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Is free software is Microsoft's fault?

Having read the thread 'No new desktop applications' I realised that all of the latest general-purpose apps were given away free.  The browser, email and the MP3 player were both given away for free, with businesses then trying to make money either on a subscription model or by a limited number of upgrades.

A few years ago the programmers would have attempted to sell this software from the start.  The aim would have been to have it shrink wrapped and in the shops.  At the very least it would be shareware.

Now, however, people keep giving software away.    Even OpenOffice, a productivity suite almost comparable to Office, is being given away.

I know that GNU advocates think that this is inevitable, because good will always prevail over evil and free software is good.

I think the real reason is Microsoft’s domination.  By being so successful Microsoft made it impossible to compete with them.  No matter how hard you tried they had the clout and resources to crush you.  The best scenario available to the would be entrepreneur was to have a product so good that Microsoft would buy you out to save themselves a little bother.

And so it came to be that the only way to get general purpose application to succeed (in terms of usage rather than finance) was to give it away, and hope to make money off the back of it.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

We still have the likes of Opera. A browser that's so good that I've got to use it. Maybe it's a niche market -people that surf many hours a day- but it's a growing one too.

And the motivation behind free software is great. Have you ever thought about that as a big pool of  knowledge you can use as you want with the only restriction to let others use yours too? It's just like public libraries, only in computer science you're not forced to participate.

Just my two cents  :)

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

MS domination is one half of it. The other half is simply the advent of the Web allowing easy download of software programs rather than having to burn it onto a CD and packaging it. Moreover, the user manuals don't even come with lots of the pre-packaged stuff but are available for download from the company's website.

Chi Lambda
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Niche markets definately thrive, and in many ways are supported by Microsoft.

What i'm saying is that Microsoft made general purpose software almost impossible.  When the internet came along and made it possible for people to work together on projects Microsoft had created an environment within which such co-operation could happen.

Before Microsoft's domination somebody would think of a great idea for an application and try to make it.  For many greed would stop them from sharing their efforts because they would want to make as much money as possible.

With the money factor removed, open source cooperation could continue far more smoothly.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

"For many greed would stop them from sharing their efforts because they would want to make as much money as possible."

Hmm... interesting perspective.  So if I don't share my efforts, apparently free of charge, then it is only because I am greedy?

Joe AA
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Hmmm, perhaps greed is too emotive a word. 

I mean 'greed'  of the market economy, 'greed is good', type so beloved in the 80s.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Wouldn't have anything to do with the glutt of VC capital that was barfing out wallstreet sanctioned hype waves and funding socalled companies to commoditize eachothers revenue streams. The VCs and friends would be long gone before the socalled companies faced inevitable collapse from having no revenue stream to speak of, and no business plan beyond

1. Grab market share by giving everything away for free.
2 variant A. Fail somewhere after IPO (if possible first grab more money by floating extra shares), since we have 0 revenue and exorbitant costs.
2 varient B. Fold into some bigger befriended company to prolong life of the commoditization weapons, and be in a good position for phase 3.
3. Hope there is still some of our friends in the Whitehouse so we can have the DOJ go after the revenue of real companies on our behalf.

Who paid for all this? Small investors. All other involved parties walk away with the money with nothing more than a slap on the wrists (yes, in this context 1.4 Billion is peanuts).
So long before Microsoft I would call the likes of the JD Keiretsu to the stand ( ).
Playing scorched earth with the world economy is not something to sneeze at.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

If you want to compete with Microsoft, making your software free is the worst possible move (though watching the GNU mania, it doesn't surprise me that those people don't 'get it')

Managers, especially magazine managers who believe "nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft", believe "you get what you pay for" like they believe the sky is blue - if it's free, then using it will get them fired.

I tried to get permission to install IrfanView on my desktop at work (an excellent free graphics viewer). The request was rejected. The reason? "We don't allow freeware to be installed"

(Yes I'm challenging it - my plan is to ask when they're going to buy Opera, since IE is free)


Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Unless you are still running an early Win 95, IE is not a separate product, and Windows certainly ain't free ;-).

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I think you are right to some extent.  Venture capitalists basically abandoned desktop software in the late nineties because they had learned that Microsoft considered any successful desktop application to belong to it.

I also think that what I said before has a lot to do with it, i.e. the stream of new desktop apps had slowed to a trickle and most efforts were centered on improving and/or rewriting existing concepts.

I also think it is a consequence of the fact that software is so easy and cheap to copy.  I mean, in the 1920s you wouldn't have expected to find groups of hackers building free automobiles for everyone just for the ego gratification; they would have gone broke pretty quick.  Software is a different story...

Erik Lickerman
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

In any case, IrfanView is not free, I think it is 10 dollars/euros a seat, I doubt he will give an invoice though

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Oh an BTW- slightly off topic, why is it that people just accept the idea that the 1980s were the decade of greed but the 1990s weren't?  From an economic point of view I see little difference between the too aside from the fact that the current account deficit (equally huge if not more so in the 1990s, though no one ever mentions it) was more weighted toward private credit than government deficit.

Erik Lickerman
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

To clarify, IrfanView is free for personal use, but commerical users pay $10 per seat:

Adam in Poland
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

[Oh an BTW- slightly off topic, why is it that people just accept the idea that the 1980s were the decade of greed but the 1990s weren't?  From an economic point of view I see little difference between the too aside from the fact that the current account deficit (equally huge if not more so in the 1990s, though no one ever mentions it) was more weighted toward private credit than government deficit. ]

S&L scandals. Hostile Takeovers. Penny Stocks. Greased up yuppy monkeys from American Psycho. Trickle down tax plans for the rich. And of course the 80s movie Wallstreet in which the main protagonist "Gekko" proclaims that Greed IS good.

The face of Wallstreet has changed some but the shit heads are still there. Enron. Worldcom. Arthur Andersen. California Power scandals. Privatization of water in 3rd world countries. Anti-Trust legal battles. Large Agriculture company patents corn. The list never ends.

Meet the new boss same as the old boss.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

"With the money factor removed, open source cooperation could continue far more smoothly."

So true since there is no need anymore to buy food or pay rent now that our basic needs are provided for free of charge.

Another pet peeve is that auto manufacturers, car mechanics, oil barons, and omusement park operators all charge for the results of their labor. This greedy pigs must be stopped! Power to the people!

Better Red than Dead
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Ged, mass-market software is not a viable entry level market because the size of the market has generated massive investment in mass-market products.

However narrow market sectors are still thriving and growing, and are often based on the stable platform provided by the investments in mass-market software.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Free software has existed for decades.  The GNU project for instance was started in 1984.  BSD, which started out as additional tools for UNIX, was started in 1977.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

fault ??  eh?

Mrs. Robinson
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Better Red than Dead,

We certainly do all need to eat, but for many of us we also need to do something more.  The maintenance of VB apps I do all day is just a little soul destroying, so when I get home I like to work on some code that I enjoy.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I considered the issue when Bill Gates took some credit for Free Software's success.  To the extent that Microsoft furthered massmarket computing, definitely.  If Apple or Commodore had won, they probably would have had a lot more clash with Free Software since they control the hardware.  And sub-$500 PC prices would have come much later.

I have no idea about your competition thesis, though.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I agree completely. glad to hear you are not greedily charging money for those VB apps like some capitalist pig, but freely contributing them.

Beater Bed that Dead
Wednesday, April 30, 2003


I detect hostility toward open source projects.  Did you lose your job to an open source competitor?

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Open, closed it doesn't matter to me. I just agree with the idea that people who want to be paid for their work are greedy. It's absolutely true! we should all contribute freely in an open spirit of cooperation. It's the only way the human race can survive.

Beater Fed Tram Led
Thursday, May 1, 2003

I'm sure its nice to dream of the fairytale land where so much altruism runs the world and life in software must be heaven.  *BUT*, here's the reality check!  Human being's (believe it or not) are selfish, self-rightous, egotistical, and yes; greedy too.  If you doubt this then you have poor judgement of the human character; and must have lead a sheltered existance.  While we all have these wonderful qualities, each of us balances them differently.

Our work in software development is a creative process.  We pour our most intimate details into these developments.  Our pride as well.  Recognition and praise for such efforts is worth more to us then monetary return.  *BUT* (that damn reality check again), money (from cold hard cash to the number of goats, cows, and camels) is necessary.  How do you think that shiny computer you're typing on appeared in front of you?  Magic!?  Open-Hardware Altruism!?

Open source is neat; but it won't run the world.  Because every moment that it gains more momentum, its because more money was pumped into it (shame on those greedy pigs), and sooner or later it will be hijacked, and controlled, and turned into a money making machine because everybody involved (including the developers) strive for those three tiny words, "Return on Investment".  ROI baby!  That's where its at.  And if that doe$n't $mell of greed, then I don't know what doe$.

And we'll be back at square one again.  Another small group of people who's lives seem to have become mundane because society has become too cushy and the world of computing boring, that some trouble must be stirred.  And GNU (or equivalent) strives on.

Its good to develop software.  And if you give it away for free, then that's your choice too.  And for those who do make money of it, then good for them.  Because anyone can make free software, but only a few can make it profitable.  And they become higher up in the human food chain, because the poor sucker who's writing the 'free stuff' still needs money to survive and will most likely become *dependant* for a job on the one that is able to make a living off it.

Altruism is noble.  But only a few made a career out of it.  And now they're all martyrs.

Isn't it great to be human!

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Greedy, yes.  And I like it too.

What I take issue with is those who bemoan that free software is somehow stealing their job entitlement (yes, Netscape too).

To say that free software is run and funded by corporations with greedy expectations is... exactly correct.  BFD.

Nat Ersoz
Thursday, May 1, 2003

Arguments for free software:

1) Free software is like our public freeway -- it's better to fund freeway by the public than privately with toll-booth set up to collect money.

2) Free software is like our cooking recipes -- people naturally want to share their recipes with each other; the best way to destroy this activity is for restaurants to pulish their recipes but at the same time claim they are their IP and people could not share them. At the end, either they would not be their IP, or no one would share recipe anymore.

3) Free software is about sharing with your neighbor -- people who do not share are immoral.

I generally agree with 1 and 2, and consider 3 totally bogus.

Rick Tang
Thursday, May 1, 2003

My original position was not very clearly made, and digression was quick, so I'll try to reiterate it.

Just imagine that Sun, IBM and Microsoft all had an equal share of the market.

In such a world, would Sun have given away Java and Open Office?  Would IBM have given away the Eclipse IDE?

Ged Byrne
Thursday, May 1, 2003

Getting back to your original point (has MS made it impossible to sell desktop software) I think that we need to make the distinction between free-as-in-speech software (e.g. Linux, Mozilla, etc.) and free-as-in-beer software (ICQ, P2P clients, etc). The prime difference in practice being, is the source code available.

I don't think that MS has had much all that much impact on the free-as-in-speech movement. Primarily because it existed before MS and was never all that interested in money anyway.

But I think that you are correct about free-as-in-beer software (where they give away the executable and try to make some money some other way, but don't share their code). MS has made it very hard to sell software.

So my point is that MS has had a big impact on the people who wanted to make money off of software. But hasn't had much impact on the people who didn't really care about money in the first place.

PS. I don't think that OpenOffice is a good example, however, because it's free (as-in-speech) because of Scott McNealy's obsession with Bill Gates, not because of any sensible business decision.

Bill Tomlinson
Thursday, May 1, 2003


Thanks.  I hadn't considered the speech/beer distinction.  That does make a lot more sense.

I suppose part of it is merely getting onto a level playing field.  Microsoft's products are often preceived as being free becuase they come preinstalled, even though they are not.

In order to compete with this perceived value, it is necessary to also be free.

The apparantly free nature of Microsoft's products does cause the company other problems - people are so willing to pirate Microsoft because of this perception.

Ged Byrne
Friday, May 2, 2003

First, Free software is not free software. The people at the FSF and the OSI don't give a flying fuck about "free" software. They don't care if people charge $300 for GCC, so long as the source code is provided and freely modifiable/distributeable.

Likewise, many people who want free software don't give a flying fuck about Free Software. See all the warez people who download MS Word or Adobe Photoshop from those russian websites.

Finally, many people -- namely, some in the Slashdot crowd -- want both free and Free software (iow, they want to have their cake and eat it too).

Now, me myself, I only use Free Software whereever possible, because I have a moral opinion about it. I, like the FSF, think that the freedoms given to you by Free Sofware (see the FSF and the OSI for this) should be essential user-rights. I also think that there should be no EULA (the GPL says right in it that you don't have to accept the license, so it's not an end-user license agreement). The GPL and other FS licenses are a good solution to that. In my view, they are a crutch, and what really needs to be don is a radical restructuring of copyright, patent, and trademark law; but that's another issue. I also would prefer it if the Free Software can be obtained freely ("$0"); not essential, however. In any event, you're welcomed to disagree with me and produce software under any license you want. I just won't buy it.

Now, we can go on for a while about how "impractical" and "naive" Free Software is. But the fact is it works, and there's tons of it. Despite all of the pragmatic statements about how it just isn't practical, developers continue to develop it, and people can now use an OS with only Free Software on it and have all the functionality they need/want. Why people develop it isn't really relevant -- you can say fame, recognition, scratching an itch, coding for one of their needs, or just coding for the needs of a group of similarly interested individuals paid them to do. Doesn't matter. It's there and is continuing to be developed. It also has the backing of many big-name corporations, like IBM.

It is going to become more and more of a widely used thing. There will always be the "133t" highly tuned GNU/Linux distros (like Gentoo, which I currently use), but things like Lindows are brining GNU/Linux to the average joe. Meanwhile, RedHat provides assurance to businesses who want support contracts and all of that. More and more companies, governments, and schools are looking into using GNU/Linux and other Free Software, partly for the savings and partly because they won't be controlled by any one vender. Google and Amazon use GNU/Linux and have saved tons of money doing so. Many foreign governments -- and even cities and states in the US -- are considering using it to save money.

"No-one ever got fired for buying Microsoft"

Maybe not, but they might have got fired for the subsequent security holes and problems. Or the company might have lost money or not done as well compared to another company that actually made a rational decision and didn't just decide on "big-name" recognition.

Monday, May 5, 2003

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