Ugly Huge BSD Monster
tlambert2 at mindspring.com
Wed Sep 3 01:10:53 PDT 2003
Bill Moran wrote:
[ ... Free Code vs. Commercial Interest ... ]
> Nonsense. There are a number of companies that are making a go at it
> with that model. Look at Adobe with the free Acrobat viewer. How
> about MySQL for goodness sakes? Redhat may not be the richest company
> in the world, but they're riding out a lousy economy.
Adobe gives away only the viewer. They sell the creation tool,
and they do not give away source code to the viewer. They guard
the file format and third party tools via vigorous enforcement
practices utilizing all tools at their disposal, including the
Don't tell me you've forgotten the Skylarov case already. They
"backed off", but claimed "our hands are tied", after triggering
the events leading up to his arrest. It didn't matter if they
paid lip-service after pulling the trigger: their bullet was
already headed inexoriably towards their intended target, and it
was in their best interests to paint the enforcers of their will
as the bad guys, instead of themselves.
The MySQL people don't exactly sell software, they sell support.
Like the third generation copy protection schemes on the PC, the
impetus for the support comes from the inability to fully utilize
the product without it. I don't know if you are old enough to
remember "PC Talk" and "PC Write", etc., but I will tell you what
I saw the author of the first commercial ShareWare product success
story say one time at a computer conference:
"Software is all...", he said, making vigorous hand
motions around and above his head, "...is all up
here. I don't sell software. I sell manuals".
This was a really sad thing to have happened. Because of this
model, it's very rare to find software which can be used easily
and intuitively by someone who has never used it before: people
have been trained by software vendors to expect software to be
hard to use, non-intuitive, and require training and manuals and
after-market books to even be able to accomplish very little. It
is very like the way Windows users have been trained to feel that
rebooting your machine is somehow a "solution" to the problem of
your machine crashing.
RedHat doesn't sell Linux. They don't even sell documentation and
training (though they'd desperately like to do so). What RedHat
sells is productization. Their market exists because:
1) They are permitted use of the Linux name, even though
they replace the installer, user space packages, or
even (in a fit of ill-consideration) the C compiler.
2) They are willing to address the usability issues that
traditional geeks are not willing to address, and even,
in many circumstances, consider their arcane knowledge
of how to work around quirks that shouldn't be there in
the first place a badge of honor, to be worn proudly.
Lest you make a mistake and believe that there is room for more
than one RedHat in the Linux market, as Caldera and a host of
others have done, let me point you at the lesson of GCC, which
even the FSF was forced to learn, when their main-line GCC was
replaced by EGCS. Just because it's called GCC today doesn't
mean that the FSF was behind the change-over to EGCS; they merely
recognized the inevitability of their being room for only one
niche-player in any given niche, given the GPL model, and they
are smart enough to pick their battles.
Pretty much for any GPL'ed code example of a live company that
you can come up with, I will be able to point out that they are
singular in their market place because of the marginal costs of
developement, and the inability to amortize costs of reaching the
status quo with their competitors.
The GCC is a good case study in this regard, as well: not as an
"exception to prove the rule", but because the marginal costs of
making contributions to the FSF's version of GCC were very high,
compared to the costs of contributing to EGCS (assignments of
rights to sign, paperwork, employer approvals). It was a *lot*
easier to contribute code to EGCS (via Cygnus), than it was to
contribute code to GCC (via the FSF): *that* is why EGCS won,
though it was effectively absorbed by the FSF while it was still
unbalanced by the FSF's declaration of its victory.
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