Subject: Re: street performer protocol
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 23 May 2000 19:30:04 -0700

   Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 20:12:27 +0000
   From: Crispin Cowan <>

   > Buying a libre product from a vendor which might go out of business is
   > not obviously better than buying a proprietary product from a vendor
   > which probably will not go out of business.

   Agreed, for the cases where only a single FSB supports the product.  From the
   number of businesses that I'm aware of in the above two classes, I argue that
   emprically we can see that it is more common for multiple FSBs to support the same
   product than for an OSS to be single source.

You omitted some other cases in which one FSB supports a product:
Crynwyr, Netscape, SleepyCat, OpenNMS, InterBase.

I suppose I think the sample size is too small to make any judgement.

I note something interesting about your examples.  In the cases you
listed in which multiple FSBs supported a product, none of the FSBs
actually wrote the main product.  They did some work on it, but they
didn't write the bulk of what they are providing (Linux providers
hiring top Linux programmers came after the Linux providers were
founded).  In the cases you listed in which a single FSB supported a
product, they did write it.  (I'm not sure where SleepyCat falls on
this spectrum--I don't know how involved the founders were with
Berkeley DB.)

I still think the sample size is too small, but this suggests that it
may be unlikely for a company to write an FSB and for competitors to
then arise to support the same product.

As Stephen also said, for most types of software I want to purchase,
there is no FSB at all.

   > It's true that I have options in one case which I don't have in the
   > other.  But those options are extremely unattractive.

   The "support it yourself" option may be unattractive, but at least it is a
   choice.  With closed-source, you are truly screwed.

Yes, and if the choice were between an FSB and a proprietary software
business which are otherwise identical, naturally I would choose the

But that isn't the choice I see today.  When an FSB is an option at
all, the choice is generally between a new and untried FSB and an
established proprietary vendor.

You seem to be arguing that because libre software often becomes
better than proprietary software, it follows that FSBs often become
better than proprietary vendors.  But that doesn't follow.  Good libre
software can kick out the underpinnings of a market, making it hard
for anybody to make money.