Re: [unrev-II]MS exec: Open-source approach is flawed - ZDNet Discussion Zaplet

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Fri May 04 2001 - 17:26:07 PDT

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    Eric Armstrong wrote:
    > For any organization hoping to grow and prosper as a
    > *software* producer, however, an open source release
    > obviates the "intellectual property" advantage which is
    > the basis for the product's benefit.
    I note, too, that an open source release can kill an
    entire industry, by making a "semi-ok" version available
    for so little, that competitors have no incentive to
    enter the arena, with the long term result of producing
    better and better solutions.

    In the A:B:C activity terms, as I pointed out long ago.
    C-activities are never carried out *within* an organization,
    and they can never pay off if they do occur there, because
    there is too small a base over which the cost can be spread.
    (With the rare exception of very, very large organizations.)

    C-level activities, then, are carried out in a climate
    of economic incentives, or else they are not carried out
    at all. It could be reasonably well-argued, I think, that
    the single *most* important facet of capitalism has been
    the incentives for C-level activities. (Making a better
    hammer and selling it to every carpenter in the world
    pays really big. The result: better hammers for every kind
    of nail in the world.)

    If open source software can in fact de-incentivize an entire
    industry, then the loss to society may be totally invisible,
    and yet incalculably huge, due to the lack of competitors
    and the improvements they would otherwise produce.

    The counter argument depends on a cooperation model -- that
    somehow the existence of an open source solution means we
    will cooperate to make that soltuon better and better, with
    an end result that eclipses the benefits we would have
    derived from competing solutions and paid developers.

    History will be the long-term judge if that proposition is
    accurate. However, I will note that for the "prophecy to be
    fulfilled", it will be necessary to place the *remainder*
    of society on a more cooperative basis.

    In other words, as long as John Q. Developer has to work
    somewhere to make ends meet, he will never have the time
    needed to do the kinds of things to an open source project
    that his fulltime, professional counterpart could do to
    a purchased product.

    Since Marx's actual proposition was a *predictation* that such
    a cooperative model would be the inevitable, *eventual* result
    of capitalism (as opposed to something that could somehow be
    coerced into existence by sheer force of will), then it may
    be that the development of cooperative sofware model is a first,
    fledgling step in that direction. If so, the problems with the
    model would be transient, and they would disappear over time.

    However, I make that observation only to be fair to alternative
    viewpoints. My expectation is rather more pessimistic. (On the
    other hand, I'm excited by the energy-conservation options that
    are being created, now that prices are high. The world has the
    capacity to react much more rapidly to change than I had so
    pessimistically assumed, so there may yet be hope...)

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