Subject: Re: economic efficiency of free software
From: Taran Rampersad <>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2004 14:14:13 -0500

Brian Behlendorf wrote:

>On Mon, 16 Feb 2004, Taran Rampersad wrote:
>>The rules of proprietary software do not apply, and a culture needs to
>>unlearn how it thinks about software. If it's needed enough, you'll be
>>able to get it in the pretty box (and with the price of the colorful box
>>included). Software itself, though a functional work, is in fact
>>intangible. What you pay for is it's creation and distribution. Even the
>>U.S. government calls software a *service*. Facilitating the service is
>>key, and with proprietary models there are failures in assuming what
>>consumers want. For every successful software product, there are plenty
>>of abandoned software projects which were just not financially viable
>>for the producing company.
>Of course, but failure of software products or even companies is not a bad
>thing, in the broader context.  Capitalism, for example, relies just as
>much as Darwinism on continual experiments at the edge - and experiments
>often fail, far more often than they succeed.  But it's still regarded as
>a superior way to figure out "what consumers want" than central planning.
I tend to agree. I have a somewhat Edison outlook on that.

>What you are chafing at is the fact that as software companies that fail
>wind down, they don't adequately sell or leverage one of their remaining
>assets: their source code.
>  The reason for this is that business
>schools teach future CEOs to put software assets at the *wrong place* on
>the balance sheet.  
I was with you up to here.

>Software is a perishable good - it decays as the
>problem it was designed to solve evolves, and as the platforms it builds
>upon are updated.  It's far more like lettuce sitting in a warehouse than
>gold bars in a safe.  Software that sits too long without being put to
>market in one form or another becomes worse than worthless; it can become
>a liability.  MBAs will one day wake up to realize this; for the meantime
>it's a competitive advantage for the few businessfolk who do.
This I disagree with. If you look at code as single use, I would agree. 
But code is not single use.
And the availability to use code from 'failed' projects can be the 
future difference between success
and failure. Code is like poetry; it never dies. It just gets abandoned.

Another thing to consider is how long it took television and radio to 
become established. Decades, really.
Point is that good ideas don't necessarily show up at the appropriate 
times either. An abandoned project from
10 years ago may have been too far ahead of it's time then - but it may 
be at the right time now.

The basis for the single use model is that problems change - and this is 
true. But problems, too, evolve based on
the solutions we apply to past problems. Thus CVS's have become quite 
popular, and haven't seen their full use yet. ;-)

The life cycle model for a software application is usually taken at the 
meta level when it should be instead applied to every single part of the 
application itself.

Taran Rampersad

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