I need to pound Eben Moglen with it:
The lawyer, also a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University Law School, said the time has come to again treat science like physics or chemistry, by promoting a free exchange of ideas the way Galileo Galilei proposed.
"We are responding to a lengthy, but temporary period during which software was a proprietary, closed science..." Moglen told the audience. "The consequences of that process produced bad software at high prices. We are reversing that situation. What we do is help people think well and share."
Moglen said certain incumbents, which he did not directly name, refuse to share their software ideas despite having originally taken much of the foundation of their products from the free software community.
Gee, that's nice of him. How does he suppose that a decent size software team funds development efforts without being able to hold the rights to it? Say we (Cincom) followed his advice with Cincom Smalltalk, and just gave it away. Just charge for support, I suppose Eben would tell me.
Sure. Experience in this industry tells me that people will avoid paying if they can, and delay payment for support until it becomes required. There's another problem as well - the vultures that would swoop in and offer cut rate support that we couldn't match if we hoped to keep our developers on staff. We have fewer people handling support than we have doing new development. That means that a competing firm - in a scenario where the entire suite was free - could swoop in with a handful of support staff and charge far less than it costs us to manage our developers. The result? We would either go out of business, or end up with virtually no developers on staff.
Has Eben looked at the big, successful Open Source projects? Like Apache, Eclipse, and yes - Linux itself? The dirty little secret is that all of those are funded by a handful of large firms. The reason? Open Source allows them to play the "Robin Hood" card against Microsoft. One of the things people forget about MS is that they became successful early on by offering lower prices for things than their competition did.
I'm hardly the only person thinking this - witness this article in Forbes Magazine:
Open source advocates have pushed McVoy to "open source" his product--that is, to publish the program's source code, or basic instructions, and let the world use it for free. But McVoy says it is simply not possible for an innovative software company to sustain itself using an open source business model.
"We believe if we open sourced our product, we would be out of business in six months," McVoy says. "The bottom line is you have to build a financially sound company with a well-trained staff. And those staffers like their salaries. If everything is free, how can I make enough money to keep building that product for you and supporting you?"
Which is exactly what I said above. Torvalds objects, of course - but I notice that he doesn't object to the salary that he gets as a result of big company largesse:
"Open source actually builds on a base that works even without any commercial interest [which] is almost always secondary," he says. "The so-called 'big boys' come along only after the project has proven itself to be better than what those same big boys tried to do on their own. So don't fall into the trap of thinking that open source is dependent on the commercial interests. That's nice gravy, but it is gravy."
I love that phrase "without commercial interest". Sure Linus. Next time that stupid thought crosses your mind, go trace where the money they use to pay you comes from. I'll caution you though - your head just might explode. McEvoy gets it right here:
"It costs a huge amount of money to develop a single innovative software product. You have to have a business model that will let you recoup those costs. These arguments are exceedingly unpopular. Everyone wants everything to be free. They say, 'You're an evil corporate guy, and you don't get it.' But I'm not evil. I'm well-known in the open source community. But none of them can show me how to build a software-development house and fund it off open source revenue. My claim is it can't be done."
No one has shown me a model whereby I could fund Cincom Smalltalk via an OSS model either - and I'll point out that the open source language environments out there are either
- Effectively funded by a big company (Eclipse)
- Run by tiny companies with a handful of staff, who are willing to do lots of side consulting
In that latter case, if you watch the products run by those small staffs - they don't tend to evolve that fast. Why? If you have to spend all your time paying the bills with consulting gigs, it's hard to do proactive product work.
Here's a tip for Eben, since he's convinced that the future is in non-proprietary software: Put your money where your mouth is. Instead of blathering, go run a company that builds OSS software for the general market, and let's see how far you get. And oh, Eben - since you think Sourceforge is such a vast well of great stuff:
Moglen said users who need software can find an abundance of code to use for software building in online machine tool shops, such as SourceForge. In that community, he said some 95,000 programming projects are being worked on by roughly 490,000 programmers in their spare time.
Why don't you also give us the activity stats for those projects? I know why you would rather not - it would be embarrassing. It's kind of like shouting "10 million blogs" without also pointing out that most of them have one or fewer entries, and will never have more than that.