Subject: Re: Is free software innovative ?
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 06:30:29 -0800
Tue, 12 Dec 2000 06:30:29 -0800
on Tue, Dec 12, 2000 at 08:44:29PM +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull (
> >>>>> "David" == David Fetter <> writes:

> I'd like to see a (short) list of proprietary software that is
> considered "innovative" (or not) for the sake of comparison.

How about proprietary software which originated from free of public

  - IBM and the 1880/1890 census.

  - general computing and the Manhattan project.

  - multics and a public/private/academic consortium, giving rise to...

  - Unix -- and a private/academic/public consortium.

  - SAS -- originally an academic project at the UNC (or was it NCSU?)
    department of Agricultural Economics.

  - PHAMIS -- the Public Health Administration Medical Information

  - Microsoft Internet Explorer.  Derived from Spyglass, derived from
    Mosaic, derived from the UI supercomputing lab work.

  - e-Commerce, derived in part from DARPA.

  - WordPerfect, originally a city or payroll text-processing system in
    Utah, according to a very hazy but persistent memory of mine.

> This business of rearranging common parts in perhaps not terribly
> "innovative" ways, but producing great value, certainly doesn't
> satisfy Bernard's request.  But maybe we have to attack the premise
> that "creativity" and "innovation" can be measured by patentability,
> or even a stricter criterion of "novelty and inventiveness."

My own take is that the act of original invention is difficult, and
progress tends to be (and is better fitted to be) evolutionary than
revolutionary.  The question IMO is less "is free software more
innovative than proprietary software" and more "what sets of
circumstances foster useful creativity".  Michael Tiemann filled in an
incomplete thought of mine at last summer's O'Reilly Perl/Open Source
conference with his presentation on  Guns, Germs, and Steel , and Open
Source.  The book by Jared Diamond addresses first principles giving
rise to a globe dominated by European culture.  One of the precursor
elements was the broad, east-west zone of Europe and Asia, with a
largely similar climate.  It was easy for things (plants, animals,
techniques, language, civilization) emerging in specific locales to be
transported across this zone, and for best options to emerge.

Free software development shares a lot with the environment attributed
to an academic or private research center -- openness to new ideas, free
communication, easy sharing and mixing of concepts.  Has free software
killed the privately funded closed software development center?  I think
it may have.  Where do "gated open source" communities fit into this

>     David> A very distinct pattern that's (omigosh) contrary to
>     David> libertarian dogma is emerging here.
> This would only be true if you could go down the list and demolish the
> innovativeness of proprietary software, as well, I should say.

I think there's a fair case that there's been much benefit from
government intervention and funding of software and computer development
(several examples listed above), and demonstrable harm if you subscribe
to the Findings of Fact, from the private sector.  Of course, with
different examples, you might show the opposite case as well.
Personally, I tend to think that software development laughs at
political and economic ideologues.

Karsten M. Self <>
 Evangelist, Zelerate, Inc.            
  What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?      There is no K5 cabal

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