Subject: Re: Here's a-what I'm a-gonna do.
From: John Gilmore <>
Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1996 01:52:18 -0700

> He is definitely adding value to the hardware.  However, because
> he is not getting any more revenue than anyone else in the market
> for the same piece of hardware, he is giving his labor away.  Since 
> his competitors do not have to pay for driver development, they
> have lower cost structures which they can use to drive price 
> competition or to just sit back and enjoy higher margins from
> Russ's free labor.

I think we should move away from armchair economic theory into actual

If Russ makes the Linux driver for the Foob board, people who care
about how well it integrates with their Linux *will* buy it from him.
Sure, there are the cut-to-the-bone pennypinchers who'll buy elsewhere
for a $5 difference, but they have more time than money anyway; they
can do their own system integration.  If you buy it from Russ and it
doesn't work, he'll make it work.  You can't get that guarantee
anywhere else -- not from J. Random Linux vendor, and not from the
hardware vendor.  If Russ markets it well (makes his key advantage
known to the people for whom it would matter), and the hardware sells
well in the market, he'll do fine.  Computer hardware and software
change so quickly that even if it worked perfectly last year, and
nothing broke in the meantime, it won't work perfectly this year;
it'll need support.  Smart computer buyers know this.

It's that guarantee that held most of the value that Cygnus sold in
its first few years.  "We'll make it work, and we'll fix it quickly if
it fails, so you won't waste a lot of unscheduled time on it."  Their
time is worth real money to lots of people.  Even just reducing the
chance of losing time is worth real money to many companies in fast-
moving markets.

Now let's do some armchair philosophizing...

A lot of people waste a lot of their energy on fear.  Fear that they
won't make a buck.  Fear that someone will "take advantage" of their
work.  In fact, over the long run, if you do good work, you will be
repaid for it.  The repayment might not come at the time or in the
coin that you expect.  It might be reputation that gets you a great
position in a startup where you can make lots of money (or in a
project where you can fulfill a life's dream).  It might be
advertising that gets you more business.  It might be a better
personal understanding of the hardware reseller market, which you can
turn to advantage later.  It might be that the driver work introduces
you to some great people who then make your life more fun and/or
financially rewarding.  It might be that you can just have fun playing
with the hardware and writing the driver, without ripping yourself to
bits in the decision process, and without abandoning your preferred
ethical stance by making it proprietary.

It sometimes takes an essential goodness-of-spirit to work on free
software; a belief that the world is at root a good place and that if
we all cooperate it will get even better.  When you see an apparent
conflict between that and survival fears, my recommendation is to
stretch your understanding of the nature of the world, and the nature
of survival, if you can, rather than to become meaner (stingier) in
spirit.  I just nursed another friend through an attack of
mean-spiritedness, and we found a much better path than by chucking
the free software nature of their product.