Subject: Re: Prisoner's Dilemma / The Free Rider Problem
From: David.Chase@Eng.Sun.COM (David Chase)
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 93 11:01:20 PST


There's a book by William Poundstone (now out in paperback) that
includes a fairly accessible discussion of game theory (along with a
biography of Von Neumann and some discussion of The Bomb).  The problem
facing free software is not a prisoner's dilemma, though it is
similar.

And, though it is a problem, I think that careful choice of markets 
and careful choice of packaging can help ameliorate it.  The goal here
is not a 100% solution, because 100% is probably not cost-effective.

For instance, if Cygnus does GCC work for hardware company XYZZY, XYZZY
may have no particular interest in  releasing any binaries (and hence,
any sources) until their product ships.  This is a good choice of market.

Don't underestimate the difficulty of copying, and its interaction with
packaging -- if you were to ask me how to extract a particular piece of
Claris software from my Mac, I'd have to think pretty hard about it
(because there's a big pile-O-files in my System Folder).  Pretend
you're not a Unix hacker, if this is possible.  IF you distribute on
CD-ROM, then it is somewhat more difficult to just copy the physical
media (it won't fit on a floppy, for instance), and IF you have an
easy-install package that doesn't force the customer to know what is
going on, then the customer might not know which files to copy (and if
this is done probably, most customers will be grateful).

Generally, you've got to stop thinking of customers as "other Unix
hackers".  Most of the potential customers are not.  They don't mind if
some information is withheld from them; in many instances (as long as
the software works) this is a good thing.

I strongly suggest spending a couple of hundred dollars on some Mac software
so that you can play with the installation -- regard it as education, and
donate the software to some charitable organization that needs it after you're
through watching it install and the binaries have been deleted.  (That is,
don't be a pirate.)  Claris Works does pretty well, for instance.

So, that's my stab at how a FSB might go after the larger non-hacker "market".

David Chase
Sun