Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 1999 18:15:26 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> However the market reality is much closer to there being one
    Ben> product, which you have segmented into convex stages for
    Ben> convenience, but which is not in fact convex!

Which better models the plane, polar or Cartesian coordinates?  To the 
best of my knowledge, that is an accurate analogy to our current
debate.  If it is not, I will concede (I mean in practical modeling,
not just on the list for brownie points).

    Ben> You are implicitly assuming that trying to get on the right
    Ben> bandwagon is an inherently bad thing to do.

No, I'm saying that despite being obviously the right thing to do,
it's worth looking twice.

    Ben> Given my observations from living in "the real world", this
    Ben> statement is hopelessly naive.  Sure it is a great party
    Ben> line, and it undoubtably simplifies your life a lot to make
    Ben> that assumption, but it is clearly very wrong.

I'm not trying to advise people how to be survivors, except in
passing.  My primary purpose is to look at social dynamics, and
typically people will make mistakes on both sides of the optimum.  If
a bias can be shown (I've looked, and haven't found it; I intend to
look harder, and we'll see whether I do or not), then your "real
world" observations affect the economics.

In other industries, they rarely do.

    Ben> Do you not like lawyers very much..?

I don't like cartels very much.  If the shoe fits, wear it.

I am sure that most lawyers are hard-working, dedicated experts in
their field who do the best they can to create a better world for
humanity as they understand it.

So is Bill Gates.

    Ben> I don't know.  But I think that I just showed that lock-in is
    Ben> a real constraint even without proprietary formats.

But in what sense is it a policy-relevant cost?  How does it differ
across proprietary and free regimes, in particular?

That last is the question I'm really interested in.

    >> Lock-in is a problem when somebody comes along and wants to
    >> sell you a product to do the same thing at a price that would
    >> be paid for 5 times over in cost savings in 2 years _if you had
    >> no preexisting files_, but you can't afford to do it because
    >> the cost of translating file formats is prohibitive.

    Ben> Or when your current system is tied to an unsupported machine
    Ben> that will break when Y2K rolls around, and you need to move
    Ben> the system now.  Or when you outgrow the bounds of the
    Ben> original and you want to move to bigger hardware.  Or when...

And then you die.  Evolution in action.  That's not what economists
are concerned with:  if you can't do anything about it, you can't.
We're concerned with real choices.  If it doesn't matter to choice, we 
doff our hats and observe a moment of silence.

    Ben> Perhaps I am unclear on what you mean by a "network
    Ben> externality".  If having half of the templates in WordPerfect
    Ben> and half in Microsoft Word creates constant internal problems
    Ben> in a law office, in what way does this depend on factors
    Ben> external to that office?

None.  It depends on factors external to the Word Perfect system,
including the templates.

    >> >> This can, of course, be emulated by proprietary firms,
    >> although >> their customers may tend to be more cranky about
    >> sitting >> through the tests.
    Ben> I think that having to fill in a bug report when they
    Ben> *expected* to do an install might not fly too well either...
    >> A few messages ago (maybe it was private) you thought that was
    >> quite alright, at least when free software firms do it (the
    >> escaping betas thread).  I don't care whether it's "yes", "no",
    >> or "I don't know", but I don't see why the answer would be
    >> different for proprietary vs. free.

    Ben> It was in a private exchange.  And yes, I thought that it was
    Ben> quite acceptable when that is what the customer expects.  (eg
    Ben> A certified beta.)  It is not acceptable if the product is
    Ben> supposed to be a stable end-user product.  To the extent that
    Ben> proprietary software tends to sell itself as the latter, it
    Ben> has less freedom to demand bug reports.

Well, we're going to have to stop talking examples where the results
change so easily do to minor unstated assumptions.  It doesn't help.

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."