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Article:
  Freedom or Power?
Subject:   Both.
Date:   2001-08-21 06:00:29
From:   tesseractyl
The two views presented so far both have merit, in my humble opinion, and are presented with conviction.


However, I'm sure that with some careful thought, a solution can be found that offers the best of both worlds. My perspective on the product / non-product debate is this: Software is neither. I view writing software as a service that can be provided to not just one user, but to many. True, software is an abstract construct which is largely based on the work that has gone before, but this use of existing knowledge is true for almost any product. In fact, the chair you are presumably sitting on is a product of rules of thumb that have been used for thousands of years, design philosophes that age in the hundreds of years, using materials, processes and design techniques that are probably decades old. But no-one I know would deny the designer payment for its design (unless its REALLY uncomfortable).


I think there should be limits on the power of software companies though. Undeniably, software is not a concrete asset which has intrinsic value, and anyhow, companies should not be allowed to hold users to ransom with exclusively rental systems, obstructive market tactics and plain shoddy products. Also, whichever view is adopted by a company, they should be self-consistent: if the software is "product" (that can be sold as such) it should be usable on any system belonging to a private user (I refer to 'original machine' licences here). Also, warranties and refunds for defective or inadequate software should be offered and honored as with any other 'product'. If the software is not a "product", with all the responsibilities that supply of a product entails for the supplier, it should be free, and preferably open-source : if the supplier won't fix problems, the users should be allowed to do so.


As a final thought: What (besides paranoia and critical trade secrets (ie: paranoia) -- NB: piracy is going to happen anyway) is to prevent the release of full or partial source as part of every package, regardless of pricing?

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  • Both.
    2001-11-23 04:35:40  paulprescod [View]

    "I think there should be limits on the power of software companies though. Undeniably, software is not a concrete asset which has intrinsic value, and anyhow, companies should not be allowed to hold users to ransom with exclusively rental systems, obstructive market tactics and plain shoddy products."

    When you say "should not be allowed", what do you mean? Should not be allowed by whom? If Levi's jeans wants to move to a rental model from a sale model should they be disallowed by government? If not, why should Microsoft be disallowed? Should Levi's be allowed to sell shoddy jeans? If so, shouldn't Microsoft be similarly allowed?

    "As a final thought: What (besides paranoia and critical trade secrets (ie: paranoia) -- NB: piracy is going to happen anyway) is to prevent the release of full or partial source as part of every package, regardless of pricing?"

    I'm in favor of wider availability to source code but there are reasons a company might choose otherwise. One is algorithmic secrets (trade secrets is too strong of a word because binary code can be reverse engineered).

    Another is embarrasing comments in the code: "this really sucks...fix it later." Another is indications of future product directions. Another is security through obscurity (which is sometimes better than nothing). A company may also wish for their customers to think that their product is more complicated than it is (especially if it was developed in a high level language or uses some other similar advantage).

    Finally, a company may want to have exclusive power over upgrades and fixes. You could imagine a situation where a competitor to Microsoft Word starts out as a series of patches TO Word. Over time it grows into a genuine competitor.

    If the advantages of source to the user are strong enough then vendors may one day be forced to give up these benefits of closed source in order to satisfy customer demand. But customers seem not to care much.