[K12OSN] OT: Open Source counter-arguments

James P. Kinney III jkinney at localnetsolutions.com
Sat Jul 14 20:40:02 UTC 2007

All of the arguments below have some simple merit on face value. But I
would put to the poster of the argument the following question (warning
- there is a single question at the end of the lead up of 1400+ words
-this hit a nerve):

Over the last 1500 years of human development things have been done for
2 and only 2 reasons: monetary gain and philosophical ideals.

Think about this a minute. 

People do things for money. Is that inherently bad? Or good? I would
argue that it is neither. Just a hammer can build a house so can it also
harm another living creature. 

In order to survive in the modern world, one must have the basic food,
water, shelter. The acquisition of those tangible requirements for life
now requires the exchange of resources mostly in the form of the local

There are many things that people do to get the cash they exchange for
the goods the needs to live. Some are of dubious merit and others are
almost noble.

People do things for philosophical reasons. Some people will not spend
cash in certain ways because to do so will in part support the
philosophical principles they abhor. Other will spend cash because he
the philosophies are enhanced that they approve of.

Sometimes, people are moved to try and change the world because of an
emotional experience or other times because of an intellectual analysis,
either of which demonstrated a need that was previously latent.

So what? How does this fit into the proposed argument that commercially
produced, rights restricted to "pay us or else we'll..." software is
better than software that grants the most freedoms possible to the end
user and future developers?

In the same way humanity has in the past held that actions done for
ideals are far greater (or far more terrifying) that actions done for
the acquisition of money.

Is commercial, closed source software (CCSS) often times more polished
than its free and open source software(FOSS) brethren? Yep. It's a lot
easier to do that last 10% of clean-up and polish when everyone involved
knows they won't be on the street next month because they worked on that
project instead of what they otherwise do to pay the rent/mortgage.

Does FOSS software often imitate CCSS? Sure. It's not that the CCSS
looks bad or all does Bad Things (tm). If FOSS had the cash resources
(or even a tiny fraction) that CCSS does, we wouldn't be having this
discussion. CCSS would cease to exist as we know it because all of FOSS
would be outstanding.

Does FOSS always imitate CCSS. No. The best example of this is tabbed
browsing from Firefox that has been incorporated into other browsers.

Why should people pay for software? Whys should people pay for anything?
Those are purely philosophical questions. From the viewpoint of the
software vendor who can eat because people buy software, everyone should
pay for software. From the viewpoint of the computer user, why should be
effectively forced to buy anti-virus software because the software that
came with their computer is basically broken. What would be the
implications of a brand new car that has to get parts added to it just
so it could be driven down certain streets without falling apart. Why
should the car owner be liable for the defects of the manufacturer. Why
should someone be forced to pay for software that does the same thing?
Why should someone be forced to pay for software that states the
manufacturer is not liable for anything their software does or does not
do? If someone pays for software that allows them to put text on a piece
of paper but that software also allows their neighbor to steal access to
their back account why is not the software manufacturer held

Furthermore, if a tangible item is found to be defective, people have
the recourse to demand repayment and sometimes can even get reimbursed
for harm caused by the defect. 

But software makers have a license that says in effect "if you use this
product, we keep your money. We will never give you a refund. We will
never allow you to sue us for damages caused by the use of our product.
We don't acknowledge this software will do anything. But you paid for it
and unless you AGREE to all of this, you can't use this software". This
is standard license boilerplate from CCSS.

So the better question is why is ANYONE willing to purchase that kind of

But wait, there's more!

The FOSS also has a license agreement that basically says "We don't
guarantee this software will do anything. But you can take it apart if
you want to and make it work for you if it doesn't. It's OK. We won't
come and try and take you to jail. In fact, we want you to both help
make it better and share that knowledge with everyone. And you can make
copies and charge for the copies. But you can't restrict anyone else to
have fewer rights than you have right now.".

Hmm. So the software choices are pay for stuff that looks good but has
no warranty what-so-ever and may be a legal liability issue or don't pay
for software that may or may not be as polished and has similar lack of
quality guarantees but has no legal implications outside of "play  well
with others".

Sure a steak from Ruth's Chris Steak house is great. At $60 for what I
had the last time I went, it had better be! Of course a steak at Golden
Corral is going to be different that the Ruth's steak. But what a
surprise when it tastes just as good for $8. It does happen.

FOSS is also like that. Sure the CCSS can be had for big bucks. For the
big bucks costs everyone should expect excellent quality and outstanding

One can get support contracts for FOSS and get excellent quality and

It must be noted that "economy of the free world" is an oxymoron. Here
is where things get sticky. The GPL plays with this use of the word
"free" as well. Most CCSS vendors use "free" to mean "has no cash
value". For the CCSS vendors "value" and "worth" are only viewed their
myopic cash-flow perspective. Does this mean that CCSS is possessing
more "value" and "worth" than FOSS? In the eyes of the vendors it does.

So if a CCSS package can do twice as much as a FOSS alternative does the
FOSS alternative posses half the value and worth of the CCSS package?

Hmm. That could be an interesting dilemma. But the CCSS vendors have
further muddy the analysis because their products are not priced like
tangible goods. It may, for the sake of argument, cost a car maker
$10,000 to make a car that sells for $15,000. But software is different.
Each iteration recycles the prior effort and add patches, features, etc.
So the cost of each new release is spread over the lifetime of the
entire product line plus each copy sold. So a CCSS application that cost
$1m to create originally gets replicated over 1 million copies. Each
copy costs $5 for the tangible portion and has $1 for the amortized cost
of code production. Then that copy gets sold for $30. Or $300.

So what? CCSS costs money. FOSS can also cost hard cash. 

It all boils down to philosophy.

Commercial, closed-source software exists to make money.

Free and open source software exists for philosophical reasons.

One is greed based and the other is far more altruistic. One is trying
to control the world by having acquiring the resources that everyone
needs to eat while the other is trying to change the world so that
everyone has the right to think and study and make improvements (and

This is a profound difference of thinking. Is it an either/or situation
- make money OR change the world?

No. There is no problem with making money in the FOSS world. It is
encouraged. But not at the expense of freedom. That would not be
changing the world for the better.

Which finally leads to the real question to pose to the closed-source
software advocate who argues that Free and Open Source software just
isn't good enough, just copies things from the commercial world and in
general is an economic train wreck looking to happen.

So which would you rather be remembered for: making a ton of money
selling stuff that didn't work that well or changing the world by
empowering everyone with tools they can use and modify?

On Sat, 2007-07-14 at 12:25 -0600, ahodson wrote:
> Hi fellow k12osn - hope you have a few minutes to read and contribute in 
> helping build a counter argument to the post below. I am looking to see
> 1) has anybody seen these arguments before (authenticity)
> 2) are you in a position to share counter-arguments 
> (data/experiences/logic)?
> 3) Do you know of scholarly sources to accomplish #2?
> ========================== post ============================
> "Here is what I have seen from the Open Source Community:
> MOST, not all, of the programs are a generation or two BEHIND their 
> commercial counterparts. That is because the open source community is 
> not so much innovative, rather imitative. They wait and see what the big 
> guys are doing and then imitate it. So, if you want to be a generation 
> behind, then you use open source. So be it. That is not a bad thing. 
> However, I prefer to be on the edge, for the most part.
> IN essence, the OS community uses the software companies as their R&D 
> arms, waiting to see what the next innovation will be that they can 
> write into their software. They then copy the innovation, let it go into 
> the open source world, and say "look how good we are at making something 
> that is ALMOST like the original."
> Sounds fair huh?
> Look at GIMP for instance. Whenever Adobe comes out with the latest 
> Photoshop, THEN the GIMP community comes out with an update that tries 
> to match the feature set. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. But, 
> GIMP is NOT Photoshop. That is because Photoshop, like many other 
> commercial programs, have an ecosystem built around them that simply 
> cannot be  matched by the OS community. Plug Ins, peripherals, books, 
> training video, websites, all revolve around the commercial products.
> I can get something that MAY be like the plug in I want to use in 
> Photoshop, but to say a program IS JUST LIKE another program is in fact, 
> a terrible misstatement.
> Is a Steak at Ruths Chris Steakhouse the same as a steak at Golden 
> Corral? No, it is not. Yes, they are both steaks, but they are not the 
> same. The experience is different, the taste is different. Yes, they 
> will both fill you up, but...
> Finally, you cannot be in any conversation with an OS person without 
> these words being uttered: "Why should we pay Microsoft for this or 
> that?" Interesting. Why pay for anything? Why pay Dell for hardware? Why 
> pay AT&T for connectivity? Why pay EXXON for gas? I don't understand the 
> aversion to having to pay for something. The entire economy of the free 
> world is based on this. You pay for goods and services.
> I always go back to the book [], the Cathedral and the Bazaar: A book 
> about how paying for software was so bad...
> Cost of the Book: $18.00.
> It seems paying for something is okay, as long as it is OS stuff..."
> ====================== end of post ===================================
> Thanks for the help
> Alan
> El Paso TX
> -=o=-
> _/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/
>     Fight the Digital Divide
> http://toss-elptx.blogspot.com/
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James P. Kinney III          
CEO & Director of Engineering 
Local Net Solutions,LLC        

GPG ID: 829C6CA7 James P. Kinney III (M.S. Physics)
<jkinney at localnetsolutions.com>
Fingerprint = 3C9E 6366 54FC A3FE BA4D 0659 6190 ADC3 829C 6CA7
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