Subject: Re: funding indirect services (tangent)
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Sun, 6 Aug 2000 18:24:14 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <Ben_Tilly@trepp.com> writes:

    Ben> I have a fundamental disagreement with how you are thinking
    Ben> about this problem, and my disagreement is that there is
    Ben> something which can be pointed to as "the community".  There
    Ben> are many communities involved in a libre project, and the
    Ben> definitions of those communities interact.

Good point.  I agree 100%.  For the purposes of argument, I have
accepted what I understand to be RMS's definition, which is "the
society of developers bound together by social ties, especially
sharing code and applications with each other, and similar values."
In the future I will indicate this as "the developer community."

    Ben> At issue here is a far more subtle question.  The question is
    Ben> who gets to make the design decisions and why.  The
    Ben> application of money is the usual strategy of companies.  The
    Ben> application of programming effort is likewise the strategy of
    Ben> hackers.  Should they seriously disagree, then you get into
    Ben> thorny issues.

The application of money really translates into the application of
programming effort.  I think you would find very few hackers who would
refuse an interesting job that somebody wanted to pay for.  "If
somebody wants it that much, then why don't I give it a try and see if
the community will accept it for free?"

The real issue is whether votes should be based on money, or whether
votes should be based on community membership, or how (and why!) to
balance the two if both should be allowed.  I think there's room for
all kinds of arrangements.  I'm interested in seeing which ones foster
the strongest FSBs.  It's not even clear to be that there is a unique
optimal balance; it could depend on the personality of the FSB's
executive or even simply have several stable local optima.

The extrema seem to be RMS (who evidently doesn't believe in software
development by FSBs) and ESR who believes that open source is the best
strategy for purely profit-driven firms.

    >> I am fairly sure that (eg) Stallman believes that the balance
    >> goes strongly in the opposite direction; he would prefer
    >> indirect funding via donations to free software foundations (or
    >> even a general software tax), rather than businesses directly
    >> commissioning free software projects.

    Ben> I do not disagree with your assessment.  But I submit that
    Ben> the reason for it is that RMS has some very strong and
    Ben> specific opinions on what the design decisions should be.

Of course he does.  But he has occasionally backed off of some of his
strongly held design opinions when "the free software community" (of
developer/users) has demanded it.  I can't imagine him doing so when
the issue at stake is the demands of users who just want a better word
processor so that they can forget that software even exists, and are
willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for it.  And who might
very well benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars were
that software to be provided as free software rather than proprietary
software.

Stallman has often made it quite plain that the process by which a
given product or decision is produced is as important, or more
important, to him than the content of the product or decision.  His
evident belief that he knows best for the free software community is
"merely" megalomania (assuming he's wrong about that ;-).

    Ben> Again note that the isssue is over design decisions.

What else would it be about?  I don't understand why you keep
emphasizing this.

    Ben> For a more touchy example (flamebait ahead!) take the
    Ben> mislabelling of Perl 5.6.0 as stable.  Why did it happen?  I
    Ben> don't know.  But it was clearly (IMNSHO that is) mislabelled
    Ben> and the result has not been good.

    Ben> A better-known somewhat similar conflict (with clearer
    Ben> motivations) would be the premature labelling of Gnome as
    Ben> stable to meet an external deadline.  There are still a lot
    Ben> of bad feelings about that.

I'm sure this happens in OSS projects without external deadlines.
True, businesses have stronger incentives to issue "vaporous" claims
about quality in the short run than do OSS projects; they also have
stronger incentives to gain a reputation as trustworthy in the long
run.  In any project, the developers are going to be prey to wishful
thinking about quality.  It requires strong leadership to simply say
"the product is what it is; it works for us but you really are taking
a risk to install it on your machine."

    Ben> One not so subtle point.  You just walked into an area where
    Ben> people tend to have some *very* strong opinions... :-(

Of course.  It's also an area where businesses can be made or broken.

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