Subject: Re: a model of competition between free and proprietary software
From: "Karsten M. Self" <>
Date: Mon, 21 May 2001 15:54:44 -0700
Mon, 21 May 2001 15:54:44 -0700
on Mon, May 21, 2001 at 12:52:04PM -0700, Tim O'Reilly ( wrote:
> Tom Hull wrote:
> > 
> > Russell Nelson wrote:
> > >
> > > Tom Hull writes:
> > >  > It is interesting how much F has been developed by people when they
> > >  > are not acting as entrepreneurs, capitalists, or [wage] workers.
> > >
> > > I need an example here.
> > 
> > I was thinking of Linux. For example, in Glyn Moody's book there is a
> > piece on how Linus wrote the first cut of Linux VM to stave off boredom
> > during Christmas vacation. It seems likely that most of GNU fits this
> > mold, whether written for principle, for fun, or just as part of the
> > gift culture -- all of which strike me as fundamentally different from
> > the investment of time to secure increased future consumption.
> > 
> One thing that's interesting to me is that the same thing goes on in
> proprietary companies.  I was somewhat bemused to discover recently in
> conversation with its developers that ASP.Net started as a similar
> christmas vacation project by a couple of MS programmers, got
> increasingly adopted inside of MS, and only then got "discovered" by
> management and turned into a product.  It needed to happen this way
> because the developers were throwing out backwards compatibility and
> trying to work xml into the picture.

...which gets to the issue of concept gestation and development models
which best support this.

I've maintained that *neither* free nor proprietary development
addresses the issue of generating new ideas.  Each applies different
approaches to bringing concepts to fruition.  There are successes and
failures under both models -- 3M is legendary for launching new
products.  Microsoft has played a good game of identifying competition, 
and playing a "buy or quash" game to pick winners.  Free software has
progressed in part through imitatation and in part by stealing copiously
from the best in ways that most proprietary models don't support.

There are several things that the free software approach tends to
encourage, to its benefit:

  - Incremental improvement.  "Big bang" releases are useful for
    marketing purposes and the like, but tend to make for poor software
    quality for well-known reasons.

  - Modular architecture.  Pieces are largely independent of one
    another.  Grossly improved functionality can be implemented on a
    drop-in basis, without disrupting unrelated functionality.

  - Rapid release cycles, often with 'stable' and 'unstable' forks.   

There are strong motivators in proprietary development to counter all 
of these modes of operation.  Proprietary software suffers for it.

Now if we could come up with a "print your own money" model of free
software development like Microsoft's been able to finagle....

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

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