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[P]
An Economist/Programer writes on Open Source

By tbcidy in News
Mon May 29, 2000 at 05:01:22 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

Gerald P. Dwyer, Jr is currently a Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He is also a programmer with several published articles on pseudo-random number generation. He has released the code for several of his generators, as well as tests. Playing more to his economist side, he has posted a preliminary paper on the the economics of open source software (Sorry, but it is PDF :(. Check out his webpage.

Dwyer's paper includes several unique ideas on open source software. First of all it includes several points about why software is different from other products, including other digital products. Another point made is the effect of transaction costs on software. His paper is a worthwhile read by someone with a unique perspective on Open Source Software.


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An Economist/Programer writes on Open Source | 62 comments (62 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I'd still like more write-up, but i... (1.00 / 1) (#8)
by eann on Thu May 25, 2000 at 10:28:02 PM EST

eann voted 1 on this story.

I'd still like more write-up, but it's still a good essay, too.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.


Dwyer's paper is a good read. Altho... (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by madams on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:33:26 PM EST

madams voted 1 on this story.

Dwyer's paper is a good read. Although his preliminary draft confuses the definition of "free software". It's refreshing to have an economic analysis of free software from a reputable source.

The benefit to national production that the "gift" economy produces can be added to the list of things that invalidate the GDP as a true measure of productivity (other culprits being housework and pollution).

Also, a note to those of us unfamiliar with macroeconomics: for a lot of people, something isn't important until the Fed takes notice of it.

--
Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

Sigh...... (1.00 / 1) (#19)
by ishbak on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:34:54 PM EST

ishbak voted -1 on this story.

Sigh...

PDF bad, HTML good^2... (1.00 / 1) (#13)
by Wah on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:35:41 PM EST

Wah voted -1 on this story.

PDF bad, HTML good^2
--
Fail to Obey?

Excellent article, and this present... (1.00 / 1) (#10)
by Ozymandias on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:49:58 PM EST

Ozymandias voted 1 on this story.

Excellent article, and this presentation is one hell of a lot better than the other.
- Ozymandias

ProgramMer :)... (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by Velian on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:52:26 PM EST

Velian voted 1 on this story.

ProgramMer :)

Post it ... if only so we can gang ... (1.00 / 1) (#4)
by mattm on Thu May 25, 2000 at 11:54:36 PM EST

mattm voted 1 on this story.

Post it ... if only so we can gang up and complain to Gerald P. Dwyer, Jr, to put his papers (including one on, irony of ironies, usage of random numbers in cryptography) in a portable document format instead of Adobe's Portable Document Format (encrypted, even).

Ummm... this is already in the queu... (1.00 / 1) (#15)
by dave0 on Fri May 26, 2000 at 12:26:33 AM EST

dave0 voted 0 on this story.

Ummm... this is already in the queue, but hasn't been posted.

This is the exact same story as one... (1.67 / 3) (#7)
by raph on Fri May 26, 2000 at 01:06:16 AM EST

raph voted -1 on this story.

This is the exact same story as one already in the queue, with nearly the same lack of writeup. Or maybe I'm just in a bad mood today. Either way, -1.

it is in the que already....what th... (1.00 / 1) (#2)
by davidu on Fri May 26, 2000 at 01:07:05 AM EST

davidu voted -1 on this story.

it is in the que already....what the?

Redundant.... (1.00 / 1) (#23)
by maynard on Fri May 26, 2000 at 01:26:09 AM EST

maynard voted -1 on this story.

Redundant.

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

Much better write-up than the previ... (2.00 / 1) (#6)
by bobsquatch on Fri May 26, 2000 at 02:40:33 AM EST

bobsquatch voted 1 on this story.

Much better write-up than the previous MLP version... thank you!

BTW, if people can't read the encrypted PDF (WTF is it encrypted, anyway? Just because he's a crypto fan?), gv can read it with a plugin. Either grab it from http://www.ozemail.com.au/~geoffk/pdfencrypt/pdf_sec.ps or be supa-k3wl and do an 'apt-get install gs-pdfencrypt'.

Haven't I seen this somewhere befor... (1.00 / 1) (#12)
by pwhysall on Fri May 26, 2000 at 03:53:12 AM EST

pwhysall voted -1 on this story.

Haven't I seen this somewhere before?
--
Peter
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
CheeseBurgerBrown

Actually, this is better than the o... (1.00 / 1) (#25)
by martin on Fri May 26, 2000 at 05:57:49 AM EST

martin voted 1 on this story.

Actually, this is better than the othter submission - I'll adjust Good paper, given its intended autdience.

Could'nt read, the fucking PDF is f... (1.00 / 1) (#18)
by nictamer on Fri May 26, 2000 at 06:50:55 AM EST

nictamer voted 0 on this story.

Could'nt read, the fucking PDF is fucking ENCRYPTED. Why do those bastards bother to encrypt their fucking PDF?
--
Religion is for sheep.

I'd like to see more summary, espec... (1.50 / 2) (#22)
by genehack on Fri May 26, 2000 at 07:46:10 AM EST

genehack voted 0 on this story.

I'd like to see more summary, especially as the link is to a PDF, which most people (probably) won't take the time to read.

PDF sux.... (1.00 / 1) (#26)
by osswid on Fri May 26, 2000 at 08:27:44 AM EST

osswid voted -1 on this story.

PDF sux.

The author seems to think that the ... (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by Greener on Fri May 26, 2000 at 11:04:29 AM EST

Greener voted 1 on this story.

The author seems to think that the main reason people work on open source projects is to make the program better for themselves and once the new improvements aren't worth the time involved in implementing them that peoson will stop working on the project

While this may be true for some programmers the author doesn't seem to understand that many programmers also want to spend their time improving the program for many other users with no compensation other than the satisfaction of knowing you made it better. A good example of this is the Linux Documentation Project.

The author does not seem to understand that not everyone is greedy and/or selfish and that the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one.

Re: The author seems to think that the ... (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by gdwyer on Mon May 29, 2000 at 05:33:43 PM EST

Hi,

I've been invited to join this discussion and this comment seems like a good place.

As a general rule, I do not assume that everyone is greedy or selfish or anything like that. In this paper, there is a sense in which I do.

In this paper, I am not asking whether people who want to help other people will help other people. If people want to help other people, they will help them. And people do help other people. So, if open source software is "people helping other people", there is no economic issue of interest to economists because the whole thing is trivial.

A more interesting question to an economist is this: when people are not interested in helping other people, maybe they want to feed their families or buy a computer, will they work on open source software? That's the question that I'm asking. Hence, in this paper, I explicitly suppress the possibility that people are working to help others.

This question may not interest you because you think that economists have an uninformative way of looking at the world. In an economist's view of the world, everyone is pursuing their self interest. I would claim that Mother Theresa was pursuing her self interest. She wanted to help dying people in Calcutta and she did.

Jerry

[ Parent ]
Re: The author seems to think that the ... (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by Greener on Mon May 29, 2000 at 07:01:27 PM EST

I realized when I was writing my comment that selfish was too strong a word but I couldn't think of any better ones at the time.

I know there are people who don't believe there are people out there who would do something for nothing and because of the way the article was written I assumed (incorrectly I now see) that you were one of these kinds of people writing this for like minded individuals.

I also thought that since it was a preliminary draft i thought it was worth suggesting that another side of the issue should be included at least briefly as well. Now that I understand the questions you were posing in the article i see that it's more of a look at the sides of open sourced software that an economist would be interested in and not an economists view of how open sourced delevopment works.

I just misinterpreted what the article was trying to say and commented on it accordingly.

[ Parent ]

Re: The author seems to think that the ... (4.00 / 1) (#60)
by gdwyer on Wed May 31, 2000 at 11:00:08 AM EST


Which I appreciate knowing because the paper is preliminary after all. Thanks.

[ Parent ]
i still can't read it. xpdf doesn't... (1.00 / 1) (#24)
by eMBee on Fri May 26, 2000 at 05:30:49 PM EST

eMBee voted -1 on this story.

i still can't read it. xpdf doesn't support decryption.
--
Gnu is Not Unix / Linux Is Not UniX

Didnt we already have this?... (1.00 / 1) (#14)
by inspire on Fri May 26, 2000 at 09:46:42 PM EST

inspire voted -1 on this story.

Didnt we already have this?
--
What is the helix?

A rational discussion about why peo... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat May 27, 2000 at 09:33:13 AM EST

porkchop_d_clown voted 1 on this story.

A rational discussion about why people do open source (as opposed to cyberutopian pipe dreaming) is extremely valuable to understanding the future of open source and whether or not Linux is the dawn of a new age or just an aberration.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.

Seems interetsting, I'd like to see... (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by gampid on Sat May 27, 2000 at 04:28:38 PM EST

gampid voted 1 on this story.

Seems interetsting, I'd like to see a non-capitalist economist view of open source. We spend to much time focusing on how to use free/open source software to create more a more profitable technology based capitalism rather than looking at how we use these new modes of technological innovation and creation to build a more equitible, sustainable and just society.

Protest.Net: Seizing the means of communication!

Non-capitalist -- CatB, others (none / 0) (#34)
by kmself on Tue May 30, 2000 at 01:46:42 AM EST

The Cathedral and the Bazaar is a sociological, rather than an economic, analysis of free software. While I agree with some of the software methodology analysis, the whole "gift culture" thing doesn't quite do it.

The useful thing of economic analysis (which doesn't have to concern money, BTW, though it usually does), is that it's the language of business. If you want companies to invest in free software -- either in development or as users -- having an explanation they can understand will help. More playground for all us anti-capitalists out here.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Re: Non-capitalist -- CatB, others (none / 0) (#35)
by chale on Tue May 30, 2000 at 02:06:56 AM EST

Opensales.com? Anti-capitalist? You are large, you contain multitudes? :-)
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir
[ Parent ]
Post above is by rusty (none / 0) (#38)
by rusty on Tue May 30, 2000 at 04:33:25 AM EST

Oh my. I was testing someone else's account and posted the above as chale by accident. My apologies to chale and to kmself for the confusing comment. It was by me. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Belaboring the obvious (none / 0) (#50)
by kmself on Tue May 30, 2000 at 02:29:50 PM EST

...being my strong suite.

Yes, large and multitudinous. In strange and divers ways... However, I don't speak for my employer in all things. Maybe time for ob::disclaimer.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

It looks good to see an economist w... (4.00 / 2) (#3)
by Perpetual Newbie on Sun May 28, 2000 at 12:01:41 AM EST

Perpetual Newbie voted 1 on this story.

It looks good to see an economist write something about open source other than "It's Socialism, therefore it's bad". Dwyer's conclusion seems to be that Open Source development works best when users are capable of changing the program and the developers' interests are similar to those of the end user, or when the program is powerful yet relatively small and easy to write. Otherwise, a proprietary model of development, where programmers' marginal benefits from writing the software are artificially increased by $$$, is likely to get a product out the door sooner.

Re: It looks good to see an economist w... (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by gdwyer on Wed May 31, 2000 at 10:57:20 AM EST

The author thinks this is the major implication.


[ Parent ]
> His paper is a worthwhile read by... (1.00 / 1) (#17)
by ken on Sun May 28, 2000 at 02:43:49 AM EST

ken voted 0 on this story.

> His paper is a worthwhile read by someone with a unique > perspective on Open Source Software. Why do you think so?

hm.... ... (1.00 / 1) (#11)
by your_desired_username on Sun May 28, 2000 at 06:40:19 AM EST

your_desired_username voted 1 on this story.

hm.... Interesting, but it says 'Please do not quote without permission' (oops... sorry.) right at the top of the page.....

Re: hm....... (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by Marcin on Mon May 29, 2000 at 07:11:35 PM EST

hm.... Interesting, but it says 'Please do not quote without permission' (oops... sorry.) right at the top of the page.....

Oops, a quote of a quote. Anyway, my point was that there are no quotes from the article in the writeup, just a synopsis.. which I assume would be okay?

I read the article when it first appeared in the submission queue like 5 days ago but now I can't remember what I wanted to say about it if it got posted because it was so long ago :(
M.
[ Parent ]

Even without my bias against the "F... (2.00 / 1) (#1)
by Demona on Sun May 28, 2000 at 01:09:45 PM EST

Demona voted -1 on this story.

Even without my bias against the "Federal Reserve", I don't see anything novel being presented here. Why do people write software and give it away? There are as many reasons as there are people.

What kind of hats are fat-chick sin-party hats? (1.00 / 1) (#32)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon May 29, 2000 at 10:40:54 PM EST

see subj.

[ Parent ]
OT: Re: What kind of hats are fat-chick sin-party (none / 0) (#41)
by Demona on Tue May 30, 2000 at 08:57:53 AM EST

That's Fat Chicks In Party Hats. Dang, one of the more interesting discussions lately and I lack the time to get more deeply involved...

[ Parent ]
+2 interesting; -1 MLP (read it fro... (1.00 / 1) (#16)
by warpeightbot on Mon May 29, 2000 at 01:54:34 AM EST

warpeightbot voted 1 on this story.

+2 interesting; -1 MLP (read it from that Other Site who somehow got it first).

Comments and Criticism (4.30 / 3) (#31)
by kmself on Mon May 29, 2000 at 10:00:46 PM EST

I was pretty excited to see this show up in the submissions queue, though I'll admit I'm a law and econ wonk. Regardless of what the rest of y'all think, having an FRB economist take a look at motivations behind free software is a Good Thing ™. There are a number of economic and organizational behavior studies (you're welcome, Siobhan <g>) into the movement. Interest is good.

Dywer's specific interest in motivations for free software is refreshing. While self-interest, enlightened or otherwise, may not be as honorable as "gift cultures" or other altruistic models, they are IMO rather more dependable. If someone can come up with a descriptive model for free software development which allows for self-interest, the movement gains credibility -- it's not dependent on an enlightened, self-sacrificing class of altruists for its continued evolution. This isn't saying that unbridled greed is good, or that this is the only reason for software development. But greed, suitable bridled, is a powerful motivator.

The point Dwyer makes about modularity being a key success factor in free software is interesting. It's one I've suggested myself, particularly in the July/August IEEE Software response to the editor:

"Open-Source Methodology: Ready for Prime Time?", Steve McConnell
"Response: Open-Source Methods: Peering Through the Clutter", Terry Bollinger, Russell Nelson, Stephen Turnbull, and Karsten Self
July/August, 1999
http://dlib.computer.org/so/books/so1999/pdf/s4006.pdf. (Subscription required)

I see free software as based on six foundations:

  1. A development model: the open source "Bazaar" described by Eric Raymond, which takes advantage of many eyes, tight development cycles, and continuous evolution
  2. A legal framework of free software licensing, including both copyleft (GNU GPL and similar) and less restrictive free licenses.
  3. An economic model which provides sufficient benefit to individuals or firms engaged in development of works not exclusively retained.
  4. A software architechture consisting of largely independent, modular design, allowing individual developers to "wrap their minds" around a given problem, and for code to be readily shareable among different projects.
  5. A widespread, very low cost distribution network. The Internet.
  6. Ready access to reasonably powerful computers with development tools.

Dwyer is focussing on the third point, and it's one that needs to be addressed. I'm largely dissatisfied with existing treatments, particularly ESR's, of free software development incentives. However, the other points should be addressed as well to come up with a comprehensive model of why free software development works [1].

The methodology question has IMO been suitably addressed. I see it as largely an outgrowth of some 30 years of software development methodology best practices, one reason for the dialog with Steve McConnell, who's also authored Code Complete, one of the best and most complete books on the topic.

The legal model is understood, but subject to change with both the legal and computing landscapes, particularly changes in law, and shifts toward either embedded or server-based applications.

The architecture, distribution, and capability prerequisites are also fairly self-explanetory, but also go a way toward explaining why free software exploded when it did, and more to the point didn't explode in the 1980s either in the US, where some level of networking existed, but end-user development was discouraged; or the USSR, where many users were developers, but networking capabilities were limited.

Dwyer's section three somewhat begs the question that most free software development isn't doen for direct compensation. I beg to differ. While compensation may not be directly tied to a piece of free software, I suspect (but don't have the research to prove) that there are at least very strong indirect benefits of development, and that much of it takes place in the context of an enterprise or task which benefits from the results of development.

The argument that independent development may be more efficient than firm-based development is interesting. One of my own speculations is that a large body of free software makes a "free agency" mode of software development more tractable. A good programmer can work on the same code whether paid by firm A or B, and is thus more freely able to choose among job offers, without sacrificing personal enjoyment of time vested in a project. This is a counterargument to the "GPL is bad for programmers" argument made by Brett Glass (and less vociforously by others, including Stig Hackvan's DevLinux).

It's also interesting to see a technical economic justification -- Nash equilibrium -- for the stupid tax [2].

Among examples of similarly constructed "products", Dwyer might do well to consider both language ("collectively" developed, with little direct economic gain) and law, in which both legislation and litigation are not securable private property, but are instead "produced" at considerable expense by trained, skilled, practitioners of the arts. Both examples appear in Bob Young's writings in Open Sources (Ockman, Charles, DiBona, Stone, et al), and his own Under the Radar.

A nit I'll pick. Dwyer's definition of free software is inaccurate, though somewhat benignly so. The point bothers me particularly as we've just had a wonderful instance of a straw-man argument based largely in a redefinition of free as referring to price, not liberty. Treated twice here at K5 (1, 2). Though Dwyer is careful to avoid Meyer's error, he still changes terms as laid out by RMS by defining "free software" as "licensed under the GNU GPL". Though something of a technicality, this bothers me on several points.

  • For starters, it excludes the software licensed under the GNU LGPL.
  • Stallman's own definition is of the four freedoms of software, number 0-3, as found on http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html:

    ``Free software'' refers to the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software

    I have to admit that the distinction between free and open is fairly fine -- I'm inclined to say that "free" is that which meets the four freedoms definition, whereas "open" is that which has been formally approved by the Open Source Initiative's board. While theoretically different, I'm not aware of any OSI compliant licenses which fail the FSF four freedoms test.

    Also, in exploring the relative viabilities of free and proprietary software, pp 11 and 12, there appears to be a typo in the last paragraph p11:

    Conversely, the more divergent the difference in programmers' marginal benefits and costs of writing various parts of the software, the more likely is open source development.

    (Emphasis added)

    By my scan, "less" is "more", or "open" is "closed".

    For everyone who's complained about PDF -- with the exception of the encryption (never bothered me, BTW), PDF is a reasonably good document format. Contrary to popular belief, there are open tools for generating same (though not with all the features of Adobe's own products). It's a good format for distributing drafts of documents as layout, pagination, and location are identical across copies of documents. It's fairly commonly used in technical papers. Unlike PostScript docs, PDFs are generally searchable as well.


    Notes:

    [1] One reason I get so heated about this topic is that I spent much of my first year and a half of "playing" with Linux trying to figure out if it would be a worthwhile career move, a large portion of that question being "is this sustainable?" and "is there money in it?".

    [2] No, the the best of my knowledge I didn't make up the term, but a Google search on "free software" "stupid tax" turns up this as the only relevant result.

    --
    Karsten M. Self
    SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
    Support the EFF!!
    There is no K5 cabal.

On note 2 (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by rusty on Tue May 30, 2000 at 05:04:49 AM EST

Where I'm from, "the stupid tax" is generally understood to mean the Lottery. Also known as the "tax on people who are bad at math". This is a new use of the phrase in my book though.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: Comments and Criticism (2.50 / 2) (#43)
by Alhazred on Tue May 30, 2000 at 09:56:13 AM EST

Any of you recall the scene in Lord of the Rings where Boromir tries to argue Frodo into giving him the ring?

Boromir argues that this great weapon has come into their hands at just the time when they are still strong enough to defeat Sauron with it. He proposes wielding the ring himself.

Frodo responds that the ring is evil, that it is a fundamentally corrupting influence, and that anything built upon that basis, no matter how good the initial intentions of the builder, must eventually become corrupt.

Greed, in the context of a society which has the productive capacity to more than meet everyone's basic needs, is evil. It is a fundamentally corrupting influence. The message of greed is "I deserve more than you". It fundamentally divides people, encourages us to forgoe consideration of others, and rewards narrow minded thinking. It is no coincidence that our republican form of government has been slowly eroded over the years. Greed is funadmentally opposed to any egalitarian ideals. How can a man with 40 billion $ possibly live with himself when other starve to death unless he considers them less human than himself?

We are in a similar position. You dismiss the possibilities of an "economy of plenty" (gift culture) vs an "economy of scarcity" (classical supply and demand economics). You are like Boromir with his dream of wielding the One Ring to good ends. Doomed forever to see whatever you build corrupted.

(and don't dismiss the argument because the analogy is corny, remember, I'm at least as educated as you are...)
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
Re: Comments and Criticism (none / 0) (#48)
by Matthew Guenther on Tue May 30, 2000 at 02:20:42 PM EST

Greed, in the context of a society which has the productive capacity to more than meet everyone's basic needs, is evil. It is a fundamentally corrupting influence. The message of greed is "I deserve more than you". It fundamentally divides people, encourages us to forgoe consideration of others, and rewards narrow minded thinking. It is no coincidence that our republican form of government has been slowly eroded over the years. Greed is funadmentally opposed to any egalitarian ideals. How can a man with 40 billion $ possibly live with himself when other starve to death unless he considers them less human than himself?

While I see your point and appreciate it, I think you are generalizing far too much. The issue of greed being evil is hardly so black and white. While in many instances distasteful, greed is part of the fundamental reason you and I are here today to have this debate, as it is closely related to the survival instinct. The thought "I want to live more than you" is at the heart of both sides of a life and death struggle. According to you anything based on greed is inherintly evil, so we are all inherintly evil and doomed to be corrupted.

As for your point about the $40 billion, if someone walks up to you on the street and has no money, do you split all your money with them equally? I would assume not. Do you then think of this person as less human? I hope not. You can hardly equate someone's greed with their assessment of the value of a human life, or if you do you must apply the same ethic to yourself.

MBG



[ Parent ]
Re: Comments and Criticism (none / 0) (#61)
by Alhazred on Thu Jun 01, 2000 at 01:46:31 PM EST

There are SEVERAL answers to your criticism.

1st you inflated my statement from "Greed, in the context of a society which ... is evil", to "anything based on greed is inherently evil", which does not logically follow from my original statement... In fact the qualifiers were carefully chosen.

As for

As for your point about the $40 billion, if someone walks up to you on the street and has no money, do you split all your money with them equally? I would assume not. Do you then think of this person as less human? I hope not. You can hardly equate someone's greed with their assessment of the value of a human life, or if you do you must apply the same ethic to yourself.

this is what in rhetorical logic is termed "ad hominum". It is irrelevant to the validity of my argument what I do myself. You also assume a lot about my behaviour! You might be surprised to learn that I do actually practice what I preach.

I do understand the core of your argument though. One of the other posters called me nieve and also made a similar argument, invoking the Darwinist/Nietzchean "will to live".

Let me remind you that evolutionary arguments are fraught with all sorts of dangers. For instance if I take up the position held by the "selfish gene" theorists then "survival of the fittest" becomes a much cloudier and more nebulous concept. In that context we see cooperation as being the primary mode of survival. Cooperation between assemblages of complementary coevolving traits. In this light an individual's personal survival can in many cases be a NEGATIVE factor. One wonders at times why the sick and weak seem to marginalize themselves in society. Is it perhaps partly some ancient primeval self-destruct command? "Let your brothers continue the line, they are more fit" perhaps?

To get back to my point on greed I stand by my statement. In the long run any system which allows individuals free scope to amass wealth at the expense of the others is evil. In a society where plenty is available to all for survival there is no moral justification for depriving others. Bill Gates would be no less successful at surviving if he had 4 million, or 400,000 dollars than he is with 40 billion. To me his wealth is no different than the 400 pounds of excess fat I see some guy carrying around, its a sign of ill health.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]

Re: Comments and Criticism (none / 0) (#51)
by CodeWright on Tue May 30, 2000 at 03:13:12 PM EST

How can a man with 40 billion $ possibly live with himself when other starve to death unless he considers them less human than himself?

That billionaire may have a different definition of human than you.

To you, to be human might mean "compassion to all life", to the billionaire, to be human might mean "individual freedom to grow".

Both definitions are fundamentally "decent", but lead to radically different world views.

In that context, you and the billionaire might consider one another "immoral".

YMMV.



--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Forces in opposition (none / 0) (#52)
by kmself on Tue May 30, 2000 at 03:33:27 PM EST

Virtually anything unchecked leads to problems. "Greed" may be bad in your book, but what of yearning, ambition, and desire? Roget's lists these as synonyms. Yes, shades of meaning differ, but the fundamental concept -- filling personal needs -- is the same.

I'm vaguely familiar with the LotR story, though I've not read it myself. If you're familiar with the American style of government, however, you may note that it's based on checks and balances. Each of the three branches (legislative, executive, judicial) is both governed by, and governs, the others. Sort of like a peered network.

My comment was that greed, suitably bridled, was a powerful motivator. You'll find much said of the teaming of greed and fear in the business and investment culture -- a Google search for the terms "fear and greed" and "greed and fear" turns up largely business and investment pages as top hits. It's almost a synonym.

The foundation of the market economy is what Adam Smith called the "Invisible Hand":

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest... [Every individual] intends only his own security, only his own gain. And he is in this led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

He also recognized shortcomings, including the need for publicly-provided goods (including education), and of the power of collusion:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

You can read more, in this fairly critical essay of conservative economics.

Forces in opposition are useful. Unopposed forces are dangerous. And yes, the same force, weilded by different parties, can oppose itself. If you subscribe to Darwinist evolution it's called "the will to live". One organism's life force may align with, or oppose, another's.

While I tend to believe in the free market as a force for general good, I also believe it needs to operate in proper legal and democratic climates as well. The other fight I'm in right now is with a hell-bent-for-leather Libertarian who appears to believe government is the root of all evil. I don't buy either argument.

Interesting post, but naive IMO.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

blah (1.00 / 1) (#33)
by GreenEagle on Tue May 30, 2000 at 01:35:02 AM EST

why does everybody whine about xpdf when there is acrobat reader


Re: blah (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by WWWWolf on Tue May 30, 2000 at 08:13:53 AM EST

Not only the Acrobat Reader is there, but xpdf actually handles PDFs very well.

Actually, it handles my GhostScript-generated PDFs better than Acrobat Reader in some cases =)

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...


[ Parent ]
Re: blah (none / 0) (#45)
by Field Marshall Stack on Tue May 30, 2000 at 11:59:13 AM EST

Not only the Acrobat Reader is there, but xpdf actually handles PDFs very well. Actually, it handles my GhostScript-generated PDFs better than Acrobat Reader in some cases =)
I've always shied away from it, since by default it looks really awful...well, more accurately "more awful than everything else", since my monitor is a puny 14"er. Any tips on getting it set up to display nicely? [OB article (well, sort of)] Rusty mentioned how he believes people will purchase shrinkwrapped OSS should it come in a nice shiny box with a big manual, etc., and I can't agree more. Especially that big manual, which is something that unfortunately seems to be going out of style these days. Of course, if someone buys the software because of the manual, are you selling a product, or is it still support+service? :p
--
Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
"Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
-Peter Tork
[ Parent ]
Re: blah (none / 0) (#46)
by rusty on Tue May 30, 2000 at 12:15:47 PM EST

Since the vast majority of people never actually crack the manual open, even when they buy a product in the store *specifically* to get it, I place that in the "security blanket" business model. It's not really support if they don't read it, so it's mainly there for warm fuzzies. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
a couple reasons (none / 0) (#53)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue May 30, 2000 at 04:31:05 PM EST

There is no Acrobat for PowerPC. I use a PowerPC machine. Thus, I whine when xpdf can't display a resricted PDF.



[ Parent ]

What about quality? (3.50 / 2) (#36)
by costas on Tue May 30, 2000 at 02:21:00 AM EST

This paper was an interesting read on the economics of free software. The comment that particularly got my attention was (paraphrased) that OSS will have the advantage as along as the interests of the developers are convergent with the interests of the users.

It seems to me that the conclusion here is also that the *quality* of OSS is tied to the whim of the developers. That makes me uneasy; I've done QA on real systems (military helicopters) and I am now a software engineer. The difference in QA standards and, most importantly, engineers' attitude towards QA is, frankly, staggering.

I may be off-base here, and correct me if this is the case, but it seems to me that basic quality control and product robustness are not the first things in the minds of software engineers. If this is the case (and again, I hope I am wrong), how can OSS survive, especially in markets where the developers are not immediately hurt by the lack of quality in their software (i.e. they are not "eating their own dogfood")?

More interestingly, it follows that for OSS developers to take time to QC software they are not going to be using daily themselves (i.e. something other than BIND, Sendmail, Apache, and the other big OSS success-stories) they need to be employed by a company that will structure engineering and development along traditional, product-oriented guidelines, including usability testing and QA.

So, all of a sudden, for a consumer-level OSS product to be a competitive one, it has to be a product of a company that has certain overhead costs (rent, supporting personnel, taxation, etc). I.e. an organisation that needs to make money.

Now, assuming that in the current OSS business-models, you cannot sell OSS software but can only charge for services such as support, how can OSS compete at the very low-end of the market, i.e. the consumer level software, where services and support aren't exactly lucrative? And isn't that segment of the market the one that drives most of the PC and software sales?

I guess that the success of Eazel (which actually is trying to make money off of support at the consumer market) will be a bellweather for consumer-level OSS in general...

memigo is a news weblog run by a robot. It ranks and recommends stories.
Re: What about quality? (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by rusty on Tue May 30, 2000 at 04:31:51 AM EST

Good questions. I think we'll be ok, though. :-)

Yes, QA is oft-neglected by OSS developers, especially on small personal projects that are not released to be a "product". Take my project, Scoop, for a characteristic example. I test it heavily on a particular architecture and setup (hint: You're using it right now ;-)). I don't do much cross-platform testing, or testing for cases other than the one that matters to me. I try to provide support and advice to those folks who do want to use it themselves, and take their bug reports and integrate fixes as I am able. This process, however, is not QA. And for this product, it really doesn't matter all that much. Everyone is warned heavily that this is not to be viewed as a reliable or robust product, and they are taking their life and possibly livlihood into their hands just by using it.

Now, what if you're an OSS *company* producing a real product. Take Opensales as an example there. They produce an integrated ecommerce product, which is fully open source. They have a normal corporate structure, with developers, QA, management, the whole 9 yards. Now they've chosen to forgo possible revenue from selling the product in order to reap the benefits of open source development-- bugfixes and input from the community, better security, et al. The revenue from direct software sales of a product like this is actually negligible to begin with, and assigning any monetary value to the OSS development cycle makes the paper loss even less.

Their business model is support and customization, and it will work because it's a non-trivial product. The majority of potential client companies will not be able to, or not want to expend their own resources installing, maintaining and customizing the software. They just want it to work, and make them money. If they have the resources to run the whole system themselves, well, they might not have bought it off the shelf anyway, and if they use Opensales's product, that will just add to the pool of potential developers, thus adding value to the product.

This should make it clear how one type of open source company can support the overhead of a real QA department, even without charging for their software.

The second type of software you mention is the off-the-shelf shrink-wrap type. Right now, the market of people willing to pay for open source desktop software is tiny. Most of the people who run linux now are at least capable fo downloading and installing a free word processor themselves. Nevertheless, as time goes on and more usability software is introduced, and linux on the desktop improves, there will grow a class of user who is not a computer guru. Call it the "Mac factor". They just want their stuff to run, and they don't mind paying for that. When that market becomes large enough, then it will actually be feasable for companies like Helix Code and Eazel to sell their software shrink-wrapped at CompUSA and make money. What I do hope is that low-end open source software makers won't shy from selling pretty boxes at the big chains. There's no reason that can't become a viable business model. I think people have gotten too ingrained in the "service & support" mindset, and have forgotten that there exists a very large class of potential customers who will pay well for the reassurance that a bix pretty box with a nice manual provides them. And in return, we all get better software. A bargain, at any price. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: What about quality? (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by costas on Tue May 30, 2000 at 11:52:34 AM EST

OpenSales is not what I had in mind in that argument: almost by definition, their users (IT departments) will have at least some knowhow and definitely *vested interest* in fixing any bugs in their code. They are riding on the traditional OSS paradigm (like Sendmail or Apache). Helix Code and Eazel (particularly Eazel) however are betting on the "new" approach of making money by selling services to people who _cannot_ fix the code. Will this work in an age when shrink-wrap software is mostly games (most stuff comes preloaded) and you can deploy an application on a "browser platform" like IE5 or Mozilla (look at Blogger, Zope or Active State)? Immediately any needs for support are gone, as the application resides on the server. Revenue has to be from subscriptions or advertising. Most importantly though, *open-sourcing a large web-based application goes against the revenue model*. I am sorry; as much as I like the idea of OSS, I think for pure economic reasons, its place on the consumer level is precarious. OSS will most definitely power the base layers of the platforms of the future (as BSD does in Mac OS X, or Linux will do for the AOL/Gateway appliances), but I do not think it will be up at the "visible" layer where people interact with the machine.

memigo is a news weblog run by a robot. It ranks and recommends stories.
[ Parent ]
Re: What about quality? (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by rusty on Tue May 30, 2000 at 12:23:01 PM EST

No opinion about whether people will buy software in a box just for the reassurance factor of the box and manual themselves? Look at the last paragraph of my post again-- I discuss what your main question was.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: What about quality? (none / 0) (#55)
by Alhazred on Tue May 30, 2000 at 04:53:11 PM EST

Here's the pinch in your argument. Things like Zope are platforms which are designed to allow the creation of applications, which will then be served via the web (or whatever) to end-users. Obviously the people that wrote Zope are in a similar space with the Linux distributors. They figure by making it a standard platform (a "web OS" essentially) that they create a bigger pie from which they can garner support revenue. Applications built with Zope might or might not themselves be open sourced. You can build Linux apps and compile them with GCC and generally speaking not have to open source them either.

HOWEVER there is ALWAYS a need for end-user support, and the OSS argument goes that eventually anything will become commoditized, and the lowest commodity pricing is attained by open source, since it is NEVER true that a closed source system is going to have as many eyeballs on it as an open source one. Eventually, given enough time, the market will stabilize on the OSS implementations.

The quality issue is in a way a non-issue because if you look at it closely what motive does a Microsoft have to produce a quality product? Or innovate? As a matter of fact its been shown time and time again that they will time release of features and tune levels of quality to suite themselves, not the customer. MS gets its revenue in the long run from support, just like anyone else. The quality of an OSS implementation, and more critically its usefulness to the end user is much less closely tied to vested interests.

I guess at this point I'm just recapitulating ESR, but the point is that the model will hold valid, so the theory goes...
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
Re: What about quality? (none / 0) (#62)
by Louis_Wu on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 02:17:27 AM EST

MS gets its revenue in the long run from support, just like anyone else.

I thought that M$ got most of it's revenue from purchases by large companies: IBM upgrading from 95 to NT, from Office 95 to Office 97, because there were so many seats to be had. Evidence for this are the many (too many) "features" which are aimed at large businesses with 100->10000 computers; those features are useless to me as individual, but I can't remove them. M$ thinks of the "Big Customers" when adding "features", and not of each little guy who buys (or doesn't buy) the software.

Louis_Wu

Louis_Wu
"The power to tax is the power to destroy."
John Marshal, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
[ Parent ]

SQA is not what you think it is... (2.50 / 2) (#42)
by Alhazred on Tue May 30, 2000 at 09:20:48 AM EST

I hear this "you software engineers don't understand QA" thing from hardware guys all the time. I worked for a number of years developing software in the avionics industry, and it was a continual refrain (even though we had draconian levels of SQA).

What hardware engineers completely fail to understand is the sheer complexity of software. The number of possible failure modes and test paths for any non-trivial piece of software dwarfs that of even the most complex hardware by orders of magnitude. Furthermore software is intended to operate in a variety of environments and conditions FAR wider than any piece of hardware.

Put it this way, would you expect some mechanic to slap the rotors from your Apache helicopter onto a Huey and expect them to work? Thats what your asking from your software. You expect to be able to run your program on a Linux box say. One which has a different kernel, different compiler, different database to talk to, different C libraries, different file system layout, and potentially any number of variations in shells and command line utilities.

The question is, under those conditions is it WORTH attempting the level of engineering analysis you would for hardware? The market has long since answered that question with a resounding NO.

Its also completely unfair to create a single category called "software". There is not really a whole heck of a lot of similarity between writing firmware to run on the space shuttle, and making a perl script to access your database of evil mother-in-laws...
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
SQA -- apropos what? (none / 0) (#49)
by kmself on Tue May 30, 2000 at 02:24:39 PM EST

Sorry, I don't understand the context of SQA WRT this article. Not that I dispute your points.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Re: SQA -- apropos what? (none / 0) (#54)
by Alhazred on Tue May 30, 2000 at 04:41:29 PM EST

Errrm, well forgive my mental incompetence, it was supposed to be a reply to helicopter guy's comment...

Oops.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
A perfect illustration of how... (none / 0) (#56)
by kmself on Tue May 30, 2000 at 07:26:08 PM EST

...a Wiki-style reparenting might be cool.

Ok.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Calling GPLed software 'free' (2.00 / 1) (#57)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue May 30, 2000 at 11:47:08 PM EST

The PDF format is annoying, I agree. HTML would work for this document. His calling GPL software 'free software' agrees with Stallman's point of view, but not people who find the GPL ideology no form of freedom.

some thoughts by me (5.00 / 1) (#58)
by gdwyer on Wed May 31, 2000 at 10:46:56 AM EST

I have found some very helpful comments in the various notes. Maybe some thoughts of mine would be helpful.

First, on the complaints about pdf. It's a reality of the world in which I live. I write papers for a living and have little recourse if someone steals the text. Pdf raises the cost of their doing so. Making it more costly for a person to change the name and get it published is important. Actually, I have to worry about someone stealing the ideas and not citing me. This would make me and my family worse off. Many of my professional friends will not put a paper on the web until it has been submitted to a journal. So I'm on the risk-taking side of things.

If you cannot use acrobat and read the paper, please send me an e-mail and I will mail you an ascii copy of the paper. I will expect you to agree not to redistribute it without permission.

The request that you not quote the paper is on the title page partly for this reason and partly because the paper is preliminary.

In response to a query by kmself, any of you is free to quote from the current text for the purpose of this discussion if you like.

If you want to quote it somewhere later, let me know because there'll probably be an updated copy.

Second. Some of the comments reflect a basic dislike of how economists think about the world. I'm not sure that I actually can change anyone's mind, but I can't stop myself from trying.

I nowhere assume that people are greedy. Suppose that you work all of your life to support a homeless shelter and the best way for to you to generate income is writing software. That puts you directly in the paper and I think that it's hard to call such a programmer greedy. You can call that programmer greedy if you want, but it's not what most people mean.

Now you can say that you don't like private enterprise. That's a different issue. There's a sense in which I'd agree: it'd be nice if everyone were Mother Theresa. We're not. I personally think that every other arrangement that's feasible with real people is worse, many of them much worse, than private enterprise.

I know of nowhere that you can get away from supply and demand. All it takes is that people have limited time. We can't do everything at once, and even if it didn't matter what you did first, we're not immortal.

Third. The definition of free software. I was trying to avoid this issue in the paper, and it was a mistake.

Zero monetary price is not the issue. Many economists hear "free software" and they think zero monetary price and then say "big deal". And they're right. Zero monetary price is no big deal. For that matter, you got my paper for zero monetary price.

For some people, "free software" is tied into "freedom" and "liberty". I am not writing a paper on freedom, anarchy or anything related. I was trying to avoid people having an emotional reaction to a loaded term. I do not want to write a piece to marshal the troops to defeat the evil empire, so I wanted to avoid emotionally laden terms. I want to answer a question that I find interesting.

The basic purpose of the paper as currently written is to answer a question that I puzzled over for quite a while. It wasn't me alone. Al Stevens wrote in Dr. Dobbs: "How does a programmer make a living doing this?" (quote from memory although it basically was this question.) "Is it only viable for college students?" would be one extreme way of asking the question. It's obvious that some people have done well for themselves from Linux and Apache. How about everybody else, those people who don't get newspaper and magazine articles written about them? What do they do?

Still, one has to define what one is talking about. I think that kmself has hit on the best definition for use in my paper. Note: I am defining "free sofware" for the purpose of this paper and not to distinguish between "free software" and "unfree software".

He suggests, from

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html:

``Free software'' refers to the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and
improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of
the software

I think that this definition works for the question that I want to ask. I would substitute "legal right" for "freedom" in the above.

Fourth, the paper has not been edited a lot, so it's not as clear as it could be.

Fifth and related to four probably. I do think that people can get paid for writing software related to free software and even for writing code that is contributed to a free software pool. As I understand it, and I'm not well connected enough to have been able to acquire much information, people who wrote Apache were setting up web sites. Collaboration made it faster.

From an economist's standpoint, a question that has to be asked is the following:
Suppose that I do pay someone to improve Apache and make it work better for our firm? Why would I want the programmer to give the code to my competitors? This is where the "stupid tax" (as it's been called here) comes in. It is worthwhile to get the code integrated with other code so that the code doesn't have to be modified with every distribution. Hence, it can be an equilibrium for firms to contribute code that makes their competitors' web sites better.

This does not resolve all the issues raised in the paper, but I think that it is the big one.

Jerry


An Economist/Programer writes on Open Source | 62 comments (62 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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