Subject: Re: Why Open Source Sucks for the Consumer
From: Ben_Tilly@trepp.com
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 09:32:07 -0400


Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
> >>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <Ben_Tilly@trepp.com> writes:
>
>     Ben> For me one of the most insightful things I have seen on this
>     Ben> was an engineer talking about his impression of ESR's thesis.
>     Ben> Apparently in engineering the closer you get to "basic
>     Ben> infrastructure" the more open things get.  But as you head
>     Ben> towards consumer products it gets far more locked.
>
>     Ben> He didn't see any reason that software will be different.  I
>     Ben> have not seen any since.  However neither will I claim to be
>     Ben> convinced that this need remain true.  Here is why.
>
>     Ben> What is different about software is that today's consumer
>     Ben> application becomes tomorrow's basic infrastructure.  (Think
>     Ben> browser.)
>
> Um, this is just the same thing that your hardware engineer was
> describing taking place in Internet time.  I don't think this is a
> qualitative difference.

Most consumer devices will remain consumer devices for a long time.
Naming a few popular ones:

  - inline skates
  - frisbee
  - transistor radios
  - pagers/cellular telephones
  - cars

Excepting pagers/cellular telephones, most of these show little
potential for becoming basic technologies that are used as a
foundation for future waves of technological progress.  By contrast
consumer software such as spreadsheets, word processors and browsers,
routinely do.

> And as far as I know Stallman has not yet given Internet Explorer
> equal status with Motif as a "platform library" you can link with
> without violating the GPL.  :-)

Something I have been wondering about related to that.  Is GPLed
Java code allowed?  If you argue that the JVM is the machine then
there is clearly no problem.  If you don't, a case to the contrary
can be made...(particularly if the JVM is not part of the OS.)

> [...]
>     Ben> However I do not see that the recognized abstract
>     Ben> importance of an issue turns into action.  Unless companies
>     Ben> who depend on open source develop a policy of proactively
>     Ben> recognizing and dealing with what they think might become
>     Ben> threats, this is a battle that will continue to arise.
>
> Heresy, Ben.  Translated into terms a biz school student would
> recognize, you are coming close to advocating that OSS give priority
> to (strategic) marketing.
>
> Tim will be comfortable with that, I expect.  Obviously, I am.

Why am I not surprised?

> But even though I'm comfortable in principle, in practice there's a
> big sticking point.  Pooh Bears chase honey, Tiggers bounce.  Tiggers
> do not like honey, they like being first-rate bouncers.  OSS people
> are not good at marketing, aka proactive behavior, almost by
> definition.  They focus on the code.  So putting marketing at the
> center of long-term strategy looks like a loser to me; Pooh Bear is
> going to eat all the honey.  As usual.

Small point.  There are today Pooh Bears (companies) who find that
they get lots of honey by giving Tiggers a trampoline. :-)

There is a reason that I said that either *companies* will do it or
it will not happen.  The reason I specifically did not say OSS is
that I had in mind the same observation about OSS developers that
you just made.

> Necessary component?  Obviously (speaking for myself).
>
> Central?  Bad idea.  We're going to have to face the idea that (a
> Constitutional Amendment lacking) this battle is for eternity.

Consider what happened with the perceived threat from Troll not that
long ago.  (I do not want to argue about the reality, I am merely
talking actions taken on perceptions.)  Most of the Linux companies
did nothing.  But some (notably Red Hat) funded a proactive response.
Whether or not Gnome or KDE ultimately "wins", the mere fact of free
competition demonstrably put enormous pressure on Troll and changed
their licensing.

I agree that a centralized body to hunt and seek threats is a bad
idea.  However that does not stop specific companies from deciding
that a little prevention is worth a lot of cure.

> The thing is, there is no such thing as a "software firm", only firms
> that happen to produce software now.  (ITT stands for "International
> Telephone and Telegraph," a strange name for a company that mostly
> runs hotels.)  Even if we stamp out all proprietary software firms
> late this afternoon, by 10 am tomorrow somebody will be hiring
> programmers to work on a new proprietary product.  If it's good,
> customers will buy it.  And the whole thing will start over again.

And IIRC HP got its start installing speakers in movie theaters.
In the long run saying what kind of company a specific company is
may be a bad idea.  But at a given moment in time it can make
sense.  (In fact many companies go out of their way to figure out
how to say exactly what they are and do.)

> And proprietary ("anything goes to make money") firms are likely to be
> _good_ at chasing those customers.  Honey is their raison d'etre.

Gee, and here I thought that competing by giving away the store up
front was a pretty dirty trick!

Proprietary firms are ones that think they can get more by keeping
tight control.  FSBs are companies which think they can do better
by nominally giving it away up front.  The two differ on tactics,
not on the end goal.  (Being nice can also help you get ahead.
Being perceived as ruthless may be a bad idea.)  If the FSB is not
as good at figuring out how to get honey, then that is their
problem.

Cheers,
Ben