Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1999 19:36:46 +0900 (JST)

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

    >> 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> I do not perceive the choice that way.  I may be wrong, but I
    Ben> believe that if you are trying to project out what free
    Ben> software projects can and cannot do, you need to appreciate
    Ben> the fact that free software projects naturally undergo
    Ben> reorganization as they scale up.

This has bothered all the economists who deal with the theory of the
(proprietary) firm (in general) too, and they have come to the
conclusion you can handle it my way.  What's different about software
(to repeat myself)?

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

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

    Ben> My answer to the first is that when making a choice which is
    Ben> likely to result in lock-in to an architecture, the wise
    Ben> consumer will look closely at the circumstances you are being
    Ben> locked into.

Well, that was exactly my point.  If the customer has a choice, they
choose the lower TCO including lock-in costs, and if they choose the
more binding product, they're not locked-in.  Complaining at that
point is like complaining about not being able to pick people up in
bars after you get married.  Self-inflicted (... I don't consider my
marriage an injury ...) whatever.  ;-)

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

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

If the conclusion is that you have no choice, then you have no choice.
I can't help it execs are interested in being told how much they have
to pay when they have no choice; that's irrelevant unless they're
thinking about bankruptcy proceedings as an alternative.  The first
question only matters when the answer to the second question is yes,
free and proprietary regimes differ and in the following ways.

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

See?  You had an answer after all!

I don't have time to get to these here, but I will look at them.

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."