Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sun, 27 Oct 2002 17:41:35 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Elliston <> writes:

    Ben> Perhaps it is a natural requirement that we "catch up" with
    Ben> all of the proprietary software on offer that people want to
    Ben> run on free operating systems?

In fifty years it took Japan from "bombed to a crisp" to the expected
"economic superpower of the 21st century".  Something to think about.

    Ben> most Octave users want nothing more from Octave than for it
    Ben> to be a bug-for-bug compatible MATLAB clone.

Right.  Innovation scares users.  Their question is "are we going to
learn how to use this before we go bankrupt?"  But a cheap clone, plus
source, _that_ requires no effort to understand.

    Ben> Unfortunately, this leaves little room for Octave to do
    Ben> things *better* than MATLAB and I think this short-term

*chuckle* You should check out comp.lang.python when the backward
compatibility crowd hits its stride.

    Ben> approach of satisfying those kinds of user demands is
    Ben> probably hindering free software in the long term.

There's plenty of inventive free software around.  Do any of the
proprietary MUAs implement scoring _yet_?  Are there any proprietary
spam filters that work as well as TMDA or Spamassassin?  Are there any
proprietary content managers that provide Wiki capability, or other
"plain text" distributed content management?  Linux had web-based
distribution before Microsoft, and Microsoft doesn't just do first
installs by disk image, they also do upgrades that way (at least the
upgrades that knock my LAN's poor little router on its butt about
twice a week are multicast full-disk images).  Some of it even becomes
popular, to the point of displacing most proprietary alternatives.

But innovation requires matching invention to market.  If necessary,
create the market: hire suits, educate the potential customers, both
by advertising and by going to shows and doing training sessions for
your product.  Make slick demos.  But that costs money and requires
giving up some control (at least) to the marketing department, and is
alien to the developer mentality.

Until we learn to partner with suits, FS innovation is going to be a
hit and miss thing.  And by "we" I mean the whole community.  The
"arch" whinge-fest demonstrated that there are a _lot_ of people on
this list who get it, and (funnily enough) I bet members of this list
account for far more than than their share of FS innovations that have
made it to general use.  I imagine most FSBers have made their peace
with their marketing departments (or the need to do marketing
themselves).  So as in my reply to Tim, I'm thinking about the
relationship of non-B FS-organizations (like XEmacs, GNU, the 10000
noncommercial projects hosted on Sourceforge) to not-necessarily-FS
B-organizations.  Sitting at one interface are GNU, SourceForge, and
Bitkeeper: an interesting case study in contrast, it strikes me.  Then
there are and sourcexchange (RIP) at another interface.

Unfortunately, there's a substantial school that's hostile to that
whole train of thought.  Business is about withholding the product
until you're confident of being paid.  Free software, especially
copyleft, is about getting the product out there, and making sure it
stays out there, whatever downstream entities want to do with it.  It
takes a sense of balance and compromise to work out the apparent paradox.

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