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 06:06:38 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Craig" == Craig Brozefsky <craig@red-bean.com> writes:

    Craig> instead of prices going down as more and more users require
    Craig> the software, it has in many cases been rising.

I don't have data offhand.  But would you like to bet on this?  If I
can find an economic index of software prices, it even gives you an
advantage because such indexes by construction lag the quality
improvements.

    Craig> It basically comes down to not making policy what you
    Craig> cannot hope to enforce.

In the Internet age, it's extremely easy to enforce proprietary
restrictions.  Centralized hosts, time share, make the suckers pay for
bandwidth.  Expensive, inefficient, ugly---and eminently feasible.
There are probably more efficient ways.  But that one works.

    Craig> To get us away from the theoretical, let me give you an
    Craig> example of how these costs can be distributed to much wider
    Craig> audiences with Free Software than with proprietary
    Craig> software, and how much more of the funds customers pay for
    Craig> the software or service are directed back into improving
    Craig> the software.

Example, example, what example?  Who put in the resources?  How much
were they?  You simply have no data.  I know the story that you're
talking about, and I think your accounting is unreliable.  Eg, how
about:

ARPA money for Internet stuff
NSF money for BSD
AT&T money for Unix's design
etc

The above all need to be shared with other Unices etc; Linux's share
is negligible.  Oops, I meant to say GNU/Linux.  Hm.  How 'bout them
GNU volunteers?  Don't their hours count?   And those corporate
donations?  You say "that's preexisting free software"?  Just which
costs do you plan to allocate to GNU/Linux development?

And how does that help you plan for the next round?  "Oh, don't worry
about the costs, there will be free software we can use"?

How many dollars _are_ directed back into improving the software?
Does Debian have a budget in dollars?  What is their volunteers' time
worth?  Red Hat surely has a development budget in dollars, but I
don't seem to have an URL.  Do you?  I'd like to see those numbers.

Maybe the fact that we have no data doesn't bother you.  It bothers
_me_.  But I don't have funds to go collecting what data is easily
available.  And I don't know what good it would be, whether the
available data would actually help us get a grasp on the real costs of
developing free software or not.  It certainly would be a stretch to
extrapolate from today's free software as negligible share of market
transactions[1] to a 100% free software world (remember, this thread
originated because I advocated the position that a mixed free/
proprietary regime would be wealthier than either extreme---if you're
not defending a 100% free software world, say so; I'll declare victory 
and withdraw ;-).  Especially without a model.

    Craig> As for a shortage in newcomers, I don't foresee that being
    Craig> a problem.  Assumming revenue generated from Free Software
    Craig> business models, it's less of an issue for Free Software
    Craig> than proprietary software, because work can be contributed
    Craig> to a project from anywhere in the globe and is not

Anybody with a T1 can do that.

    Craig> associated with gigantic mountains of capital which are
    Craig> tied to the laws and immigration restrictions of particular

They haven't yet found a way of tying down either the Internet or
capital with "immigration restrictions."

    Craig> countries.  Free Software will never suffer from something
    Craig> like the present US skill shortage (if you believe in

I do; I watch with envy as the incomes of computer science professors
skyrocket compared to mine.

    Craig> that).  By decoupling the software from these piles of
    Craig> capital, we have so much more flexibility in how labor is
    Craig> applied to improving the software, as well as how the cost
    Craig> of developing it is distributed.

I just don't see it.  Everything that free software development can
do, proprietary development can _physically_ do.  Free software has
the following advantages:

    o the source is free; you can get patches from J. Random Hacker
    o working on free software is good for warm fuzzy feelings and a
      gold star from the Commune; even after an 80 hour week, a
      dedicated free software hacker will put in a little more time
    o no lawyers (especially if you use an unrestrictive license)
    o modularization is not merely the textbook strategy, it's a
      matter of survival in the bazaar development model

Those are all marginal, though.  A possibly non-marginal advantage is
the idea that you can't hire enough genius to get all the good ideas:

    o the source is free: anybody with a brainstorm can implement it

Proprietary software has the following advantage:

    o great big wads of money thick enough to choke a horse.

Maybe they can hire enough brains to keep up.

    >> 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?

    Craig> Whutever.  People have been saying this for ages, always

Read what I wrote.  Don't tag me with others' errors; I may be wrong,
but if so I'm making a brand new mistake.  I'm talking about what
happens when 50% of all new development is under free software
conditions, not what happens when some Holy Grail program is
reimplemented.

    Craig> revising their opinion as their previous predictions are
    Craig> blow away.  First it was that is could never come up with a
    Craig> portable compiler, then it was a kernel, than it was an OS,

If "they" didn't learn after the compiler, "they" are pretty dumb.
But that's not what I'm talking about.

    Craig> then it was server tools, then it was desktop tools....

    Craig> Silver bullet, we don't need no steenkin silver bullet.

Fred Brooks will be amused, I'm sure.


Footnotes: 
[1]  This includes internal development; the programmers' wages are a
market transaction.

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