Re: Obsolesence of Intellectual Property

From: Matt Gingell (
Date: Thu Aug 03 2000 - 18:40:44 MDT

On Thu, 03 Aug 2000, Michael S. Lorrey wrote:
>mjg223 wrote:

>> I write a piece of software and give it away, free of charge, to anyone
>> who can use it. I have things I'd rather spend my afternoon doing than
>> setting it up on your PC but for a few bucks - sure - I'll give you a
>> hand.
>> Obviously I'm a hacker-leach, victimizing the clueless.
>No, you aren't. The people who don't hire you to help them are
>benefitting from the fact that you only bill the clueless for your time,
>thus the clueless are subsidizing the software of those who don't need
>help with it. What you are practicing is a reverse sort of technological
>socialism, where the people with the intellectual capital (the hackers)
>pay the least, while the intellectually poor (the newbie) pays the most.
>Its a highly regressive tax system, which is odd coming from people who
>tend to be socialists politically.

That's a fairly twisted way of looking at the world, and while internally
coherent it has nothing to do with reality.

Most free software is written by hobbiests - there is no 'cost', no more than
fooling around in your garage woodshop constitutes capital expenditure which
has to be recouped. If you get a kick out of of building spice racks, if it's
something you enjoy doing in your free time, and you have a magic wand for
duplicating them at zero cost, why not just be a nice guy and give them away?
If some one offers you $20 to nail one up in his kitchen, he's not subsidizing
anything, he's buying a non-free service that you're unable to provide him at
zero cost. Very few people are lucky enough to make a living doing free
software - most have day jobs. We hack on things it's fun to hack on, and
when we come up with something neat, we send in a patch.

Most free software support is bought by large companies working on large
projects, not struggling individuals. If I'm writing software with gcc, I need
someone who can fix bugs I find, add capabilities I need, and port it to
platforms I need to support. If a critical system runs Linux, I need someone to
call when it goes down and someone who can configure it so it doesn't. If I
want to serve thousands of hits per second on an Apache webserver, it's worth
my while to have it set up by someone who really knows the ins and outs of that
particular piece of software. When we talk about support as a business model,
we're not talking about 900 numbers for struggling newbies, we're talking about
businesses for whom it doesn't make sense to maintain the relevant talent in
house. If anyone's subsidizing free software, it's corporate users.
>> > RedHat still has to pay its programmers to produce code. Instead of
>> > making everyone pay their fair share of the cost of producing that
>> > code that everyone benefits from, they make the newbies pay for it
>> > all.

I don't know who these people are. People buying Redhat with support for about
what they'd spend on Windows? If you don't have the background to get
anything out of Linux after 90 (?) days of support, it probably isn't the right
tool for the job you're trying to get done. Qualified people picking up phones
aren't free. Till AI, we're just going to have to deal with that.

>> Linux was built on support money, unfairly extracted from unjustly
>> burdened, exploited newbies? Gcc and the Gnu tool set? X-Windows? Kde and
>> Gnome? Apache? What the hell are you talking about?
>Something that anyone with an ounce of understanding of how business
>work would understand.

I work full time for a free software company, Ada Core Technologies. (Whom I
don't speak for and so on.) We maintain Gnat, the Gnu Ada compiler. It's
how I make my living. I suspect I know more about the free software business
than you do.


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