Fog Creek Software
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Dangerous Competitors

I'm not worried about outsourcing to India. Maybe I'll get worried about that later. Right now I have far more serious things to worry about -- free software.

One application we write and sell is the best in its class, yada, yada. We have several adept competitors and we all keep each other on our toes. THe software represents an investment of years, including a lot of work to get the UI just right and working smoothly and provide a real good experience for the customers.

In the last six months, two different guys have appeared on the scene with free software clones of our product. The UI wasn't a concern for either of these new competitors since they just cloned our look and feel. One competitor is an unemployed CS graduate in Hungary, the other is a government employee in Belgium who apparently has a lot of free time at work to code on his hobby project.

What distinguishes us? Well, our software is more stable, has fewer bugs and far better documentation.

What distinguishes them? They're free.

Do I need to tell you our sales have dropped from enough to justify development (we weren't getting rich but were getting by) to almost nothing. Checking around, the reason is simple -- people know about the free software.

Heck, if this free software had been around when we got started, we never would have bothered.

So, we'll probably retire the product since it's not generating income anymore. I've spoken with my commercial competitors about the free software and they've come to the same conclusions -- sales have dried up and there's no point to continuing development.

So what I'm seeing is that in certain markets, particularly niche software markets like ours selling software to individuals, software given away by unemployed and underemployed but fully capable programmers will wipe our a lot more enterprises than outsourcing will. After all, you still have to pay to get outsourced software developed, annd that is a limiting factor.

Any one else dealt with these issues?

Dying Relict of a Bygone Era
Thursday, July 3, 2003

I've wondered about that. Seems like small companies (and Shareware authors, in particular) are much more vulnerable. It's way too hard for a small number of volunteers to create a really polished operating system or productivity suite.

Any kind of "neat little tool" is really ripe for some individual kicking out an 80% solution in a weekend, and steamrollering your niche-market application. bad news for your company, but maybe good for the user community in general.

I wonder if a "if you can't beat them, join them" strategy would work here? Given that the market for your product has entirely dried up, could you donate the code to your open-source "competitor", and try to make a go of the contract service and support model that e.g. Red hat uses? Just an idea...


Mark Bessey
Thursday, July 3, 2003

hi dying relic,

aren't we all ;)

Yes, Ive had a vaguely similar experience.

The conclusion Ive drawn from it?  long term we _cannot_ win head to head against free software, assuming that it is properly supported and managed by a reasonably competent leader.

The trick now is to find areas where freesoftware is unlikely to go, to charge less for our products (0$ vs $15000 is a no brainer no matter how good the docs, whereas $0 vs $150 is _not_) and to make *amn sure the products are good ones.

The upside of free software (yes, there is one :)  is that in many cases it offers the real opportunity of code reuse.
This is a problem that people have attacked over and over again, c++ and java have both tried to solve this but with little real success, even now almost every large company writes their own x-plat widget code.
Imagine if they didn't have to.....(love that wxWindows)

_that_ is the opportunity that free software offers for inhouse software, and for commercial software depending on the license of the free software in question.

My overall feeling is that the trend of free/os software is a good one, code reuse is finally coming of age and free/os software is a big part of that.
but we _do_ have to rethink the market....building expensive software for a niche market has always been risky, but now it can be suicidal......

Thursday, July 3, 2003

There are 3 great enemies you have, as a small software company:

1. free-as-in-beer and open source software

2. Microsoft who may crush you like a bug, no, make that a mosquito :)

3. the crackers who create cracks for your product

I noticed that when a free product appears, the similar products that cost money simply stop selling.

In order to be a successful small software developer, you have to fend off these 3 enemies.

What is a good method for fending them off - that is what I'd like to know! :-)

Thursday, July 3, 2003


No -- there's no possibility of earning a living from offering support in most niche markets for non-business software.

My wife is a physical therapist and makes more than I do anyway; there's no worries about being homeless like with the guys I work with.

I really enjoy development and have enjoyed the very positive feedback we've gotten from customers in the past, but the writing is on the wall and I don't see it as something that can pay the bills any more, unless I want to do business software consulting, but that's not my field of expertise. I'm not really interested in writing software for free either. I have plenty of friends that have tried to make a go of making a living writing software for free and they are all bitter, angry, and flat broke now.

With the great software development tools now, a newcomer can bypass all the writing of custom libraries and dealing with compatibility issues and tuning for speed and memory use, and put together in a month or two an application that took 20 man years to develop. More power to them I say. The sweet spot right now is in being a user of free software, not in being a developer. The old era of software that involved optimizing and maintaining compatibility with a variety of system versions, and doing user interface testing is past, as archaic and foolish as when Corel tried to keep WordPerfect going in assembly language. The new way is to, working from a existing app as a prototype, put applications together in weeks what once took years and give them away for free. With this being the way things are, the smart thing to do is be a user of free software, or a consultant/developer of business software. The dumb thing to do is be a developer of any sort of mass-market or other non-business software.

I'm not bitter, just realizing how things are. Realizing that 'the cheese has moved' and so I better stop looking where the cheese used to be. I'm looking forward to using free software more and sweettalking the developers into putting in more features for me for free. This seems like a good deal when I look at it from the user's point of view.

My band (I play bass and electric violin) is getting bookings so I'm going to leave software and start doing some serious touring and promotion. Maybe get back into surfing too, development got me out of shape and took too much time.

Here's to the future! May we all embrace it with gusto.

Thursday, July 3, 2003


You make good points. The MS thing, if it happen, it happens. No use worrying about it unless it does, right?

The cracker thing definitely cuts into the sales, but fortunately most legitimate customers are afraid of cracked software, as well they should be. It's like buying pot from someone you don't know -- did he lace cheap stuff with PCP and LSD, or is it good stuff? You take a risk with the unknown, just as there are very serious risks of trojans and viruses whenever downloading a crack. People know this and so that's a limiting factor.

But with free as in beer, the issue is is it good enough, is it available and can I get it working? Linux has certain limits in that installing an OS is scary and hard for people and the Windows that came on their computer seems to work fine, so don't mess with it. Also, downloading a Linux distro is an overwhelming project for the average user, so the only real option is to buy a distro disk at Staples, at which point it's no longer free.

But with niche software, the download is only a few megabytes which isn't a problem for hardly anyone and they click a button and it installs and works. Hey great! Why buy the cow when you can get the cow for free? So, you're right -- free niche software of acceptable quality that is in a under 20MB download can wipe out 100% of an existing market.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

"I noticed that when a free product appears, the similar products that cost money simply stop selling."

I dont agree with that.
One of the projects (not the one I referred to above) Im working with is being sold and is (if I do say so myself) no more than an average product in a market where there are at least 5 OS products competing directly against.
We _do_ make a profit on that product, sufficient to pay for 1 developer to spend upwards of 3 weeks a month working on it _and_ for us to also make a profit on it.

its not as big a profit as it would be without those competitors, but iwe make what amounts to ts a perfectly livable income for one developer off it.

It _is_ possible to compete, it all depends on the market.
OTOH the product I referred to above is having problems at the moment.....its future is still in question.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

I have something  quite opposite to what Mark said. Instead of "joining them" or donating your software for free, make them join you. Hire these 2 guys as your employees along with their software. Shouldn't be that hard, considering the fact that one is an unemployed CS graduate and the other one is a gov. employee. If you make a good enough offer (along with the H1 Visa :)), they probably won't reject it. Then incorporate any good features of thier software in yours and continue selling it.
If you don't do it, one of your commercial competitors will.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

I don’t think you need to worry. Let me explain.

Free software in the long term tends to develop into one of three things 1) Dies out because the author gets bored 2) starts to cost as the author wants to make some money 3) software stays free but support starts costing money.

In my experience, any business of note is scared of free software because of (1) – getting stuck with an unsupported, dead application can be damn costly. When a business buys software, support and upgrades/new versions are pretty important things – with free software this is often not the case.

(2) is fine because it’s just effectively another competitor and (3) that’s fine too, because the structuring of support charges often costs a business far more in the long term and anyway you can always consider this model.

My advice? Sit tight, keep developing your product, emphasise what differentiates your product from the free ones. Yep you’ll suffer some short term pain as this relatively new phenomenon causes you to lose business. Don’t worry, they’ll get their fingers burnt and  they’ll be banging your door dowa –  more willing to spend money on a well supported, growing product than ever before.

The worst mistake you can make is to pull out. As companies increasingly seek relationships with stable, reliable  software providers you’ve just proved you’ll pull out a market and the drop of a hat.  Not good.

Thursday, July 3, 2003


The guy in Belgium has a good paying job with full benefits, short hours and long vacations working for the government. I've talked with him and he basically has nothing to do 95% of the time and his skills as a developer are not needed at the level he feels challenged. Rather than die of boredom, he saw our software and thought it would be fun to clone it, so he redefined his job to be a free softwarer paid by his government.

The guy in Hungary is definitely thinking like you -- he has a degree and is a decent developer but has never found a job and lives with his grandmother who gets some sort of pension check. We don't have the money or resources either to pay him or to cover all the overhead of doing an H1B. Besides, there are tons of out-of-work programmers here in the States that we could hire that could do exactly what he has done. Why pay someone to clone our own software for us? What is the point of that? We can't use his code since it does nothing novel or new -- he just paces and matches our features point by point. Also, he's gone and GPL'd his software, which would mean even if anything he did was something new we wanted, we would lose all rights to our software if we linked any of his code with ours. It would really be tremendously foolish to hire him even if we did have the money. There is no more business case for it that there would be for MS to buy Linux, neither for us nor for our competitors. We're actually the last hold out -- our commercial competitors have stopped isuing updates to their software and have already moved on. Though of course we all still offer the software for sale further development doesn't make sense.

We've created some great software and it's been a long and hard road with late hours and difficult challenges. These other guys are able to do something we can't -- work for free. Hey, that's the new thing. This is a new era. I'm looking forward to submitting my feature requests to these guys and relaxing while they do the heavy lifting. Shoot, I'll be one of their best customers!

Thursday, July 3, 2003


I hear you and I can see that. We don't sell to businesses though but to individuals. It's not business software. Consumers don't worry about getting stuck with unsupported software. Also, most free software nowadays comes with unlimited free support from newsgroups. The issue is is the software good enough to do what people need. They'll try out the free stuff when deciding to get free or pay. If the free stuff allows them to get their work done, then there's not much motivation to switch to more expensive stuff. Yeah, a few will pay for the extra polish or amount of efficiency, but not enough since development is expensive if you don't have a check coming in from the government each month.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Oh on point 3, it's pretty established that individual customers simply don't pay for support contracts. Name someone paying a support contract to use WinAmp or iTunes -- right, there aren't any. I tried to mention about the business software thing since I know that in that market people can sell support. Also true for really large complex applications - people will pay for updates until the software is stable. Not many regular folks upgraded from Office 98 to the latest version - they just wait until they get a new computer. Business markets are very different from the mass market. In the mass market, a decent free app can wipe out commercial apps. Back to WinAmp/iTunes -- I don't see any business case for developing a new commercial mp3 player for either the Pc or the Mac. Doing so would be foolish from a business perspective, as would continuing to support and develop an existing mp3 player.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Obviously I didn't know the whole story :(. It looks like you have already given enough thought about what I said. And ofcourse with the whole GPL thing, you might be getting into more trouble.
If it was feasible from your end as well as thiers, hiring them would have been one way to eleminate this problem instead of giving up.
And I am sure MS would try to buy Linux if it comes to shutting down Windows.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Hi relic,

you _do_ have my sympathy, its a prick of a situation to be in.

Im convinced competing is a possibility , but I still have no idea of where and how it can be done.
As I said, we have one project surviving (and gradually increasing its market share) in an area that I would have thought it would be slaughtered by the OSS products (they literally have 95% of the market) and another project which appears to be dying in an area where I would have thought it would really be able to compete...

Im learning and I intend to find the way forward, but the tension between OS and commercial software is still finding its strength.
Until things have settled down there will be a _lot_ of stories like yours and mine I suspect.  (and an equal number of success stories on the other side)

Thursday, July 3, 2003

This idea of business shrinkwrap vs business one-off megaprojects vs commercial shrinkwrap vs shareware vs embedded -- we're into the realm of Joel's 5 World's theory.

If I was coding business one-off or business shrinkwrap, I'd be worried about India. But consumer shrinkwrap isn't going to be outsourced to India.

Likewise, free software developers don't present any threat to one-off custom business development.

But free software does present a challenge to shrinkwrap and India does present a challenge to one-off megaprojects.

If I was working at GM and we needed a new custom payroll system, I know that there are several shops with expertise and proven results in India that can reliably deliver the billion dollar system we need for a mere hundred million. It woud stupid for me to try to put a team together in house to do it when it's a known problem that's been solved many times and can be done much more cheaply by someone else.

If I was advising a friend how to play mp3s, I would tell him to use a free player. If advising a friend how to do minor touch up to photos, I'd show him where the good free photo basic editing software is. If advising a friend on development IDEs for the Mac, I'd point him to the amazing free IDE that Apple gives away free to all who ask. If advising a friend on recording software, I'd point him to ProTools free. Free is the way to go.

Regarding adding features to our software -- it's a mature product and we don't get many requests anymore since it does basically what people want. And the new free stuff does the basic stuff people want too. I can see how this would be different if the free stuff had too many bugs or had a really poor UI, but it's acceptable. Like I said, the current income doesn't justify any further development. We'll sell it but we're going to lay off the developers since things are too tight, and I'll be one of those developers. It was fun while it lasted. now I'm moving on to the happy world of being a free software consumer.

Thursday, July 3, 2003


I agree with you there. MS would love to (1) buy Linux and (2) fold in what they could and (3) shelve the rest. But (1) no one owns Linux so they can't buy it, (2) it's GPL so they can't fold it in (Apple managed this trick but they sell hardware not software - MS can't be like Apple since MS doesn't own the hardware), (3) the license can't be retracted or limited, which is the whole point of GPL of course.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Apple is not Linux, it's BSD. The licensing agreement allows them to sell it, and they do. OSX costs money. The upgrades cost money.

Apple could switch to x86 architecture and still sell OSX and not have to release it as open source.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Apple is built on top of BSD.
Its kernel, darwin, is open source but _not_ GPL

there _is_ a difference folks....wxWindows is open source but _not_ GPL...I can build and sell commercial applications built on top of it without having to provide access to any code at all (although IIRC its considered polite to mention the fact I used wxWindows I dont believe there is a requirement even for that...I may be wrong about this).

Linux is open source _and_ GPL, if I use the linux code in a project, I can sell the results as a compiled application but I also have to provide access to both the original code _and_ my modifications.
(technically there is no reason I could not build and sell a commercial application using GPL'd software, but practically its so easy for others to undercut me using the same code that mostly charging for support is a more secure form of income)

GPL is _one_ type of open source license, LGPL is another, there are many, many other types of opensource licenses....which license the code is released under is determined entirely by the author of that code.

(and yes, apple could move everything to any type of machine without any problems)

Thursday, July 3, 2003

In our product space, we have our fair share of open source competition. We haven't seen much threat from it, however. In fact, open source is more of an ally.

One way in which open source works for us is in utility classes that our product integrates with. Off the top of my head, we use the following tools:

- - Full text search engine.
- - Small and common utility classes
- - Read and import Word documents
- - Logging framework
- - We integrate with
- - MVC web framework
- - PDF creation
- - PDF importing
- - make files
- - unit tests

These tools together amount to some pretty serious functionality.

The other bonus of open source for us is in deployment platform options. Some of our customers run on pertty serious 64 bit machines, with BEA Weblogic and Oracle 9i. However, customers of ours can run on a $0 linux operating system (linux), with a $0 application server (jboss + tomcat), with a $0 database (mysql). Just add hardware! This has been a huge selling point, and (as it happens) we provide support and consulting for these platforms too :) Life is good where I sit :)

Rhys Keepence
Thursday, July 3, 2003

My point on Apple is that a substantial amount of the system software and utilities are GPL'd.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

I used to work for a company that ran against free competition and wins.

They do it by basically just being better at the whole package: although the alternatives are free, the alternatives don't integrate as well; they don't handle all the cute file formats, they don't have such nice scripting systems and there's no 24x7 phone support to hand-hold you through when the "I'll just script a thing to do that" goes wrong.

You call support and someone with a degree in microbiology answers it. If they can't fix the thing they go find someone with a computer science degree to help. If you want to buy a bit of kit through the place, someone comes and helps you write the grant application for the money.

There's an attention to detail trickles down through the company; Icons don't get just get picked from a stock range, each one is custom designed exactly right, using exactly the right colours. Custom controls for all the external toys that work properly. One of the standards is that the user interface stuff is double buffered, because dials don't flicker in real life and they're not going to here. All the image processing options come with previews, so you can tell what the options you're choosing will actually do. Not just the ones that it's easy to do that for. All of them. Things like that.

They simply don't ship 80% or 90% or 95%... it has to be 100%.

50K a seat, and still the sales department basically answers the phone to customers who've seen the thing running and have just GOT to get it.

Katie Lucas
Thursday, July 3, 2003

MS doesn't include gcc, perl, apache, lex, yacc, grep, less, emacs, and everything else the FSF has ever produced free in their distro with source code. Apple does.

Now let's leave this subject, or continue it in some other thread where we can argue whether Apple can make money selling open-sourced Intel versions of their OS software running on Intel hardware. (Since this is such a great business model, I am sure someone will take advantage of the great opportunity here and make a open-source clone of OSX for intel and make money selling service contracts.)

But look, I'm really sorry I followed up on the MS buying Linux issue. It's off-thread.

Our situation has nothing whatsoever to do with GPL or open-source. It has to do with free as in beer.

It has nothing to do with custom business software costing millions and requiring extensive maintenence. The software costs under $200 and comes in a box. It's used by regular folks.

Weak? Yeah, sure. i'm ready to concede defeat. I'm letting the guys in Hungary and Russia and Belgium do all the free software development. I promise to enjoy using it. That makes me weak, OK. And working for free shows they are stronger than me. I am too weak to do that, true. Sure, I got no problem with your powerful strength. Just keep making the free software. And adding the features I want. I promise to be your internet friend if you give me the free stuff, man.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Katie, I agree it can work sometimes. We have all the things you mention and the orders just aren't coming in. So, in this sector, those distinguishing things are not enough to compete against free.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Getting back to the original case of the Hungarian programmer -- as long as he owns all the code in question, even if he released as GPL, he can relicense it to you with any license you two agree on.  He's still the copyright holder.  He can license the code to YOU (and only you) under BSD or some invented license of his choosing, should he want to.

Things are more complicated if, in addition to making his code GPL, he pulled in other people's GPL code in the form of GPLed class libraries or whatever.  In that case, he obviously can't relicense the parts he doesn't own the copyright to, and he can't make his code non-GPL if it relies on other GPL code.

Mister Fancypants
Thursday, July 3, 2003


If there is indeed nothing more you can add to your product to differentiate it, then it is time to switch into maintenance mode and move onto the Next Big Thing. Standing still in our industry is a bad idea.

I am certain that if Microsoft decided that Windows 95 had everything, and no more features could be added, then linux would have taken over by now and Microsoft would be out of the game. But that is not the case.

Rhys Keepence
Thursday, July 3, 2003


As I said, the next big thing for me is doing some touring, and also planning to fit in some studio sessions now that I'll have more free time available. We've made a lot of good contacts over the years and now I'm really looking forward to taking up some folks on the invitations they've extended!

Thursday, July 3, 2003

I work in an environment where there are lots and lots of free-software code that can do what my company's product does. However, we're growing and getting lots of business. How? The company has adapted itself -- beefing up the support division and added consultants to integrate our product in other people's networks. (Oh, and there are other differences as well -- such as the fact we actually test our software in ways that most free-software authors do not have the resources to do.)

Thursday, July 3, 2003

"consultants to integrate our product in other people's networks"

SG, maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but is it safe to say your customers are businesses? I have already said many times that our primary customer base is the individual using the software at home -- about 90% so.

Yes, regarding stability, our product is substantially more stable than the free variants. This doesn't matter so much to that 90% though, not so much that they will pay extra for an assurance of complete stability. Only about 1% of the customer base uses the software in live performance and broadcast situations where stability is absolutely necessary and fortunately we've never had a problem there -- I'd wager that there are no bugs left in the code base. But that 1% isn't enough to pay for continued development. The only rational thing is to let the development team go. The revenue coming in is enough to provide a modest living for a skeleton crew of sales and customer service folks.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Did you know that in Belgium the avarage working time of a government employee is around 25 minutes per working day? This guy is a thief. He steals from the taxpayer, probably at the rate of more than 50.000$ a year, and these illegal gains he invests in ripping of the work of others and grabbing their source of income.
Now I know he is just a cog in a big apparatus, but that does not mean it is al innocent.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Differentiate your product

Do something the guy can not easily copy

Ask your customers what is important to them

Out market/advertise the guy (you have money - he presumably doesn't to give away free copies)

Hire the guy. Not to get his code - but to  stop him working on free competition

Create a different product entirely

Produce superior looks/packaging for your product (Pay a graphic designer etc if necessary).  When your product looks like a Ferrari, and his like Trabant in comparison... you might be surprised at the effect it could have.

Provide integration with proprietary applications which are important to customers. Something an OSS probably wouldn't want to follow.

I mean, there must be like a 1000 things you could do.
If price is the only thing you can compete on, no offence, but you're doomed in the long-run, against not only free-software but any commercial competitors you might have. Personally, I think you should have the advantage, as you have money + time to spend on this - he only has time.

S. Tanna
Thursday, July 3, 2003

well Relic, sounds like you've convinced yourself.

Niches that can't compete against free beer wouldn't have been able to compete against a smaller, leaner operation either.  If either of these developers were charging peanuts and keeping the source closed, you'd still up the creek..

constructive comment
Thursday, July 3, 2003

> Did you know that in Belgium the avarage working time of a government employee is around 25 minutes per working day?

I thought that the average "government" employee in Belgium, actually works for the EU...  so it's largely not even Belgian tax payers who are paying their salaries! :-)

S. Tanna
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Shoot, Just Me -- 25 minutes a day for 50 grand, and teh rest of the day just kicking back and doing your own thing. I could live with that. Dang! I'm kicking myself that I wasn't born in Belgium.

This whole thing had us pretty freaked out when it started coming down, but we've got open management and we left it up to the employees what to do. We've had every conversation possible and we realize it's time to move on. There was some sadness at loss but now I see it as an opportunity to get real with the new way things are and be happy with it. And the new way things are ain't so bad -- instead of busting my butt 12 hours a day, the Belgian government is now giving me software for free! Shoot, that's the least they can do after we saved their butts in WWII, right? The Hungarian guy is a sader case though -- he really things he's going to make a living somehow if only he keeps doing this free software thing long enough. I've tried to give him the heads up but he thinks I'm just scamming him cause I'm his evil capitalist competitor. Poor guy. World's a tough place. His software's not so bad! Maybe we can encourage him to make some other useful software and give it to us for free.

Back to the waffle land and their cushy life of leisure, that sounds pretty nice. I've been supporting myself since I was 17. Some of those early jobs were pretty tough work. Things are more stable now but I feel bad for a couple of the other guys that are sadded with big mortgage payments. They've been looking around and haven't found anything. I know one guy from college who was really one of the best developers I've known - learned a lot from him. He lost his house, his trophy wife left him, and now he's living in a van somebody gave him. Maybe we could all move to Belgium! Do they accept a lot of immigration there?

Thursday, July 3, 2003

"Back to the waffle land ..."

Laughed out loud at that one.

This is an outstanding thread.  Relic, would you mind letting us know, even in general terms, what your application does exactly so we can get a better idea of who your customers are?

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Offer a service of some sort with regard to functionality that your software provides.  Most open source people can't afford to put up 2 or 4 servers (appserver/data/redundancy) for their users.  This will take care of 90% of the OSS problem.  Just give them some value for their $...

Also, make it (more?) user-friendly and easy to in point - OSS is usually hard to set up and even harder to configure.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

"As I said, the next big thing for me is doing some touring, and also planning to fit in some studio sessions now that I'll have more free time available."

[shrug] It almost sounds to me like you're looking for a reason to quit. If you *really* want to maintain this revenue flow, I've got some ideas, but I'm not gonna take the time to type them if this isn't really what you want to do.

[NOTE: There is nothing wrong with changing lifestyles - I strongly advocate it. Just be honest about what you're doing and why.]


Thursday, July 3, 2003

I'm really skeptical about the ability of free software to penetrate vertical markets. I think either that "Relic of a dying era" has little to worry about, or, his company's application really wasn't that hard to figure out and clone so they should have expected this anyway.

Here's my perspective... Free software is basically techie playtime. Programmers choose to work on open source projects that they think will be fun and interesting. The intersection of "fun and interesting" with business needs is... almost nil.

What I find continually about open source is that YES, the "brilliant core work" may be done. BUT THE DAMNED THING BREAKS, WON'T INSTALL, CRASHES, IS INCOMPATIBLE in some undocumented way. And when you post a question publicy you get a sanctimonious "RTFM" and/or you get a bunch of excuses why the core development team didn't think it was necessary to update the demo code or docs to match the core code. Or something similar.

An associated problem is that often there is just too much open source laying around. Many OSS 'freshmeat' pages look like some junior programmer's hard drive. Lots of outdated legacy versions, no explanations, lots of betas with no caveats, etc. Often you have absolutely no idea what the magic combination of different packages is that will actually work. 

As far as solving real world business needs - ROTFL. I will give you an example. I recently sought to find a replacement for Quickbooks in my consultancy. I looked into the open source alternatives. Absolutely nothing usable with more depth than a juiced up set of Excel macros (although not Excel, I mean that the applications I found had very little depth of functionality.) Accounting is about the most horizontal of business applications, it has applicability across the board, it consists of very general rules and principles that lend themselves perfectly to open source development, and you would THINK that someone would consider it "glorious" to compete with Intuit on their home turf. Well, think again... My guess is that constructing a full blown accounting system with reporting, a general ledger, AP/AR, Payroll, inventory, etc, is just not that much fun to do for free.

So, dangerous competitors? Yes, if the software has to do with operating systems, programming tools, debugging, gaming, IM, command shells, or other common network utilities.

Otherwise, exceedingly wimpy competitors.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Ok, I read into the thread a bit more. Relic's package is sold to individuals.

One question I have is, how important is it to those individuals that buy his program that it works exactly as advertised?

If it's some sort of important utility software that helps the user do something related to either human health or financial issues, then Relic should try to get his hands on the european guy's freeware package and investigate and list its deficiencies.

The important thing is, do an inventory of how your commercial product is better than the free version. One thing I do know from experience - software just out of the chute produced by a skeleton crew will never compete well with mature commercial software. If the function performed is personally important to the user, then you probably have a clear edge in reliabilty and support.

If, however, your product is entertainment related or pure utility, then it has to be pretty special to compete... since it's not tha important to the user whether it works 100% or not, this may be a battle to yield on.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Relic said: "Maybe we can encourage him to make some other useful software and give it to us for free."

I used to work on an Open Source CMS, and that was the single most irritating attitude people ever displayed towards me and my work.  That Hungarian guy wouldn't be writing that software for free if he didn't like doing it.  Similarly, all the code I wrote I wrote because I liked writing it.  If I didn't want to add a feature, I wouldn't.  No itch, no scratch, no code.

There are some that are writing Open Source programs to unseat a commercial competitor, but I think the vast majority of OSS development is to scratch and itch, and should be treated as such.  Don't expect people to write code for free, that they don't want to write.  And if you act ungrateful, and expect the code to be written for free and quickly, don't expect to ever get any features you want finished.

Rant over :)

Andrew Hurst
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Apache and Perl were not created by the FSF, are not maintained by the FSF, and do not use the GPL license.  Apple's biggest use of GPLed software is gcc.  A majority of the GPLed software used in OS X is used by FreeBSD as well.  It just doesn't make sense to rewrite some command line utilities.

Apple succeeds in using open source software because they actually work with the projects.  Safari uses the KHTML rendering engine from KDE.  Most of the UNIX utilities come from a specific version of FreeBSD.  Apple contributes back to these projects.  There is no reason why MS couldn't take advantage of open source software in the same way, and in fact they do.  There is BSD code in Windows.

Regardless of whether you dislike open source software or not, it is probably a good idea to actually understand it so that you don't look foolish on discussion boards such as this.  It probably helps to actually understand something you want to compete with as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

I think the core problem here is that Relic expects something that worked in the past to work in the future.
A lot of things are hard to develop but easy to clone once you know how it should look and behave.
In these cases one should expect a lot of me-too's undercutting you all the way once the idea gets out.
Therefore treat the initial revenue stream as something that will stop in a (short) while, and don't dwell on it.
Stop the development effort, and move on. That's life ...

Mr Curiousity
Thursday, July 3, 2003

The problem with OSS is the same as its main strength. Diversity.
Its really a jungle out there. Lots of crap, sure! But also lots of good stuff.

Having followed this development for almost 10 years now, I dare say this. The projects that are thretening to their commercial counterparts have these things in common:
A) The core developers stick around for years
B) They appeal to crowd that codes for fun and community spirit, and contain technical challanges of the fun kind.
C) They have a strong leader that is also a good coder.

C may sometimes be a company. Like MySQL AB or the many commercial linux distros.

I think C is also quite interseting since it contradicts the idea that OSS evolves out of chaos, which is something that many believe. Not least in the GNU/Free Software crowd.
Now a lot of software does come from the more chaotic circulation of code, but the projects with the capacity to hurt commercial competion are generaly very well lead and managed.

Eric DeBois
Friday, July 4, 2003


Hear, hear! Excellent post.

>>  Now a lot of software does come from the more chaotic circulation of code, but the projects with the capacity to hurt commercial competion are generaly very well lead and managed.

One major fact that has a bearing on this comes to mind: how common is excellent management and leadership, even in the paid professional IT world?  Astonishingly rare.

Most OSS projects have neither, so they're chaotic piles of crap where people come and go and break things as they bloody well please out of a misguided sense of control and of getting their fingerprints all over the project just because they need to express their arteestistic notions.

The unjustly lauded 'Indy' internet component tools for Delphi are a prime example of this: core developers running amok, breaking existing application code, not updating demos, and not documenting anything very well.

Bored Bystander
Friday, July 4, 2003

What's the software? Paintshop pro? Installshield? Winzip? Just curious...

Bill Rayer
Friday, July 4, 2003

> The unjustly lauded 'Indy' internet component tools for
> Delphi are a prime example of this: core developers
> running amok, breaking existing application code, not
> updating demos, and not documenting anything very well.

I gave Indy a try and gave up in no time. I'm still sticking to François Piette's ICS (Internet Component Suite).

Why? Because the way it works is a lot more natural for me. Also, it doesn't have much in the way of docs, but it has more than enough samples to get me started on whatever I want to do - granted, I have simple needs :)

"Suravye ninto manshima taishite (Peace favor your sword)" (Shienaran salute)
"Life is a dream from which we all must wake before we can dream again" (Amys, Aiel Wise One)

Paulo Caetano
Friday, July 4, 2003

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