Subject: Re: Tim's paradigm shift
From: Taran Rampersad <>
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 01:21:58 -0500

Matt Asay wrote:


>So, while I gushed on and on about open distribution, Larry posed a
>troubling question:  "If that's such a big deal, how is it any better
>than simply giving the product away for free (no cost) over the
>Internet?"  I didn't know, and still don't.  If few actually look at
>source (and the fact is, very few end-customers actually do - Microsoft
>pegs the number at 1% who expect to modify source if they had access,
>and I've yet to see numbers or experience that widely differ from this,
>especially since anyone modifying RHAT or NOVL source (or others) would
>immediately violate their support contracts and be left stranded.  Few
>Fortune 1000 companies are going to take that risk), then one is left
>wondering what, other than low cost (as in acquisition cost), is driving
>open source adoption by corporate customers.
>If anyone has thoughts, I'd love to hear them.  Again, I like Tim's
>ideas on this, and agree that "software" will increasingly migrate to
>the web.  But this doesn't make it any clearer how to build a successful
>business on the web or elsewhere.  It maybe tells me what a successful
>company looks like when it's all grown up, but it gives me no practical
>guidance on how to take one to that level.  (Frankly, if one takes eBay
>and Amazon as marquee examples, as Tim does, it's perhaps even easier to
>argue that they are successful because of their first, biggest mover
>advantage, and not because of any architecture of participation that
>only flowered much later.  Only Google may have immediately been better
>because of its architecture, and that took a long time for people to
>recognize and for them to capitalize on.)
The difference between Freeware and Free Software (and Open Source to 
varying degrees, dependant on licensing) is apparent to myself in the 
third world, and I suppose it would be hard to see in what we term the 
'developed world'. When I can download software that 'does stuff', I 
download software that 'does stuff' based on the needs of the people it 
was written for. I may not be one of these people. One could argue that 
I would not have downloaded it if it were not useful, but that's a very 
Boolean approach and one that I don't subscribe to.

With Free Software, and Open Source, I have more options. As a software 
developer, I can adapt the software to the needs of people within my 
sphere. Perhaps some of these needs will trickle back into the  initial 
distribution, perhaps not, but my ability to alter the source code is 
important when one considers the business intelligence inherent in a 
piece of software. Consider Drupal, which I am presently using with some 
clients for their websites - I haven't encountered anything I need to 
change *yet* (though I do have some ideas...), but I have encountered 
the fact that SMEs in Trinidad and Tobago simply like the idea that the 
software can be changed to suit their needs, and I provide training on it.

So the difference is what I call intellectual usability. Freeware is 
simply not as intellectually usable as FOSS. Period. End of story. And 
people want things that they can intellectually use.

I have not uttered the words 'Free Software' or 'Open Source' to any of 
my clients. These days, I'm more partial to the 'Free Culture' concept 
which FOSS has helped create. In doing this, I've found it less 
difficult to make a living (my tenacity is probably my greatest weakness).

As far as what Tim wrote, I applaud most of it. His point on preserving 
the original culture of software development is missed in most 
discussion related to FOSS. This was the way code was originally 
written. When I was 15, and writing code for people in the local 
printing industry, it was a given that they got the source code when I 
delivered. They didn't pay me for a copyright, they paid me for a 
product - and the product was neither fully a commodity or service, but 
a mixture of the two. Software development, to this day, is really a 
mixture of both - whether it comes in boxes or through internet access, 
the bottom line is that people only use what they find useful - which 
means that someone thought about it, and wrote something to suit those 
needs. That's a service. When you stick it in a box and give obscure 
support, you're treating software as a commodity. Truly, proprietary 
software has the capacity to be more of a service. On the flip side, 
FOSS software could suffer becoming more of a commodity - at least in my 
opinion. Does that mean that the solution is a mix of FOSS and 
proprietary? No, I do not think so - and from what I read in Tim's 
essay, I do not believe he thinks so either.

In fact, I think that the balance is going to be something else. Whoever 
gets there first wins... I'd like to think I would be one of these 
people, but the odds are against it. I'm better off buying lottery tickets.

Uncle Albert once said, "The significant problems we have cannot be 
solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them." - and 
I think that this is really what Tim was saying, though that's simply 
what my perspective is. A lot of the issues related to software have 
been created with a certain level of thinking, and the point that FOSS 
is simply a preserve of what was already there shows that FOSS itself is 
also part of the 'problem'. The next chronological 'paradigm' was 
proprietary software. But that really wasn't new either; it was the 
application of the same level of thinking in one industry (publishing) 
into another industry. Conversely, the FOSS concepts being applied in 
other industries - such as publishing - are again, not new but simply 
new applications of the same ideas.

It's the same level of thinking.

Where does the code fit in? I hate to say it, especially with half of my 
life being spent writing code for fun and profit, but the code has to be 
*transparent* - call it Open, call it Free, call it Bob, call it 
whatever - but the code, the source code, cannot ever be an issue if 
we're going to aspire to a new level of thinking. In this, FOSS is on 
the right path - but where's the next step? I think that this is what 
Tim was getting at.

Taran Rampersad