RE: Into the Belly of the Beast (ESR at MS)

Robert S. Thau (
Mon, 5 Jul 1999 10:13:08 -0400 (EDT)

Koen Holtman writes:
> [...]
> > While I enjoyed his engineering culture stuff, I, and most
> > others IMHO, were unconvinced of the OSS business models he was
> > proposing.
> Me too. After reading ESR's latest paper I am actually less convinced
> than before that business models and free sofware development have
> anything to do with each other.

Which was actually one of the main points of the paper... most
software (he claims) is written by companies that don't think of
themselves as being in "the software business" at all, and those
companies have an interest in distributing at least those portions of
the software they write which don't reveal any critical secrets ---
since the alternatives are maintaining the stuff themselves
indefinitely, or buying it, and leaving themselves at the mercy of a
commercial software industry which hasn't, historically, been very
good at post-sale, end-user support.

A corrollary of (at least this portion of) Raymond's argument is that
even if free software has a bright future, the "free software
business" may not...

> I find this tendency of trying to recast
> everything of value into a business model (mind you not economic model)
> rather strange and one-sided. Being from the old continent I sometimes
> wonder whether this is a disease particular to the US.

The real disease is the tendancy to view all *relationships* as
business relationships, including doctor-patient and
citizen-to-government ("Why should I pay for the schools? I haven't
got any kids" --- yes, folks, Americans really do talk like this!)

Still, you've put your finger on a prominent symptom --- There's a
group at the Harvard Law School which is trying (among other things)
developing free courseware; they speak openly, and without apparent
awareness of the irony, about strategies for convincing the University
administration that what they're doing is in harmony with the school's
"business model". Yikes.

But, as I said, Raymond's latest essay goes out of its way to
acknowledge that a lot of free software development happens in
companies that *don't* have it as a central part of their business
model, and to describe their incentives...