Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
Date: Sun, 31 Oct 1999 17:41:41 -0500

> >>>>> "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).

I do not perceive the choice that way.  I may be wrong, but I
believe that if you are trying to project out what free software
projects can and cannot do, you need to appreciate the fact
that free software projects naturally undergo reorganization
as they scale up.  (Just like sand in an hour-glass slips so
that the cone widens over time providing a better base of

>     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?

My answer to the first is that when making a choice which is
likely to result in lock-in to an architecture, the wise consumer
will look closely at the circumstances you are being locked
into.  In other words questions of where the product is going,
where you will get support, how easily you can make
changes, etc matter to your current decision.  Among other
things this means that your decision making process should
include thoughts about whether or not you are tied to one
company's future choices.

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

The first is the question that Eric Raymond harps on and
says resonates with corporate executives.  Are you sure that
it is uninteresting?

>     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.

Those situations are, "oh well, shit happens"?  Sure, you
may not be able to avoid all of them, but the above are
potential costs of doing business with proprietary software
companies.  Being able to reduct the likelyhood of said
events is a good reason to choose free software...