Subject: Free and Profitable!?
From: Michael Fredkin <mf@ua.com>
Date: Wed, 03 Dec 1997 15:45:44 -0800

I am hoping that someone will see something in these ideas and thoughts
and make them better.

There is so much room for criticism and the point should be progress.


L. Peter Deutsch wrote:
> 
> > I think good software developers deserve a fine living.  I see no need to
> > pay them (or the companies that exploit them) like rock stars.
> 
> Do you think they deserve compensation proportional to the number of people
> using their software, which is a reasonable measure of its usefulness to the
> world?
> 
> The answer from the libre software camp (and, interestingly enough, also
> from the large software companies where developers are employees rather than
> owners) is "no".  And I think that is the crux of much of the disagreement
> between myself, Russ, and some others on the one hand, and advocates of
> completely libre software on the other.
> 
> --
> 
> L. Peter Deutsch         |       Aladdin Enterprises :::: ghost@aladdin.com
> 203 Santa Margarita Ave. | tel. +1-650-322-0103 (AM only); fax +1-650-322-1734
> Menlo Park, CA 94025     |        http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/index.html
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Like most Free things at some point a profiteer comes along and takes it
and makes it cost money
Now if we were talking about Land or Minerals or our rights we would be
fighting and organizing to protect and maintain some resource or right
while trying to continue to provide the aspect of freedom that seems
crucial.

With Software and the good ideas that come with it, there is a twist. 
Profiteers seek to hide or own ideas where possible and deliver
functionality.  Clearly this is a huge impediment to growth and
development of ideas and software, except as it is successful in
bringing
funds back into the development cycle.  Which I might add has been a
dominant model.  Things Like darpa-arpa helped provide a more open model
which said look here is money to build stuff and live and eat too.  Not
hugh money to any one individual but lots of people building and
cooperating.  

Can the private sector create something better in today's climate?  What
would it look like?

Obviously there is hugh money to be made in software.  But more
importantly given the right resources lots of people should to be able
to build really great stuff and help the current set of ideas grow at
the best possible rate.  The ideas revealed in source and the flexible
nature of source should be available to anyone.  So how to be open with
ideas and development, make good partially - proportional income for the
contributors, and not be totally screwed buy perceived competitors. 

Historically free software is not on the tip of consumers tongues to say
the least.   Just because it is free, does not have to mean it should be
unfit for consumption.  As many have pointed out either indirectly or
directly, free software is often not consumer friendly, or to be more
precise it is not "finished" (polished, packaged and delivered with all
the important add ons including docs and particulars) to current market
levels.    Of note those extras often cost really money as they are not
part of the creators development process, this can run cross ways to
being free.

        A Question: What extras like a good user interface, user
documentation,
informative particulars about platform and functionality, etc. . . .
should be free.  

One can find a slew of companies taking free software and dressing it up
and selling the dressing.
One problem I have is that they generally seem to have to part company
with development community at that point, and often start competing with
the next gen of the software they based their initial products on.

This helps fracture things to a certain extent.  We can say that
competition is growth but I do believe software can and would grow well
under some profitable free model also.  * Notice how profitable and free
do not seem to sit well in the same sentence.  * 

What if there were a organization that took free code and performed
those additional tasks to make it consumable buy a larger audience.  How
much would that cost?  Most companies spend 5%-20% on marketing alone
(note Marketing serves at least one vital task, the distribution of new
information)  not to mention documentation and user interfacing for the
non developer where needed.  If such a thing existed should it give away
the final product? should it sell only to corporations? Should it
release the source to all of the salable aspects? and what would the
source license look like?   One could argue that a staff of full time
grant writers might be a avenue to pursue.  It could-should be
nonprofit with regard to taxes.  

Lets imagine that this ORG was open to all.  It acted as a very large
code depository and to deposit code you created an account and logged in
(anonymity could be assured). an ID was issued and contributions
tracked.  All contributions were available and free.  Contributions
integrated into packaged form buy the ORG caused a shareholder ID to be
issued to the contributor and each distribution of said packaged item
containing said code would also be tracked.  Creating a base level
framework to use, should a packaged item create and sustain revenue, ( a
non profit can pay for goods, but obviously this would need to be very
carefully examined)  I suppose that the top level of the ORG could be
set up and overseen buy a town meeting style governing body with
meetings held online.

A side issue: obviously any model that actual makes lots of money would
be very tricky to sustain in a environment where any one can vote, the
source is free,  we all have equal voting rights.   A shark would stack
a meeting and vote in some person or means buy which the money was
siphoned off.  This has happened to a lot of good things in the near and
distant past.  Equally scary is a group that is impossible to work with, 
immovable, and unchangeable.  But these are actually reasonable hurdles
if the reward is a large org that consumerizes free code, provides
returns to the individuals and to the community at large.

An org with really monetary returns could have in its charter to
establish open research and development sites for folks to meet and
collaborate,  grants for new work, to encourage growth etc... 

I believe that lots of independent contributors - users can generate
software with great ground breaking functionality, we see this all the
time in free software. 

A painter can make money buy giving a print of their work to a gallery
that frames it notifies interested parties and displays it correctly.  

Tired of telling my kids to finish their meal (coke and a burger) and 
be grateful after all somewhere there is a starving software developer. 

Michael.