Paying for your software
by William Shotts, Jr.
I hope you enjoyed the software you downloaded
from this site and all the other sites in the Linux
community. Now it is time for you to pay for your
software. I hear you saying, "But I thought this
software was free!" It is free. All of the software
on this site is released under the terms of the GNU
General Public License. It is free, but it is free
in the sense of "free speech" not "free beer." So
how are you going to pay for your software?
I have been using Linux for several years now.
It has brought me great enjoyment and personal
satisfaction. I created LinuxCommand.org in order
to pay for the enjoyment Linux and the Linux
community have brought me. As your use and
enjoyment of Linux grows, so does your debt to the
community of hard working people who made it
possible. What are you going to give in return?
Maybe you can write code and can create a new tool
that will help others get their work done faster or
better. There are a lot of software projects that
need documentation. Many need better graphic
Talk is cheap. Good software isn't.
by William Shotts, Jr.
I got my first computer in the spring of 1978.
It was a TRS-80 Model 1. In those days, an ordinary
individual owning a computer was a revolutionary
event. While many of you may be too young to
remember, there was a time when only two groups
could afford computers - big business and big
government. There was a phrase that was used in the
old days that you don't hear anymore: "do not fold,
spindle, or mutilate." This phrase was printed on
punch cards that would be sent with your phone bill
and such. The problem was that while you weren't
allowed to mistreat the punch card, the same could
not be said of the way the large institutions with
computers treated everybody else.
In the early days of personal computing, there
was tremendous excitement about the potential for
personal empowerment that the computer could
provide. One example that I remember was this:
suppose you wanted to write to your congressman
about some law you wanted changed. Before personal
computers, you would sit down at the typewriter and
compose a letter to your congressman and then mail
it. With a computer and a mailing list, you could
do the same thing, but you didn't have to settle
with writing a letter to just your congressman, you
could write to all of them!
It was an amazing thing to have control over
your own computer. To have the freedom to learn how
it worked, to create new ways of using it based on
this newfound understanding. Today, we take
computers for granted. They are everywhere. And
more and more we take our freedom for granted, too.
We seem to accept the idea that we are not smart
enough to really understand our computers, that
software is supposed to crash all the time and that
we have to pay someone else for the right to use
our own computers.
With the coming of the Internet we have once
again been put into revolutionary times. There is
another wave of personal empowerment as well. Now
everyone can be a publisher. But once again our
freedom is in danger. Recent attempts to censor
Internet content, prohibitions on reverse
engineering, and the rise of digital access
controls create the beginnings of a diminished
future, like the one portrayed by Richard Stallman
in his essay "The
Right To Read".
I urge all of you to think long and hard about
the freedoms you take for granted.
See also, The
Freedom to Read Statement from the American
Library Association and Judge Thomas Penfield
Findings of Fact in the Microsoft antitrust
by William Shotts, Jr.
Let's imagine for a moment that we live in the
(perhaps distant) future. You have just invented a
machine that can duplicate matter. You throw any
object into this machine and set the number copies
and out they come. Image the good you could do with
such a machine. If you put an apple in the machine,
you could, with some effort, give everybody in the
world an apple. But what would the apple growers
have to say about this? Would they try to get laws
passed that would outlaw your machine? Failing
that, would they try to force you to change your
machine so it could not copy apples, and further,
would they try to outlaw the mere discussion of how
to duplicate apples?
Seems silly, I know. The apple growers, like
everyone else, might find a way to enjoy the
benefits of a device that could free the world from
We don't have a machine that can copy matter,
but we do have a machine that can copy information.
It's the hundreds of millions of computers we use
every day. Increasingly connected together into a
vast global network, we stand on the edge of an era
where the world's people can be free of
informational want. That is, except for this little
problem of "intellectual property."
If we could return to the distant future and the
apples, what do you suppose the value of an apple
is if you can make unlimited copies at no cost? You
got it, zero. What is the value of a Metallica song
after Napster gets done with it? You got it, zero.
In the analog world, supply is limited. The law of
supply and demand determines the price, but in the
digital world supply is always unlimited, so the
cost it always zero.
Naturally, the recording industry, the movie
studios, and the proprietary software companies
hate this. Someone has come along and killed their
golden goose. I imagine that the buggy whip
manufacturers felt the same way with the advent of
the automobile. Actually, hate is an
understatement. They want revenge.
Through a combination of legislation and
industry pressure, the media companies are
attempting to force people to give up their
computers. It will still seem like you have a
computer, except it won't do the thing most basic
to its nature. It won't freely move and duplicate
information. If you had a RAM chip in your computer
that did not freely move and duplicate information,
you would replace it as defective. Limiting
computers this way destroys their wonderful
The goal of the media companies is to realize a
fantastic vision. A pay-per-view world of books,
movies, music, and software where there is no
physical trace of their product, where they get to
duplicate their content at no cost to them and make
everybody pay to look at it every time. Rather than
losing their golden goose, they change it into a
So in exchange for this land grab by the media
companies, we are expected to give up our fair use
rights (granted to us under the Constitution) and
say "oh, never mind" to the prospect of setting the
world's knowledge free for all to share and benefit
Here we have the dilemma, should we allow
information to become universally available to
everyone or should we allow the intellectual
property holders create an artificial shortage of
their products? To me, the important word here is
"artificial". Computers naturally want to make
copies. To do otherwise requires a lot of unnatural
acts, as you have seen if you have ever worked with
any copy-protection scheme.
The concept of intellectual property may be
obsolete. It may be another buggy whip.
by William Shotts, Jr.
One of the criticisms of free software you hear
over and over again is that there is no business
model for software companies to use with free
software. After all, it is said, how can you sell
something that your customers can get for free?
What this criticism really says is, "how can
companies use their present business model to sell
free software?" Obviously they can't.
If ever there was a technology that could be
described as "disruptive," it would be free
software. It scares the hell out of people. It is
feared that if all software were free, no one would
have any incentive to write software and thus the
whole world would just dry up. This line of
reasoning overlooks several important facts:
- Most software is not packaged
product. The truth is that most software is
developed for internal use.
- People still want software and are
willing to pay for it. Since software is
still needed, there will always be work for
programmers to solve other people's problems.
- Software development in its present form
is very wasteful. Closed source code has a
chilling effect on software development. There is
tremendous incentive to reinvent the wheel as
licensing other closed source tools is as
limiting to developers as it is to end-users.
This failure to "stand on the shoulders of
giants" along with the proprietary nature of
their own work causes continuous limits on their
own development resources.
The present closed source model is a fairly
recent development in the software industry. Before
the PC, most software was contracted and those
contracts always provided for source code to be
given to the customer. The customer, after all,
wanted control of his computer and wanted the
freedom to have another contractor provide future
maintenance of the code. Once the PC software
industry discovered the secret of selling a $2
diskette for $400, the present business model fully
took hold. But such a trick can only work if you
can enforce an artificial shortage on the
The model of the future will be very different.
In the future, when you pay for software you will
pay for its development. You will not pay for the
effects of the artificial shortage of software. In
fact, there will be a variety of new kinds of
- Software Development Houses are a
traditional business that develops software for
hire. In the future, they will market their
services to groups of companies that wish a
particular application built. The resulting
project will be open to outside developers and
the customers for participation. One example is
the relationship between the Mozilla project and
Netscape. Another example is Cygnus
Solutions division of Red Hat.
- Development Brokers will be a new
type of business that will find groups of users
for a particular application or system and will
organize them into consortiums that will fund the
development of projects. They are the middlemen
that will bring users and software development
houses together. They will negotiate the project
requirements, the acceptance plans, and contract
administration with the software development
houses. There have been a few attempts at this
model, but so far they have mistakenly attempted
to match up large companies and individual
- Development Support Companies will
provide on-line services for developers. Early
examples of this business are SourceForge and Collab.Net. One
problem that software development houses will
face is how to host projects for open source
development and maintenance. Various companies
will step forward to address this market.
- System Integration and Management
Services will emerge to coordinate the
delivery of software products to users. This is
not practical in the closed source world and it
results in severe logistical and cost issues for
large users of software systems. Early examples
of this developing model are the Red Hat
Network and Ximian Red
As you can see, there will be a future after