Subject: ok, FSBs created schwag; now bet the farm on something better
From: Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com>
Date: Sun, 16 Sep 2001 20:54:26 -0700 (PDT)


Recently, I stumbled across a short, interesting article about 
MS's research efforts.  It begins:

	http://www.research.microsoft.com/research/future.asp

	In 1991, when Microsoft was still a fairly small company and
	many businesses were scaling back their research efforts,
	Microsoft made a strong commitment to basic research in
	computer science by establishing the first research lab by a
	software company.

That article, in combination with some awareness of the influence of
MS research on its product line over the past 10 years, really helps
to make the case that open source R&D is necessary.  I hope any
lurking execs will have a look.

In the coming years, Microsoft's products will converge on a
comprehensive solution that reaches every computing systems market.
Browse around in http://research.microsoft.com/research/.  Your
favorite niche will disappear because MS has managed to hire 600
researchers to plot their future, while FSBs employ nearly none.
MS isn't alone in making that play; IBM is well on the way too.
Sun is moving up fast.  I'll bet the post-merger HP heads in this
direction, too.  It's one, big, complex market -- and those 
companies want the whole pie.

A few (essentially legacy) proprietary products (e.g. databases,
Notes, routers, corporate Sendmail) have a secure position for a few
years to come because of the high cost of moving away from their
installed base.  

How much, though, will it cost to move from a linux/apache-based web
server to one maintained with the next generation of proprietary
server tools from MS or IBM -- especially if they can run the
apache-based site without modification?  (Why is it, again, that IBM
is implementing Linux APIs on proprietary operating systems?  And
won't it be handy for them to one day have a stalled, free operating
system, permanently inferior to proprietary systems, to give a way as
just so much schwag?)

How well will kernel-centric embedded systems solutions compete with
solutions backed up by MS IDE technology and deeply integrated with MS
desktops and servers?  Are the cost, freedom to modify, and licensing
advantages of open source solutions *so* compelling that they can
withstand that sort of technological attack?  The Free Software
Movement will continue after such an assault -- but it will hit the
current generation of FSBs quite hard.

Every FSB is at risk: we simply don't have that much technology to
compete with, and precious little R&D effort aimed at producing more.
The solution is to get busy producing more and better technology
through good ol' fashion practical research: There is no "magic
cauldron".

For almost a year now, I've been trying to raise awareness of the need
for Free Software R&D labs.  In my opinion, there ought to be some
collective investment in R&D by companies with Free Softare and Open
Source interests.  I've put forth a rough business model by which R&D
projects can be implemented affordably and made a variety of
suggestions for particular lines of research.  I've put forth a
general strategy for achieving technology transfer and for building
new businesses around the results of successful research.  Is anyone
listening?

One barrier to collective investment in open source R&D is the
tendency of open source vendors to attempt to own particular pieces of
software, whether those pieces are distros or applications.  Why 
pool R&D funding if the results help your FSB competitors as well
as your self: isn't that a 0-sum investment, at best?

Of course it isn't.  New Free Software technology can create a
multitude of degrees of freedom for all FSBs: if 10 companies 
collectively invest to create 100 opportunities, then each company
has invested wisely.  Good software is like that: one significant
advance enables many significant new solutions.

Because so many FSBs are small, and many not yet profitable, I expect
that the idea of investing in research seems like a pie-in-the-sky
fantasy to some execs.  I, on the other hand, believe that making
modest research investments is not only a good idea, it is vital to
the growth and perhaps even the survival of open source businesses.
(And hey, there's tax incentives for it.)

Bet the farm on an effort to create new Free Software technology.
Enlightened customers will like you better for it.

Tom Lord
"highly competent and occasionally respected"

My research agenda: http://www.regexps.com/research.html