Subject: Re: Why Open Source Sucks for the Consumer
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 20:11:28 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Lynn" == Lynn Winebarger <owinebar@free-expression.org> writes:

    Lynn> On Thu, 31 Aug 2000, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:

    >> >>>>> "Tim" == Tim O'Reilly <tim@oreilly.com> writes:

    Tim> I see the Linux community largely taking its eye off the
    Tim> ball.

    >> Well, yes.  It is the _Linux_ community.  If they were
    >> interested in maximizing the potential for OSS as a whole,
    >> they'd be doing grubby stuff (eeeewwww, marketing!) running
    >> FSBs, not hacking driver modules for Winmodems and ever more
    >> tacky reimplementations of XTerm.

    Lynn>     With all due respect, aren't you both confusing the job
    Lynn> of fsbs with that of free software developers and users?

I don't see how you can avoid confusion here.  An FSB can be a free
software developer, a free software user, or both.  Nor do I
understand what you mean by "job".  For an FSB, it's "work done for
pay," but FS users surely have no obligation to "work" (sez so right
here in the GPL) nor do they receive compensation for their activity.
FS developers may or may not have "jobs" w.r.t. their FS development
activities; they do have minimal obligations specified by the
license(s) of code they borrow.

What I have in mind is the responsibilities of the members of a
community to the welfare of the community.  Tim and Ben Tilly (as I
understand them) are advocating a community-wide commitment to some
sort of promotion of OSS, including advocacy and infrastructure
development, but also efforts to target "markets" where OSS growth can
be high.

I don't perceive any duty to make that commitment, although a
remarkably high number of people who consider themselves OSS (as
opposed to Linux, where the rate is lower) community members do make
such commitments.  Nor is it a commitment to do what is "best" for the
community.

And even if I did see some such duty, I wouldn't believe people would
accept and obey it.  They'll do what they want to do, balancing what
they enjoy doing for itself with what they enjoy doing because it
satisfies their thirst to contribute---typically to the subcommunity
they identify with most closely.

    Lynn> Yes, you can argue that higher market share will drive more
    Lynn> better free software, and

I think this is what Tim is arguing, but I'm not sure.  I agree with
this as analysis.  (Ben Tilly and Brian Behlendorf disagree AFAICT;
they insist the causation runs strongly in the other direction.)  I
believe Tim is also arguing that stronger OSS software is better for
consumers, enough so that we should step back from the obvious, eg:

    Lynn> less dealing with incompatible proprietary software
    Lynn> (like getting MS Word documents via email instead of
    Lynn> something more friendly);

and focus[1] on the larger contributions that OSS has made in terms of
creating applications via open standards and implementing them via
open code.  Then seek to achieve more of the same, while recapturing
the profits to support more OSS growth in a virtuous cycle.  Tim
thinks this should be done via concentration on Web-related
development, taking his recent posts at face value.

    Lynn> but is that really the point for the developers and users?
    Lynn> The market isn't everything after all
    
Which is exactly the point I'm trying to make.  If you wish to
advocate OSS as good for society, then Tim's economic argument (more
and better software for all via OSS) is about as strong as you can get
(aside from rms's religious arguments, which are irrefutable).

But Tim, it seems to me, is in fact going beyond that and arguing that
"the [OSS] community" has a duty to itself (and maybe to the wider
society?) to target these (market-valued) opportunities.  (If no
duty, then why did he talk about "taking its eye off the ball"?)

I wanted to make the same point that you have indirectly made here.
The self-interest of FSBs should make them head in the direction Tim
proposes, if he is correct about where the opportunity lies.  No duty
necessary there!

But individual developers and users have their own interests, and
these are not uniform.  Linux developers have a different distribution
of interests from OSS-developers-as-a-whole, and when you include the
associated user communities, the interest distributions change again.
Nor do these coincide with the market opportunities (which amount to
catering to the broader consumer benefit for mercenary reasons).

    Lynn> (foul words to an economist's ears, no doubt).

Not at all.  Not this one, anyway.  The market is the best-developed
method I know of for coordinating social efforts to achieve a
significant subset of social goals, and I recommend it highly for those
purposes.  It also is an efficient way of gathering information about
the divers goals of members of society and the strengths with which
they are held, and integrating them over society with some weights.

But it is a cruelly random way of choosing weights for those goals,
and there are goals that it fails to weight at all.

Nevertheless, I believe that FSBs _must_ pay careful heed to market
signals; all the more so since they have constrained their business
options a priori.[2]

I see no such necessity for the various "communities" under
discussion.  That's why I insist on distinguishing the OSS and Linux
communities (and within Linux there are many others).  They don't have
this convenient benchmark, "profit", for aggregating their interests.
It is not obvious that the interests of OSS-as-a-whole and Linux-as-a-
subset-of-OSS coincide; in fact, I strongly believe they don't.

Footnotes: 
[1]  This is unfair; from past posts, I know you are pro-standards
here, not so much anti-MS-Word.  My apologies for using your words in
this way.

[2]  This will cause tension for their members, who are simultaneously
members of the [various] OSS community[s].  But I think the tension
should be handled by the individuals, not by further constraining the
FSB.

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