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Open Source - Microsoft's best friend?

Here's a radical suggestion. Open source afficionados like to believe it poses a business threat to Microsoft. 

I actually think open source furthers Microsoft's interests, probably to the extent that their strategists welcome it.  It does this by making it harder for new companies to earn healthy revenue to build and compete against Microsoft.

After all, Microsoft has the business and government markets by the balls. They're not concerned that everyone's going to ditch Windows XP/2000 and Office. What they are concerned about it is some new Bill Gates getting ready to come out of left field. (And this means having revenue and profits to fund rapid growth.)

Secondly, if anyone does produce anything really innovative, the code will be out there available for inspection by Microsoft's brains trust, who can then return to their cabins and produce a better version.

I was prompted to write this by a couple of comments here where people opined that they might enjoy a future as highly paid open source customisation consultants.

This was juxtaposed by another view expressed here, which I think is closer to reality, that programmers will increasingly become like writers, in workforce terms. That is, there will be lots of programmers accepting little jobs here and there, with an elite core attached to big corporations.

I think that's the effect that open source will have - it will commoditise development.

What does everyone else think?

Hugh Wells
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Hi Hugh,
"there will be lots of programmers accepting little jobs here and there, with an elite core attached to big corporations."

Is'nt that what its like now? Except the elite are really the mainstream.

I'm one of those that things open source is a fad, and really probably invented by microsoft so that anti microsoft fundamentalists can vent their pent up anger harmlessly.

Kind of like a microsoft social service.

Tony
Thursday, April 18, 2002

"I'm one of those that things "! Sorry, that should read "I'm one of those that thinks" which people will now say that I do'nt.

Tony
Thursday, April 18, 2002

These discussions never go anywhere, because things are too abstract.  We can only look at specific open sourced projects, and consider whether they will take their particular market.

For new programmers with little money starting out, open sourced tools make them much more productive.  They get to try out more tools because they don't have to pay so much, so there's less lock-in.  That is an important strength to have, when you're competing against large companies.

If these points seem minor, remember that someone could have taken this topic and said, "Closed-source companies with patents and lock-in -- Microsoft's best friend?"

red
Thursday, April 18, 2002

It is not like Microsoft needs any help, if someone does something radical, MS can buy the company before they even start being a real threat, if they can't buy they have the resources ( about 40 billion and climbing ) to out-program just about anyone.

So, why bother doing anything?

On the other hand, I don't think you believe your own theory, right?

Andres
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Red, I sure do believe my own theory. Regarding Microsoft buying competitors, yes, of course they can do that. However my point is that the price they would have to pay is much lower in an open source world than it would be without open source. In fact, they might not even have to worry about buying the company, in the open source world. So competition is reduced. That's my theory.

Regarding tools being cheaper with open source, that's an interesting point, but the cost of tools is insignificant compared with salary earned or with the profits of very successful software companies. So the tiny saving isn't worth the much greater loss.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, April 18, 2002

I’ve said it before, “No one will make big money from open source, but everyone will save money from open source.”
This is even true for Microsoft. Diligent engineers did not write the TCP/IP stack directly from the RFC’s in an office in Redmond. I would bet the engineers at least peaked at some BSD code. I would also bet there are people at MS who know a hell of a lot about Linux, the BSD’s and open source in general. If you believe differently, I have a bridge in NYC I’ve been trying to sell, maybe your interested?
MS saved money by not starting from scratch. I save money for the same reason. To me this is a good thing for all of us.
This is a double-edged sword. Open source also competes with MS. It can hurt their revenue stream too.
People do not have to migrate away from MS products in mass to make this happen. If Wall Street believes there is a free product that is an alternative, the stock price will plummet. It is their perception and belief that matters, not if open source is really a viable alternative.

Doug Withau
Thursday, April 18, 2002

I think that Open Source hurts independent developers a lot more than it hurts Microsoft. The indy developer is stuck between the MS juggernaut and the Open Source movement. Its a really tough position. I doubt fogcreek would be in a great position if an Open Source clone of CityDesk was released.

Open Source and Free Software lowers how much value people attach to software.  If you can get high quality software for free (eg. Mozilla) why the hell would you pay, or expect to pay for equivalent commercial software?

I've heard lots of arguments about the consulting and disribution models for making money out of Open Source. I'm sure its possible (just look at how much leverage IBM gets out of Open Source software). But it really just helps to destroy the Software Engineering profession, and lower its status.

Why pay for skilled professionals, when a bunch of guys on the Internet will do their job "for fun"? It seems to me that the distribution and consulting models for selling Open Source software are really just parasite like models. Get a load of well meaning, idealistic (and misguided) developers to give away the fruits of their labour (and all the value attached to it).  Then expect them to compete with others to fight over any revenue generated by doing consulting or distribution.

Kenshi
Sunday, April 21, 2002

Yep, I agree. People talk about it being possible to make money from support in open source but, as a developer, I would much sooner make the money from the sale of the product, not the support. Plus, of course, users *don't* want to pay for support anyway.

I notice a lot - not all - open source proponents are either at uni or just out of it, when perhaps the realities of bills, expenses, housing and families haven't sunk in.

It's a strange thing that programmers give away their work. Lawyers don't. Doctors don't. Engineers don't. No-one else does. There are no open-source houses.

Hugh Wells
Sunday, April 21, 2002

Please don't speak for all us professional programmers who face the realities of bills.  The simple fact is that I consume much more opensourced software than I create; and aside from my OS/browser I use little else to develop proprietary software.  I have a financial interest in opensource, especially the GPL. 

And lawyers have been known to work for peanuts, to defend the poor.  Same with doctors.

Richard J.
Monday, April 22, 2002

My apologies. I don't mean to misrepresent anyone. Yes, there are lawyers and medicos who do pro-bono work and they are fantastic people for doing it.

However they do it as an explicit act of charity, of their choice, not because that's the standard someone's created for their profession.

Hugh Wells
Monday, April 22, 2002

Actually, lots of people work very hard for no money

My mother, for example, likes to do cross-stich, she does these beautifull pieces, which take a lot of time, and most of the time she gives them away to friends, other people spend hours keeping their garden, making plane models or whatever their hobby is.

They don't  get paid for it, they never intended to get paid for it, and yet almost noone thinks it weird.

Same with open source programming, big difference is, if my mother want to have two identical pieces, she has to do all the work twice, with software once you have a code, making a million copies is trivial, so why not give it away?

Andres
Friday, April 26, 2002

Andres said:

"Same with open source programming, big difference is, if my mother want to have two identical pieces, she has to do all the work twice, with software once you have a code, making a million copies is trivial, so why not give it away?"

This concept is full of holes. This is the idea that as the number of copies made approaches infinity, the cost to develop each of those copies approaches zero.

This is absurd.

No software has ever sold infinity copies. So, if a particular software product costs $35 million to develop, and 700,000 copies of that software are sold. The unit cost to develop the software is $50. Add in $2 or so for the CD media (on which the copy is delivered), plus $25 for the profit margin, and you get software that sells for $77.

Or you get software that is given away for free at a loss-per-unit of $52.

700,000 copies of one product is a lot. Does this number approach infinity? I guess. It's closer to infinity than if only 10 copies were made. But it isn't _really_ infinity.

Until someone actually distributes infinity copies of their software the per-unit costs of the products distributed will not be zero.

This is why programmers need to take some basic economics classes, for crying out loud.

Benji Smith
Friday, April 26, 2002

Benji, I am afraid you didn't get my point, in fact, the last sentece I wrote wasn't very clear so it isn't surprising.

My point is that for people whose hobby is programming and do it in their free time 'just for fun', the cost of development, while high in theory, is actually not important.

So if you take the hours spent developing a program 'for fun' and multiply by normal consultant rates, it can be 700.000$ or more, but the same happens if I multiply the hours I spend watching TV by those rates, I would reach the conclussion that  I can't afford watching TV, going to the movies, or even  talking to my family, unless I get paid for it.

In fact, I think that if I wanted to get paid for my crappy open source development, once I had taken care of taxes and all that I would probably end up losing money, so I am better off giving it away.

But I am not saying anything like 'information wants to be free' or 'all software should be free', I don't buy into that myself.

Andres
Friday, April 26, 2002

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