important fraction
of users, will demand source availability or not buy.  Of course they
will.  Nor is the point that this fraction won't increase over time;
of course it will.

I'm asking, in the inevitable S-curve growth path of users who demand
free software, is the upper bound 100%, as Brock Lynn would have it;
0%, as Bill Gates apparently devoutly wishes; or, if it's something in
between, is it closer to 0% or to 100%?  The existence of Linux is a
pretty clear proof it's not zero; of my mother, that it's not 100%.

And that's the point.  Free software businesses and advocates would be
ill-advised to bet on a large upper bound in my opinion.  Free
software businesses would be well-advised to look for fields with a
large upper bound and a steep slope.  Can we get that "F" off my
transcript yet?

I guess it's not OK yet.  Trivial, obvious, you say?  Maybe.  But
maybe somebody will take Brock's vision seriously (we all hope he's
right, don't we?), and simply look for a market where there isn't much
free software business yet.  Everything's going to be free eventually,
so get in where there isn't much competition yet---good strategy,
right?  Wrong---there may be a reason why there's nobody doing free
software there yet, and maybe nobody will ever make a profit there
with free software.

Ah, dreams are sweet....

[1]  I'm with you in spirit, if not in code output.  Yet.

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."