Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 00:22:46 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <Ben_Tilly@trepp.com> writes:

Stephen Turnbull writes:

    >> Sharing copies of programs with your neighbors is a way of
    >> decreasing the share of development costs borne by people you
    >> know at the expense of increasing the cost share of people you
    >> don't know.[1]

    Ben> In today's world the people you know includes everyone with
    Ben> access to ftp who reads FreshMeat.  If your software is any
    Ben> good it includes many friends of friends, such as customers
    Ben> of Red Hat.

    Ben> That is close enough to "everyone who uses free software" for
    Ben> government work.

You're taking the specific example too seriously.

RMS was advocating sharing software long before the existence of
Freshmeat, Red Hat, or even universal access to FTP.

    Ben> Oh, you were talking about proprietary software?  Well the
    Ben> rest of us are not.

No, I was not.  See my response to Jonathan Shapiro.

    >> But the real problem is that it's just plain arbitrary.  Why
    >> should one's list of friends (or whether there are any at all)
    >> determine the price one pays for software?

    Ben> Because we don't know a better way to distribute the costs.

Sure you do.  Assign property rights and let the market work.  But
you've rejected that on principle.

    Ben>   I am a friendly fellow.  I have taught a large number of
    Ben> people how to use software better.  I only teach people that
    Ben> I know who show some interest in learning.  Is that unfair?
    Ben> What would you suggest that I do differently

Nothing.  Your teaching time is a rival good; it cannot be distributed
to everyone on the Internet simultaneously.

    Ben> You are implicitly assuming that the product is developed at
    Ben> full cost and then distributed.

I do not; to the best of my knowledge, the statement I made applies to 
incremental development as well.

    Ben> Additionally free software allows the distribution of those
    Ben> costs through a much wider audience than would otherwise be
    Ben> the case.

This is interesting.  How do those costs get distributed?  I am taking
it that you mean more people actually pony up.  If you mean that
developers kick in patches for free, see Steve McConnell's editorial
in a recent (July, August) IEEE Software or something like that.  In a
nutshell, this runs out of steam real fast as the amount of free
software to be worked on grows faster than the number of programmers
who aren't already kicking in all their free time patching free
software are newly exposed to its joys.

That works for a while, but not after free software hits the majority
of the market.  Then you need a silver bullet to get more resources.
What is it?


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What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."