Jordan Henderson jordan@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM
Thu, 8 May 1997 16:46:08 -0500 (CDT)

Kelly Edward Murray writes:

> I've debated people on this issue quite extensively, and don't wish 
> to do so again, so I'll say one more thing and bite my tongue if the topic
> is pursued further.

I understand about tiresome arguments which lead nowhere, believe me.
Perhaps I'm the sort that can't resist having the last word, but one 
universal generalization you say below really begs for a counter-example.

> I find it fascinated that anyone who would write software and give it
> away for others to use at no charge, would decide not to write it
> because some subset of those people who find it useful might use it
> for their business.  That is like saying I won't build a highway
> which connects two cities because it could be used by drug dealers
> to smuggle drugs between the cities.

I'm sympathetic to the above arguments.  I DON'T buy-in to the GNU
manifesto.  What RMS argues there is simply that copyright and software
patent are inherently bad, and that software should be available like
air.  I disagree.  His resort to Kantian ethics leaves me cold.  Sure,
I'd like everything to be free, but as an adult I realize that things
come about as a result of efforts, efforts that should be rewarded in
the marketplace.

I do believe that we would not have the good free software we have today
if it weren't for the GNU project.  Maybe the GNU project has suppressed
good commercial software, I dunno, I don't have an alternate reality
machine to test such conjectures.  I believe it's just fundamentally
flawed to view it as an impediment to having good free software, it's
actually a focal point that creates such good free software.

I believe that on balance the GNU project has been beneficial to the
software industry, but again, I don't have my alternate reality machine
to test this conjecture either.

Just because I don't agree with the GNU project base goals doesn't mean
that I'm blind to the benefits.  It's an ill wind that blows no one good.

> It simply isn't possible to take freely available software, and turn
> around and sell it.  It might work in the short term, but because of
> free market competition, the profits in such an enterprise will be
> very short lived, since someone else can sell the same thing for less,
> until the price is so low it reflects close to the actual amount it
> costs, which was zero.

RMS started the GNU project exactly because he felt it so unfair of
Symbolics to grab a bunch of public domain software from MIT and
a large number of the developers and start a commercial venture based on
it.  Now, perhaps Symbolic ultimately failed due to the reasons you site
above, but I think that this would be the first time this was ever argued.

Actually, I just realized that this whole argument is ironic, coming from you.
Didn't Franz start with Franz Lisp freely available with early BSD Unix

> For a company to survive and prosper, they must provide valuable
> products that are competitive in the market.
> I don't want to hear about the exceptions, but the majority.

BSDI is another example of a group that are prospering by "providing
valuable products that are competitive in the market" based on a 
product that was once free.  You may not want to hear about 
exceptions, but you have to address them if you want to defend
your stance that a company cannot profit from using free software
as a starting point.

> Most college students, and certainly computer science students,
> don't understand how business and the free market really works,
> and simply buy into the GPL philosophy without much thought.
> Finally, let me take the most "evil" company in the world,
> which is commonly believed to be Microsoft in tech circles,
> and ask a simple question.
> Consider we built this LispOS thing and Microsoft saw how great it was,
> and so they took it, gave up on WindowsXX and sold it for $99 as their
> new and improved operating system.
> Would you consider our efforts failed or successful?

I would consider that to be a huge win.  I'm not holding my breath.

I'm actually not opposed to using some other freeware license for the
LispOS products.  But, I think you'd lose the support of most of the
collaborators on this list.   

> -Kelly Edward Murray

-Jordan Henderson