Subject: "I've got more programmers than you"
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 16:41:43 +0900

>>>>> "Tom" == Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com> writes:

    Tom> So far, I gather, the proposed answer is (on all three
    Tom> fronts, simultaneously) ``Sure, sounds like a fun game!''

Yup.  And it's the right answer, too.  No one is in the FSB sector to
_maximize_ profit.  We do it "free" because it's "fun" (more
generally, because it satisfies some non-financial value _we_ hold),
not to satisfy needs as perceived by the customers.  Face it.  Free
software is inherently about making developers, not users, happy.

The open source argument is that there are lots of incidental benefits
for users, too.  But as David says, choosing your battlefield well is
crucial because the customer will weigh the other features of the
software against the benefits of open source.  To date, OSS typically
loses in the marketplace in most markets.  I think that indicates that
the customers are smarter than the FSBs that try to enter those markets.

None of this is intended to say that FSBs don't produce excellent
software and services.  They do.  But...

An FSB (like any other business) has to pick a market where its
strengths count a lot and its weaknesses are negligible.  In a very
few cases (security comes to mind) published source (but not
necessarily open/free!) is a necessary condition for high quality.
Most of the time, though, this is kinda tough, since the defining
criteria of an FSB is the willingness to throw away the extra revenue
that proprietary licensing generates (even if you publish the
source!).  That financial weakness is always going to matter.

It's not crippling.  Smart and dedicated will win in many markets.
But FSBs are always going to "live in interesting times."  And
inherent financial weakness is going to restrict where FSBs can be
competitive.

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