Subject: Re: Free Software vs. Disruptive Change
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: 02 Jul 2002 12:49:27 +0900

>>>>> "shap" == Jonathan S Shapiro <> writes:

    shap> [Ben Tilly wrote]

    >> I took Jonathan's question to be rather different.  Instead he
    >> is thinking of a disruptive technology as one which causes us
    >> to rethink how we work, and start doing things in a different
    >> way entirely.

    shap> This is indeed what I meant. More to the point, a disruptive
    shap> technology is one that resists "drop in compatibility", and

"drop-in compatibility" -- the disruption occurs because of the "drop
in compatibility".  :-)

    shap> therefore has a significant cost of adoption and/or
    shap> engineering.

Aside: By this definition, I don't see Linux as disruptive.  The whole
point of adopting Linux or a *BSD is that it's a POSIX-compatible
kernel, so most apps can be relatively easily ported.  Same goes for
the GNU system.  Even Ben's own discussion shows how Linux can be
integrated into an organization on an evolutionary basis, function by
function.  Linux actually does not disrupt the organization's internal

Unicode, OTOH, is disruptive.  The users who don't need it don't want
to support its inefficiencies and incompatibilities; the users who do
need it oppose it because as a "one-size fits all" I18N solution
(partial) it makes localization more complicated.  This leads to
supporting redundant functionality to reduce short-term disruption at
the expense of long-term complexity.

Eg, Python 2.3 will come with built in facilities for handling
non-Unicode strings, and I know Japanese programmers who are already
building programs to use that facility so that internally they can
process Shift JIS strings, rather than translate the algorithms to
Unicode.  Just as they do with Java.  (The problem is that Shift JIS
is not file-system or shell "safe", and it's all too easy for it to
leak into those subsystems with hard-to-debug consequences.  The
advantage of Shift JIS is that it is the native encoding of legacy
Windows, and of i-mode, the part of the Japanese Internet oriented to
cell-phone browsers.  In fact i-mode supports nothing but Shift JIS.)

The other aspect of disruptive technologies is that they tend to
disrupt meta-communication.  Ie, between the advocates of the new
technology and those of the old, neither of whom seems capable of
explaining their preferences to the other camp.  :-(

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
 My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things.  I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember.  Scott Gilbert