Subject: Re: Ransom GPL Licensing: ethically and legally viable?
From: "Karsten M. Self" <>
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 22:47:42 +0000

on Fri, Feb 21, 2003 at 12:30:47PM +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull ( wrote:
> >>>>> "kms" == Karsten M Self <> writes:
>     kms> Let's pass an Act of $NATIONA_LEGISLATURE to ensure the
>     kms> continued survival of the buggy whip industry while we're at
>     kms> it, no?
> ?No!  Either software is different from buggy whips in _exactly_ the
> ways that make your analogy nonsense, or free software is a bad trip
> and we all need to go cold turkey.

Consider "buggy whips" to refer to any invalidated business model.  The
product need not be tangible -- there are service and IP models which
come to mind as well.

I'll expand on this further later when I have the time.

> I agree with you that "independent FSBs" are not obviously necessary
> to promote free software, 

That's the broader point.

> but let's not pull in invalid red herrings.  The arguments for
> treating free software as a pure public good are reasonably strong, in
> which case some form of public support may be indicated.  (Pace, Russ;
> it's an argument intended to appeal to Karsten, not to you. ;-)

It need not be a public good either, though I'd agree there's a strong
case for this.

More interesting would be to consider what the *existing* ISV
marketplace is.  By Microsoft's own count, there are some 150k ISVs.  A
business survey of the top 500 firms in a sector encompassing ISVs (I'm
being vague because I don't recall the particulars -- it may have been
tech firms, IT firms, firms-with-significant-software-revenues, along
those lines) finds *precisely one* pure-play software company in the top
20.  It's headquartered in Washington state.  The bulk of the *top 100*
firms are service, hardware, consulting, or a mix thereof.

Microsoft has parlayed the pure-play ISV model in a way that very simply
*no other company has been able to, in a sustained fashion*.  It's also
fought, from the February 3, 1976 "letter to hobbyists", fought against
freely distributed software.  It correctly recognizes this as a threat
to its business model.

Might be instructive for those participating in this discussion (and I'm
just barely keeping up with the gush myself) to consider:

  - What *is* a succesful ISV?  What are the characteristics of such a
  - Is Microsoft a typical ISV?  Is its model sustainable?  In what set
    of circumstances?
  - What are the lock-in and/or retention characteristics of successful
    ISVs?  And instructively:  how have failed ISVs missed these

And in the specific case of Microsoft:

  - What is Microsoft's business model?
  - Who are its customers?
  - What is its product?

I'll submit that describing it as a consumer OS and software vendor
would be at the very least incomplete, if not a complete misnomer.

As my buggy-whip post suggests, I feel that the pure-play software model
is very likely outmoded.  I also strongly feel that it never truly
existed, at least not as a long-term sustainable venture.  And it may
very well not be compatible (particularly at the scale we've seen) in a
world in which free software plays a major role.  This is one of several
ways in which free software is a major disruptive technology in the
Christensen sense.  It's what I predicted in a September, 1998 post
pitching my view of the future of free software.  I feel I was close to
the mark then:


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

Apt. [1]



1.    Debian pun not intended, but we won't complain.

Karsten M. Self <>
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
  While you recently had your problems on the run, they've regrouped and
  are making another attack.