Subject: Re: funding indirect services
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2000 18:07:40 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Crispin" == Crispin Cowan <crispin@wirex.com> writes:

    Crispin> Rich Morin wrote:

    >> so we can analyze and resolve it.  If you only read the fsb
    >> note (kept intentionally short), you should not expect to
    >> understand what Meta is.

[...]
    Crispin> It is my perception that Meta does not have such a blurb.

At least, it wasn't presented in the FSB note.  I think you should
have presented it here.

    >> the list.  What I _do_ wish to discuss is the question of
    >> business models for FSBs that serve the free software community
    >> as a whole.

I find that phrasing suspect.  Businesses serve Mammon.  "Ethical"[1]
businesses do so within a constraint of not doing something evil, but
they don't try to remedy evil done by others or provide public goods
as part of their business mission.  Trying to serve two masters is one
of the most common ways to guarantee you won't serve any.

Nothing wrong with being a "free software foundation", of course, but
that's not in the class of FSBs.

    >> Specifically, I suspect that there are a number of things that
    >> could and should be done to "make things work better", but
    >> which conventional ways of financing (e.g., by selling a
    >> product or service to an end user) don't fit optimally.  Is
    >> anyone interested in discussing this issue?

I like this phrasing much better.  I'm interested in discussing, but I
don't have much positive to contribute at the moment.  I think that
SourceForge, sourceXchange, and Cosource.com are interesting efforts
in this direction.  SourceForge, though, knows why it's there, and
says so in its FAQ: to promote development of complementary product
that make VA Linux's products more attractive to customers, to provide
distribution muscle to get them in front of those customers, and to
provide a convincing demonstration that VA Linux can provide systems
to do a big job (no Hotmail fiascos).

SourceForge comes close to serving the whole community, but it is not
an independent FSB.  (This is Crispin's point, I acknowledge.)
sourceXchange and Cosource.com, on the other hand, serve only a small
group, not the whole community.

    Crispin> The Open Source Revolution[tm] has essentially
    Crispin> demonstrated that the way of doing this is that people do
    Crispin> it for free, for themselves, on their spare time, and
    Crispin> distribute the results.

You're taking history too seriously.  If ESR is right, then big
corporations will do it on purpose and systematically, for free, for
themselves, paying people for their time and expecting to profit from
that investment, and distribute the results.  You can consider it
implausible, but the jury is still out.

And there are other models ... or will be, that's what Rich is
starting this thread for.  (And what Russ started this list for.)

    Crispin> Wanting to get paid for doing this kind of thing is
    Crispin> "shareware"; the ancestor to Open Source software.  There
    Crispin> are still shareware products out there (e.g. xv, the near
    Crispin> ubiquitous image viewer) but they generally tend to spawn
    Crispin> open source competitors (e.g. ee "Electric Eyes", comes
    Crispin> with GNOME)

I contest your geneology here.

Also your history, dunno ee from the ancestor of cs but imagemagick
and xanim have been around for quite a while.  I don't think they were
spawned by xv.  They have their own raisons d'etre.

And there still seems to be a heck of a lot of shareware out in the
Windows and Mac worlds.  But there never was all that much in Unix.

    Crispin> With that background, it seems to be the case that most
    Crispin> of the open source software that "makes things better"
    Crispin> was written by developers & sys admins in the trenches
    Crispin> who wrote some code to make things better for themselves,
    Crispin> and then shared.  So the "business" way to pay the tab
    Crispin> for this is to be employed by a company that would
    Crispin> materially benefit from the way in which your widget
    Crispin> makes things better.

But I think Rich's point is that it pays even better if you own the
company.


Footnotes: 
[1]  This is a technical term in the securities community, meaning a
business, normally a mutual fund, that binds itself to conduct/invest
in only projects that satisfy certain constraints.  Eg, black- or
woman-owned, "organic", ... or "free software."

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