Subject: Re: How accurate is Metcalfe's law? (Was: Ximian software)
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: 07 Jan 2002 12:54:22 +0900

>>>>> "Ian" == Ian Lance Taylor <> writes:

    Ian> I do understand that.  It's not what I meant.

If you understand that it's the diamond-water paradox, then you just
don't want to believe the consequences, I guess.

    Ian> Since the price of software is not so tied [to developer
    Ian> compensation],

It is so tied, it's just that the tie is demand-pull on developer
salaries, not cost-push on software prices.  The software that people
want to buy commands high prices, firms move in to exploit that, they
hire developers because they need to work around IP, developers become
scarce, employers bid up their salaries.  If you don't believe that
is a fact, then please explain to me why (1) the two free[1] "used
labor" markets for professionals in Japan are securities traders and
software engineers; (2) there exists the oft-bemoaned shortage of CS
educators; or (3) the enormous attraction of software engineering to
Indian knowledge workers, in India where the returns to bureaucratic
posts are even larger than in Japan.

Granted, it takes time and is pretty fuzzy, and partially obscured by
market structure.  But just because it's not the one-to-one semantics
that developers can demand of their programming languages doesn't mean
there isn't a relationship.

And please remember what happened to the largest experiment ever
conducted in turning economics into a programming exercise.

I'm not saying there's no way to do better than conventional IP.  I am
saying there is no known silver bullet, and most of the things I've
seen proposed (mostly not on this list, which is quite sane from the
point of view of a professional economist) are more disastrous than
even software patents.

    Ian> However, I'm a programmer, and I don't believe that software
    Ian> [creation amounts to "accidental" discovery of obscure
    Ian> ideas].  Although there are a few exceptions, most good ideas
    Ian> in software are obvious

Fred Brooks says that's wishful thinking.  Programmers have very
strong incentives believe that; I'm not surprised you do.  By the same
token, I have to say that on this I trust the managers more than I do
the engineers.

    Ian> The ASP model, in which the program is made available as a
    Ian> service accessible over the Internet, is another approach.
    Ian> It is entirely feasible to charge users $1 each time they use
    Ian> the service

Sure.  So you want to allow monopolists to achieve _first_ degree
price discrimination via cookies, data exchange, and other means of
personal characteristic tracking?  With much less possibility of
competition because only the UI (and not the implementation) is
available for inspection, and NDAs are much stronger than copyright?

Where are you going, man?

Note, as a microeconomist I like the direction you are going very
much.[2]  But as a hacker wannabe and social activist, I'm horrified.

[1]  By which I mean changing employers on employee initiative doesn't
mean an automatic 20% salary cut, and often even involves a raise.

[2]  Except that I worry that with NDAs to protect the software
itself, and greater importance of UI to ASPs, the legal lobbies will
turn their guns on extending the reach and strength of "business
method" patents.

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
              Don't ask how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.