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Article:
  What Is Free Software
Subject:   End of small software houses?
Date:   2008-09-08 06:39:50
From:   dotcom99
An interesting summary of the history of the Open Source movement.


What's also interesting however is that like most accounts of the merits of free software, it fails to take into account the perspective of the small business that produces software.


Intellectual property law does provide protection for the software producer, not just subsidising distribution. To produce and market a piece of software requires a considerable investment of time and money. Businesses that make their living writing software will be unable to justify that investment if they are unable to commercially exploit their invention.


Open source projects are run by volunteers who apparently have no need to make a living and have considerable time on their hands. (A study of the demographics and motivations of this group would certainly make interesting reading). Small businesses and freelancers in the software business unfortunately have no such freedom and in proportion to the rise of the OSI movement, will start to go out of business, or to move to other arenas.


As someone that makes an independent living out of writing software, my view on free software is that I will start writing it for nothing when builders start building houses for nothing, banks stop charging interest, farmers produce food for nothing, and when all other businesses that currently charge me for their services deliver them to me free of charge and gift-wrapped every month.

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  • Re: End of small software houses?
    2008-09-08 08:28:44  Karl Fogel | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    It is not the responsibility of the free software movement, or for that matter of the government, to ensure the continued success of any particular business model.

    The fact that free software does get produced refutes your assertion that in theory it shouldn't get produced. And it's not all done by volunteers, by the way; in fact, I'm not even sure it's mostly volunteers. I've made my living from free software for many years, as have many people I know. The economics of this are straightforward: there are organizations in whose interests it is to have the software maintained and developed, and they're willing to pay for that.

    There are several studies of the "demographics and motivations" of free software developers. Did you try searching? (Perhaps using Google, whose servers run free software, thus providing an example of one company in whose interests it is to support certain free software projects -- which Google does, with donations of both money and developer time.)

    You write:

    "Small businesses and freelancers in the software business unfortunately have no such freedom and in proportion to the rise of the OSI movement, will start to go out of business, or to move to other arenas."

    If by that you mean small business and freelancers who make their money from royalties (that is, by selling restrictively-licensed copies of their software), then yes, you're probably correct.

    When the cash register was invented, thousands of skilled professionals gradually lost their jobs: humans who had learned to do quick arithmetic in their heads and made a good living as cashiers. I do not deny that this was upsetting for them, but are you suggesting that the invention of the automatic cash register was therefore somehow conceptually wrong?

    Free software works. As a result, you may need to find a new business model. I wish you luck! Consider getting involved in a free software project; from a purely professional standpoint, that has worked very well for me and for other people I know.
    • Re: End of small software houses?
      2008-09-08 15:05:49  Karl Fogel | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      See

      http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=10477&mode=toc (http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=10477&mode=toc)

      ...for example. (Thanks to Gabriella Coleman (http://gabriellacoleman.org/blog/?page_id=531) for supplying that example; she has also written on this topic.)

      -Karl