Subject: Re: Support as insurance
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 12:43:52 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Bob" == Bob Young <bob@redhat.com> writes:

    Bob> Customers want solutions.  They don't want source code,

You're assuming the shrink-wrap market here.  Not surprising, given
your line of business.  (You address this well later, in response to
Bradley Kuhn.)

Of course the point that sometimes the source code is part of the
solution (embedded systems developers want source for their compilers) 
and sometimes it's not (my mother would use source for Windows 98 as a 
coaster for her coffee cup) is valid.  However, we should take a
closer look at applying that idea to FSB:

Although MS's market is global in scope and huge in dollar value,
that's not where the majority of programmers work.  I think that the
"market size == number of programmers working there" measure should be 
considered as an alternative to your implicit "market size ==
corporate revenues for software firms" measure, for deciding what
assumptions are relevant on FSB.

    Bob> This is where the Tangled Web car analogy is an extremely
    Bob> useful tool (one of many, such as: the right distribution
    Bob> channels, effective sales forces, clever marketing, etc...) 
    Bob> for the purpose of convincing otherwise skeptical consumers
    Bob> that purveyors of free software may be more reliable than
    Bob> purveyors of proprietary binary-only software.

As far as I can tell, the car analogy's usefulness applies only to
trying to convince customers _they do want source_, at least to be
available to mechanics independent of the manufacturer.  Trying to
draw public policy conclusions, as Romero did, is dangerous.  And I
would argue that using it at all is likely to suggest those very
conclusions, _especially_ to customers who are so busy doing something
else they can't work out for themselves that they want source.

The Tangled Web didn't use the car analogy to say anything I could see
about _vendor_ reliability, although I guess you could argue that
putting "no user-servicable parts" seals on the hood could lead to
lower _product_ reliability.  It was simply appealing to customer
greed, using terms like "price-gouging" and making wholly unsupported
assertions that IP provides zero incentive to create better software
products to make it sound like proprietary vendors are purely frauds.
(Plus some out-and-out falsehoods, like "MS eliminated competition in
the web server market."  Since when has MS succeeded at that?)

As a business practice, I think that appealing to customer greed is a
bad idea for _FSBs_ vending _open_ products.  You'd rather appeal to
their informed self-interest.  Rather than use a bogus analogy which
simply comes down to slandering the proprietory competition (except
for Microsoft, where Judge Jackson has found that it's all true, and
so it is not slander :), why not give them the facts?

"0.  We give you the source - you can get a second opinion, any time.
 1.  We give you the source - we're confident that you will want to
     rely on _us_ when you don't want to improve or fix it yourself.
 2.  We give you the source - we hope to live forever, but we're honest 
     enough to admit we may not.
 3.  We give you the source - we're human, there are probably a few
     errors in there, but we're not ashamed of any of it.
 4.  We give you the source - you can hire somebody else to fix errors
     or add features if we won't or can't, and you can bet we'll do
     our best to shut out the competition by doing it faster and
     better (and if we're so busy we can't serve you, we'll tell you
     quick - don't forget to tell us who you did use, so we can
     acquire them and do an even faster and better job next time ;-).
 5.  We give you the source - on a second CD that your dog can use as
     a frisbee if you don't want it taking up space.  What a deal!

 Think about what it means when our competition _doesn't_ give you the
 source.  Do you want to rely on them?  How are you going to get the
 direct benefits of source?  Maybe you don't need them.  Do they have
 something to _hide_?  Maybe not.  But remember...

 We try harder - because we have to.  We give you the source."

Do you really think that straightforward explanation is less effective
than spreading FUD[1] about the competition?

What are the consequences of the policy Romero suggested?

I don't know anybody who thinks that Microsoft is anything but a
rapacious money machine that produces products that aren't too bad for
lusers to use.  Some people (the ones with copies of _Atlas Shrugged_
in their backpacks) approve of this, others think Bill Gates is the
devil.  The only effect that the car analogy will have is to offend
the sensibilities of the Randites, and to suggest to the others that
maybe abolishing IP is a good idea.  Which is the precise use that
Romero put the analogy to.

But if we had abolished IP in the early 1970s, there would be no Linux
as we know it, IMO.  There might be a Linux, there might even be an
XFree86, but well-behaved GUIs?  There wouldn't be a KDE and probably
not a GNOME---they're chasing Motif/Mac/MS Windows taillights.[2]
WYSIWYG?  There might be an AbiWord, but it would be called "(Abi
(Emacs))", and nobody but a hacker with two left pinkies would be
caught dead using it.

The result: a world in which RMS and I would be at home, and I suppose
most of the people on FSB.  But not my mother, and not most of the
people who buy Red Hat Linux but think _The Source_ is a novel by
James Michener written before they were born.

I can't prove that, of course.  But what I find offensive about the
car analogy is that it takes no account of that very real possibility.
Free software has provided a lot of innovative geek toys.  But I have
yet to hear of an example of a free software _innovation_ that was a
consumer or business product with no preexisting analogue in the
proprietary world.  (That probably means my mind requires expansion;
education on this point would be welcome for when I'm not playing
Gates's advocate.)


Footnotes: 
[1]  By which I mean the auto industry-software industry analogy only,
and not any other practices of the readers of FSB.

[2]  Yes, somebody would have eventually come up with the idea of
Motif, but what are the odds the free software movement would today be 
producing KDE or GNOME quality stuff, including their genuinely
innovative aspects, if Motif/Mac/MS Windows weren't there to compare
to?

-- 
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."