Subject: Re: street performer protocol
From: Crispin Cowan <>
Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 06:55:58 +0000

"Stephen J. Turnbull" wrote:

> >>>>> "Crispin" == Crispin Cowan <> writes:
>     >> My point is that it is not possible to avoid lock-in; you just
>     >> have a choice of what kind of lock-in you wish to accept.
>     Crispin> I disagree with this fundamental premise.  It is possible
>     Crispin> to avoid lock-in if you deal with an FSB.  You are still
>     Crispin> locked into a *class* of products, but they are no longer
>     Crispin> single-source.
> Yeah, so?
> Reductio ad absurdem:  don't buy it, build it.  Now you're no longer
> locked in to the FSBdotcommers either.

Sure:  work hard to make the facts fit the theory :-)

> I don't deny that competition will reduce unit costs and make it
> easier to switch to other firms' versions of the same product.  But
> the switching costs of changing technology do not decrease.

The FUNDAMENTAL point to using open source products is to avoid having to
switch technologies when you switch vendors.  If you repeatedly insist on
blowing this effect off, then you're going to continue to miss the point.

>  Single-
> source has nothing to do (by definition) with lock-in, which is about
> switching costs from changing products.

It most certainly does.  Lock-in is MUCH more dangerous when you are locked
in to a single source.

> However, the competition that results from multi-sourcing necessarily
> reduces the surplus available for future development of that product
> (compared to a monopoly),

But if the class of products is open source, then the workload is shared
across the vendors, and the result is a wash.

> and thus greatly increases technology risk
> that some other product will turn out to be better.

This effect seems dwarfed by the probability that the community-developed
open source technologies will stomp the closed-source technologies.

>  The point is that
> switching among suppliers of essentially identical products is _not_
> the kind of switch that software-related managers generally worry
> about---

No; managers worry about forced switches that occur when their vendor goes
bankrupt.  Open source makes this a non-issue.

> they face much bigger costs in any upgrade to the same firm's
> next version.  Rather, the big worry is "how soon will I need to
> switch to an alternative technology?"

Rather, the big issue with proprietary software is "how soon will the vendor
make me switch to a churned version that I don't want/need to switch to?"
E.g.  MS is going to discontinue support for NT4 in 2001, more or less
forcing customers to adopt W2K, much as they forced everyone to switch from
Win3.1 to Win95.

In contrast, open source vendors can't force customers to do much of

> So the choice we are discussing is to be greedy and take the _current_
> cost reductions definitely available from the low-price open source
> product, or to be patient and accept the risk inherent in betting that
> proprietary product will develop at least as fast, and fast enough so
> that the product improvement outweighs the monopoly price.

That's what you are discussing, but it seems to me to be based on a whole
host of false presumptions, and it doesn't fit the evidence.  I really don't
care what economic theory says when it fails to predict the evidence.

> "But open source development is cheaper!" you cry.  Which brings us
> back to the assertion that open source in the long run can develop
> better products with _much_ less financing.
> How?  Why aren't those techniques available to proprietary firms?

To answer this particular question, it becomes important to distinguish GPL
licensed source from BSD-style source.  BSD licenses allow proprietary
vendors to have exactly the same advantages as open source vendors.  GPL
allows proprietary vendors to use the open source, but not in a proprietary
fashion.  Use of GPL code forces a proprietary vendor to become at least
partially an FSB.

Clue:  this is not an opportunity to jump in and claim that, as a result,
either BSD or GPL are "better".  They are merely different.

Crispin Cowan, CTO, WireX Communications, Inc.
Free Hardened Linux Distribution: