Sanding our assholes with 150 grit.

When nobody wants to pay for software, who will write it?

Philo said:

"What is the sustainable model that makes free software work? When nobody wants to pay for software, who will write it?"


I actually, seriously do not understand the question. people/companies have always been willing to pay for software that they need one way or another...sure they aren't willing to pay for software that they need and can get free, but 100000's of programmers have been writing code for decades and yet personally I dont feel that all the software we need is anywhere remotely close to being written.
I have no doubt, none at all, that there will always be companies and customers out there wlling to pay for something they need, dont have, and cannot get anywhere else.
I *also* have no doubt that there will *always* be software that people need, dont have, and cannot get anywhere else.
Permalink FullNameRequired 
March 19th, 2005
Actually, nearly all of the software I have developed in my professional life has been closed source... some of it has been based on Open Source software, some has not.
Permalink KC 
March 19th, 2005
What KC said. For 4 years I was a consumer of open source software, writing and porting closed source on top of it and delivering the product.

OSDL helps drive open source development - founded by IBM, HP, CA, Intel, and NEC. One way to think of this, perhaps, is that open source is the friend/ally of companies that deliver goods other than pure software. And perhaps the enemy of those who provide "only software" (no hardware).

So along comes a University that gets government funding to perform project A. The Uni decides that project A should be GPL'd. Microsoft objects "that is anti-competetive", since they cannot use said GPL software (which is in fact false, they are free to use it under the license like all others). IBM may use it, NEC may use it, I know of at least 3 start ups with good revenue streams in Kirkland WA using GPL'd software.

OpenOffice is a unique project in that it is "terminal". That is, you don't typically use OpenOffice to enable something else. The Linux kernel and GNU CC/libs enable IP and ATM routers, VoIP and WAP's for home, set top boxes, PDA's etc. OpenOffice enables nothing like this. Even Mozilla browsers, while desktop apps, can be (are) used in portable devices.

Just my opinion, but the desktop application market is very mature. The real missing ingredient is some kind of good group-ware thing - but I wonder if that is just a pipe dream. Outlook is the dominant corporate group-ware application, even though nobody thinks of it as such. Most people don't want a real group ware app, because given one, they would NEVER get any work done.

So, is there an answer to the question? IBM and cohorts will pay for opensource by funding it. Other companies foster contributions because it enables their products. I just met a guy whose company employs Andrew Morton, the 2.6 kernel maintainer.

Philo, its a model that Microsoft has yet to understand. Opensource does not need to turn a profit. There are not 10,000 hungry mouths who depend on a line of OSS prjects to succeed.
Permalink hoser 
March 19th, 2005
> What is the sustainable model that makes free
> software work?

It's like barn raising. If your neighbors will help you then it is sustainable. Once they stop it isn't. It doesn't need a model because it's not trying to be anything.
Permalink son of parnas 
March 19th, 2005
Well, part of the problem are skinflint mismanagers. Very few managers have a clue what software development really costs. The long (60-90 hour) weeks, the 7-day per week scheduling are all part of that lack of clueness.

We currently have a situation in most companies where the company doesn't want to pay for software, yet it still gets done. We call them "Death Marches."
Permalink Peter 
March 19th, 2005
A few random thoughts on this topic:
- Joel has pointed out that you can make more money selling packaged software than services, because services don't scale. One guy can write a software package and sell it to lots of people, earning as much money as he can sell product; but one guy can only work 2000 hours a year. (of course, he can also do both, unless there's no way to sell software)

-Ian Mead writes UltraEdit in his spare time, and sells it at $40/copy. By putting effort into it and maintaining it, he sees incremental revenue, but growing revenue. Now imagine John Doe, a college student, writes FreeEdit, which he bases on UltraEdit's functionality, except John gives it away.

What's the end result? Ian drops UltraEdit - nobody is buying it because FreeEdit is, well, free. But what is the endgame on FreeEdit? John graduates from college and - makes money how? Is he going to keep writing code for FreeEdit for free? What's the incentive to do so? What if FreeEdit grows (feature requests) and he can't keep up with it? He throws it on SourceForge and everyone crosses their fingers?

- So many complaints on JoS about programmers not being valued or not being paid "what they're worth." Yet so many programmers don't seem to be willing to pay for the work of *other* programmers. Seems hypocritical to complain about being treated as one treats others.

- I think it's funny that IBM are suddenly the good guys. You folks need to talk to hackers from the 70's.

- IBM's business model is to give away software, then sell services. Look critically at this model - where is the incentive to make the software easier to implement and manage? Oracle makes half their income off Global Services, and their management tools sucked until Microsoft started taking market share due to ease of management (and lower pricing). Ten years ago the concept of "self-tuning databases" would've paled the faces of Oracle Execs, because that would hurt their support revenues.

A SERVICES ORGANIZATION HAS ALMOST ZERO INCENTIVE TO MAKE THEIR SOFTWARE EASIER TO MANAGE. Shrinkwrap vendors (for whom support costs money) have massive incentive to make their software easier to use. I've posted in the past that when asking why MS does something, ask the question "does it reduce support calls" - if the answer is "yes" then you know why.

- Check out linuxrouter.org. Poster child for "I'll work on open source software and leverage that into a paying job."
A quote from the site: "My many contributions to the computing community has reaped very little personal benefit for myself. As I now struggle to pay the bills I can not help but feel quite pissed off at the state of affairs, for myself and the other authors who contributed massive amounts of time and quality work, only to have it whored by companies not willing to give back dime one to the people that actually created what it is they sell. Acknowledgement and referral would have at least been acceptable. Few companies do even that."

Personally, as someone who has truly enjoyed writing code for money for almost ten years, I think the free software aspect of the open source movement is seriously hurting software developers - we're screwing ourselves, and nobody's going to realize it until it's over and done with.

My $.02

Philo
Permalink Philo 
March 19th, 2005
Well said Philo.

The same sentiment can be applied to music and movies too.
Permalink Kent 
March 19th, 2005
Philo,

The endgame of the UltraEdit/FreeEdit seems pretty obvious. If John Doe, the college student, is unable to keep up with FreeEdit development, there are two potential outcomes: either more people will help out (pro bono or paid), or his customers will switch to another, better program. Maybe it will be open source too, or maybe it will be commercial.

But fundamentally, that's not really a "problem" with open source software. In the macroeconomic sense, competition is a good thing. Market destabiliztion is a good thing. Choice is a good thing. If John Doe has the time to create a product better than UltraEdit, *and* he wants to give it away, why shouldn't he? No one's forcing him to do so. No one's forcing UltraEdit customers to switch. It's just another product out there, and the option to use it might make some people happier.
Permalink Ryan 
March 19th, 2005
Reading Ryans post just made me think:

"When nobody wants to pay for water, who will bottle it?"
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 19th, 2005
Philo worries about free software destroying programmers' jobs. But I think Philo is making the kind of the mistake that many governments often make, and believing cause and effect to be the exact opposite of what they really are.

If we want to create and sustain jobs for programmers, it should be illegal for anyone to charge for software. That's so important I'll repeat it: IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL FOR ANYONE TO CHARGE FOR SOFTWARE.

Fundamentally, charging for copies of programs is immoral. When a copy of a program is made, there is almost zero reproduction cost. So obviously you can't charge for ownership of something that is virtually free, any more than you can charge for ideas. If you can't charge for ownership, charge a license fee for use. But charging people a license fee to use something that is free to copy is extortion. It takes a market-distorting legal framework to support it; the practice of licensing software could never survive in a free and unregulated market.

How is it that companies like IBM have ponsed of the backs of the people who wrote open source libraries and profited from it? It is because they are legally allowed to charge for software. The only people who benefit from software charging are the fat cat executives who cream the money off the top of companies and retire to a life of luxury without ever writing a line of code. If software charging were illegal, then companies would have to find a more ethical business model.

Now you ask: if charging for software were made illegal, who would write the software? Well the need for software will always exist. All the businesses who need software would have to employ their own people to write the software in-house. Any time the freely available software does not meet their exact needs, they will have to employ programmers to customize it and adapt it. Lots of companies would have to employ lots of programmers because companies like Microsoft wouldn't exist and off-the-shelf solutions wouldn't be available. What this alternate universe would have instead of a Microsoft would be an abandance of data interchange and component interoperability standards. Since everyone's custom components would have to cooperate with everyone else's custom components this would be vital.

One thing is for sure though: if it were illegal to sell shrink-wrapped software for more than the cost of the packaging, there would be a *lot* more programming jobs in the world.

Does this argument make sense?
Permalink Ian Boys 
March 19th, 2005
Humorous.

If charging for ideas is wrong, then, as an egineer, that puts me out of a job. No one can write my paycheck. I cannot design the bridge, but I'm allowed to pour the cement. I cannot design the circuit, only build it?

"Fundamentally, charging for copies of programs is immoral. When a copy of a program is made, there is almost zero reproduction cost."

OK, look. I'm into flamebait on strictly political lines today. No need to start a 2-front war. Especially since I'm on the OSS side of the argument. Shoot self in groin - except that this groin of an argument needs shot. Oh the misery.

Hey, that dude with the whining linux router page seems to be taking alot of credit for stuff he never wrote. The linux router market would be booming if he had never existed. Linksys has no apparent ties to him or his work. Linux set tops are booming - lemme tell ya, he wasn't there.
Permalink hoser 
March 19th, 2005
So lemme get this straight.

If a company wants to hire a hundred programmers to produce some whizbang in-house software, it should be able to do so.

But if a company wants to hire an outside company employing a hundred programmers to produce some whizbang software...that should be illegal unless the outside company donates its services?

Sounds a tad bit half-baked to me.

But then I'm biased because I make a living programming.
Permalink Kyralessa 
March 19th, 2005
"But charging people a license fee to use something that is free to copy is extortion."

Wow. Ian just single-handedly destroyed over a thousand years of human advancement.

Why pay any more for books than the paper they are made of? Why pay more than $.50 for a CD? Why pay more than a few pennies to watch a movie?

Ian, many people create artistic works for the joy of doing so. However, to some degree, people also create artistic works in hopes of profiting from them.

Creative works - things that can be made once and sold often, are the bedrock of "making it" - being able to become wealthy. What's more, it's something that generally benefits everyone - people pay for a copy of a book, and get enjoyment from the book. People pay for a movie ticket, and get enjoyment from the movie (usually). People pay money for software, and gain utility or enjoyment from the software - these are bargained-for exchanges.

The cool part about being able to mass produce creative works is that while each person is paying a few dollars, the aggregate is a significant sum, and someone gets a little richer.

But if you honestly want legislation stating that copyright=public domain, you've made us all a lot poorer. Then there's no incentive to create, no incentive to distribute, no incentive to pursue a creative line. Bill Watterson would've drawn a few cartoons about a boy and his stuffed tiger, maybe posted them on the web, and have been done with it.

A lot of people go to jobs they hate so they can pursue the things they love. But being able to support oneself off creative works gives something to strive for - the opportunity to have a job they love.

And you want to take that away, because you don't want to pay others for the work they do.

Here's a thought - why don't you just do the creative stuff you like to do, distribute it for free, and refuse to pay for the creative works of others? But if others want to pay for it, who are you to tell us not to? You can live the ethics you espouse today, with no help from anyone else. I say you go for it.

Philo
Permalink Philo 
March 19th, 2005
Philo -

I can't tell if you've read my position that Free libraries are a good thing. If you have, I won't restate it here - I'd just like to know your opinion. If you haven't, would you like me to restate?
Permalink Aaron F Stanton 
March 19th, 2005
Kyrallessa: You can pay people for their time and expertise in performing work to your benefit. You can have a contract that says "You do X for me, and I will pay you $Y for your services." That is how things should work in the world.

Philo: The software industry doesn't operate in the manner of creative works. I am an engineer, and I get paid for my time and expertise. But in common with all employees everywhere, I don't keep the rights to my creative output. Those rights are given over in their entirety to my employer. The world truly doesn't recognize the creative aspect of technological pursuits.

So maybe the intellectual arena should work in the same way as the artistic arena, and there should be a legal framework to enforce it. If I am an artist or an author, I keep the copyright in my work, even if I give specific rights to a publisher to reproduce and distribute it.

Maybe programming works *should* be treated as creative expression. The original output of programmers should automatically belong to the authors, and there should be legal remedies to prevent plagiarism. As it stands, we have a broken patent system that hinders creativity by allowing companies to fence off common property and claim that they own it. Just imagine if someone was allowed to patent moody backlighting, or slow zoom shots, or fade outs, and claim that anyone else producing a movie with such effects was infringing intellectual property rights?

I have not just destroyed over 1000 years of human advancement. I have destroyed maybe 100-200 years of regression. In the old days, artists didn't get rich from mass production of art works. Art works were single pieces. If people wanted art, they paid artists to make it for them. There was an extensive system of patronage to support this.

Philo, you said: 'Creative works - things that can be made once and sold often, are the bedrock of "making it" - being able to become wealthy.' This is false thinking. Except in rare cases, you or I don't become wealthy from doing this; others profit at our expense. All we get are a few breadcrumbs from the table. Wealth is *created* by blood, sweat and toil. Wealth is *accumulated* by exploiting the gullibility of others. There is a difference, and many people don't realise it.
Permalink Ian Boys 
March 19th, 2005
<Philo>
- So many complaints on JoS about programmers not being valued or not being paid "what they're worth." Yet so many programmers don't seem to be willing to pay for the work of *other* programmers. Seems hypocritical to complain about being treated as one treats others.
</Philo>

I've followed your past statements about programmers not valuing the work of other programmers when we ask if free software is available that fulfills some need.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but you're overlooking one thing. There are those of us who do not subscribe to the FOSS ideology but are willing nonetheless to take advantage of the _suckers_ that do. ;-)
Permalink Cowboy coder 
March 19th, 2005
Well, some guys believe in government protection; socialist policies like patents and copyright. They must hate the free market, what can you say?

China's still communist, and doing fine though, why don't they go there? "Komrade?"
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 19th, 2005
Interesting idea, Ian. Consider: Let's suppose that, based on my time and labor, it costs, oh, $50,000 for me to write a word processor. Now if I sell it for $50, I can recoup those costs after 1000 people buy it. If any more people buy it after that, I make a profit.

But it seems that by your logic, the first person to buy it should pay $50,000 and all the rest should pay nothing.

Or am I missing something?
Permalink Kyralessa 
March 20th, 2005
Alternatively you could buy a large Sun network and get a word processor for free;-)

The reality is it's not either/or - there's room for both funding models. In many fields there was Open software before there was commercial - as I said earlier wiki predates Sharepoint yet Philo's working. And the open release of software from a CERN project to allow research notes to be cross referenced seems to have created quite a few jobs.

Whilst I can see that if your direct competitor is free it can be a bit of a pain in the arse - but that is principally a marketing issue and one our landlord seems to have surmounted. Back to the marketing 101 and the bit about choosing your market segment.
Permalink a cynic writes... 
March 20th, 2005
Kyralessa, that is an interesting question. It would be a reasonable for 1000 people to form a cooperative and contract someone to create a word processor to their specs for $50,000. They would get to say what features they wanted, they would have a right to ask for bugs to be fixed, and they would get to own the program they have contracted and paid for. Ownership means that after the work was completed, they would be free to do with it what they will. They could give it away to others, or not, according to their wishes. But probably not: "Why should we give away the result of this work we have paid for? Go pay for your own word processor!"

Compare with the typical EULA for shrink-wrap, where you basically agree to hand over money in return for no rights, and the vendor promises to accept no liability or responsibility for the work.
Permalink Ian Boys 
March 20th, 2005
Any published author knows that no matter how many copies are sold they will never make the same amount as the publishing company, the marketing companies, the agents, the accountants or the lawyers.

Authors rarely write solely for the revenue from the copies sold. Publishers sell acreage of paper (they may have all sorts of ideals and principles as well).

And in this I agree, surprisingly enough, with Richard Stallman, copyright was something invented by printers for the purpose of printers (who in its creation became publishers).

The creation of a proprietary software package is not anything like the creation of a car it is much more like the production of a motion picture.

The argument about Ultraedit is specious. Both Philo and I are users of Ultraedit and long time users but I'm stuck on version 9.10a it would be trivial for me to pay for the upgrade and go on to version 11 but so far I don't need any of the feature changes and as my copy hasn't rusted I don't need to get a shiny new version.

---- As this has become so long I've taken the whole posting and put it on the blog instead, click the name if you want to perservere. -----
Permalink Simon Lucy 
March 20th, 2005
I agree with Ian to some extend. In a world without shrinkwrap, there would be more need for programmers, not less. Shrinkwrap is about the only massively successfull "reuse" technology around.

However
- the typical work environment of the programmer would be (even more?) shitty, since they are all pure "cost centers", and not valued as primary value creators, or end up living of the public trough in .gov, .org or .edu seats (although this second option can be quite plush, if you are so inclined, but I can't see any bright future in this)
- There would be no startup "escape hatch", from the wage slave existance. Deflate those dreams of making it bigtime riding your brilliant software idea. Multipliers are incompatible with the ideology ( http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm ). It pusts "power" into the hands of persons other than the "proletariat".
- since all revenue comes from service & support, there is 0 incentive for "progress". Why invent a better motor when you are only living of the oil changes?
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
March 20th, 2005
>Why invent a better motor when you are only living of the oil changes?

Well, it would be hard to find a real innovation in the automobile industry since the late 1920s. Rotary engine? Probably. Fuel injection? nope. Cruise control? nope. Radio? nope. Boatloads of chrome? yep. Unibody? I don't think so. Windshield wipers? no. Delayed windshield wipers? yes. Headlights that turn when the steering wheel is turned? yes.

There was incredible innovation in the automobile industry until the late 1920s, and the great depression killed off what little remained. Thanks to marketing. They only wanted to do what was "safe." Just like hollywood today. Nothing innovative, at least not more often than once per generation. Just f*ed up remakes of the same old s*t.

Are japanese cars better than american cars? Not really. The japanese assemble them better. Workmanship and craftmanship is very high on their value system. Here in the states, those 2 have been tossed onto the dustheap. It is quite fashionable to blame american workers for crappy american cars, until american workers assemble japanese cars, then omfg! they're grrrrrreaaaaat!
Permalink Peter 
March 20th, 2005
"Well, it would be hard to find a real innovation in the automobile industry since the late 1920s."

I'm sure people would be thrilled when I swap out their 2005 era engine for a good old '20's block.

Now back to the program. If money is in support & services, where is the incentive to make things require less support or services? Where is the incentive to "just make it work"?
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
March 20th, 2005
What's the incentive of shrinkwrap to ever write a completed product? Or keep version compatibility?

Gotta keep them customers on the upgrade treadmill. By hook or by crook.
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 20th, 2005
No product is ever "complete". Things continue to change, hopefully for the better. Every version has to compete with all its competition, the fiercest will probably be its own previous version.
The incentive for being compatible with its previous incarnation is to allow for rolling upgrades. When the product is in an initial adoption phase this does not matter so much. You just make sure you can read in all your competitions' formats (so that includes your own previous versions), and run on growth to roll out changes. When the market becomes saturated, you are going to face the more difficult challenge of moving your customer base to the new versions. You want to make that as smooth as possible, so no more one ways, but easy integration into the existing setting.
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
March 21st, 2005
BTW, the biggest differentiator between the OSS and COTS worlds from a customer perspective is not so much the Open Source aspect, but subscription vs. product sales. OSS is subscription by definition, since there is no product to sell. COTS also wants to go towards subscription, since operatings based on selling a utility product that does wear out into a saturated market is proving to be a challange.
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
March 21st, 2005
There's a lot of evidence that Microsoft plays upgrade treadmill games. Let's just take Joel Spolsky:

"I don't see a lot of innovation (with the core Office product). And what I do see is a lot of churning - like new XML file formats. It's like cars. The newer models look a little bit different. You might want the newer one for the fashion."
http://www.microsoft-watch.com/article2/0,1995,1681964,00.asp

"With all due respect to my friends on the Office team, I can't help but feel that there hasn't been a useful new feature in Office since about 1995. Many of the so-called "features" added since then, like the reviled ex-paperclip and auto-document-mangling, are just annoyances and O'Reilly is doing a nice business selling books telling you how to turn them off."
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000017.html

"The Internet Explorer team seems to have disappeared; they have been completely missing in action for several years. There's no way Microsoft is going to allow DHTML to get any better than it already is: it's just too dangerous to their core business, the rich client."
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/APIWar.html
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 21st, 2005
In particular, his "Good Software Takes Ten Years. Get Used To it" article:

"So, it takes a long time to write a good program, but when it's done, it's done. Oh sure, you can crank out a new version every year or two, trying to get the upgrade revenues, but eventually people will ask: 'why fix what ain't broken?'"
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000017.html
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 21st, 2005
The advances of e.g. Word aren't so much in the "writing a letter" department, as they are in the intergation area. ISV's would just LOVE to have their whole client base on Office 2003. It's a completely different platform from what was there before with lots more integration opportunities.
Problem is it is hard to get customers to switch office suits for any one (external) application, when what they traditionally use an office suit for is writing docs and spreadsheets, and that was "good enough" before.

As I said, unless you are in a growth market scenario, you better find a way of getting recurring revenue from existing customers, or face extiction. Subscriptions make recurring revenue "predicatable" and required. Products don't dy. Subscriptions time out. "Treadmill", "By hook or by crook", all the same thing.
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
March 21st, 2005
----"Problem is it is hard to get customers to switch office suits for any one (external) application, when what they traditionally use an office suit for is writing docs and spreadsheets, and that was "good enough" before."---

Yea, they keep the Armani for important customers.

He nose he rote it write
His spell chequer tolled him sow.
Permalink Stephen Jones 
March 21st, 2005

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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