Subject: Re: Perens on arch
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: 08 Feb 2002 14:29:58 +0900

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

    Tom> Forrest complained that I didn't propose a business model.
    Tom> There are many that might apply, all of which have been
    Tom> discussed on this list many times over -- I take those issues
    Tom> as read.

Are you kidding?  There are three ways for the developer to go, as I
see it:

1.  If you want to get paid for your software on the strength of the
quality of the software, you have to sell it.  The going rate for free
software w/o business plan is all rights for $1, bid posted by the
Free Software Foundation.  Proprietary software brings a lot more.
But you don't want to go there.

2.  If you want to get paid for your software on the strength of its
elegance, then get an academic job (loosely speaking, ie, university
or corporate lab).  Grants are generally awarded for producing neat
ideas in the past, not for the quality of the current proposal.

3.  If you want to get paid for your software on the strength of its
profitability as a business, you'd better have a business.  You don't
actually need any software![1]  Cygnus owned little of the software it was
famous for, but Red Hat paid a pretty penny for it.  Maybe even a nice
nickel.  Certainly more than $1.  And then proceeded to give away all
the acquired software!

"I take those issues as read" shows that you don't give a thought to
whether the financial investors get anything except a warm fuzzy
feeling and your eternal gratitude out of the deal.  "I'll provide the
software, now give me money and go away."  Except that it's free
software; there's nothing to keep you from screwing up royally and
they have _nothing_.  And given that you obviously don't care about
the business end, you probably will screw up royally.

Finally, you're just setting _yourself_ up by acting this way.  The
software business, let alone FSB, is a Red Queen's race.  It takes all
the running you can do just to stay in the same place.  If you show
zero interest in the business end, you will very quickly be blind-
sided by a conflict of interest between your plans for the "right"
development of the software, and your business partners' plans for
meeting market needs.

Guess what?  They don't need you any more---they have a viable product
and as much right to sell and improve the software as you do.  They'll
fire you, or if your lawyer is good enough to get you a golden
parachute that makes it too costly to give you the pink slip, they'll
maybe give you a corner office and cut a door in the outside wall, and
lock the door in to the business.  You'd be enraged, I'm sure, but
your partners would consider it necessary for survival.

Or even worse, if your software is that good but you obstruct the
running of the business, a third party will come in and pick it up.

For example, consider qmail.  Bernstein wrote it, but as far as I know
he doesn't profit from it.  It's third parties like our esteemed host
who do.  But that's cool with djb, I would assume.  After all, he
chose Door #2:  Academia.  Or Linux.  I'm sure that the commercial
distros have given Linus a lot of pretty toys and fun travel over the
years, but AFAIK he doesn't participate directly in any of them.

I doubt that would work for you; I suspect you'd be pretty bitter
about it if somebody made a decent business out of your software
without cutting you in on anything but code improvements.  In fact,
you're pretty clearly pre-embittered based on your talk of "taxes".

Obviously, I'm talking about "worst cases."  Things could go very
well.  But your obvious distaste for the nitty-gritty of running a
profitable business greatly increases the chance of disaster.


Footnotes: 
[1]  It's a famous axiom of business management that the only thing
that's essential to a profitable business is paying customers.  Even a
product can be dispensed with in a pinch, although if not done with
extreme care you'll end up in jail.

-- 
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences     http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
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.