Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Because...

Author:David Adams
Posted:8/24/2000; 9:41:24 PM
Topic:Next survey: Are you an open source developer?
Msg #:20154 (In response to 20117)
Prev/Next:20153 / 20155

GPLed software is not part of a "free market." In fact, its stated purpose is to destroy the free market, preventing you from buying an alternative product at any price -- be it $9.95 or $250.00 or anywhere in between.

Ah, but here's what I think is the interesting part. We're talking about software here, and the fun thing about software pricing is that it's totally artificial. I mean, sure software can be extremely useful, and it can provide monetary benefit to its users. But, there's not a physical product! Especially not now in the days of the Internet. The product is a really long string of bits stored on some medium--magnetic disk, CD, paper, whatever. Beyond the cost of the medium, there is no cost of production. The cost of producing another copy of Frontier or Windows 2000 or Red Hat Linux, say onto a CD-R or across a network, is so close to zero that it's negligible.

So the price of software is totally artificial, and it's based on artificial scarcity of product by the vendors who hold the copyright and distribution rights to the software, enforced by laws and courts. This is unlike physical products, which don't need such protection. You can't easily copy a car and give it to your neighbor, not without spending a significant amount on materials and manufacturing. Software is a special case--an inherently different kind of product--because of the ability to make copies of it for essentially zero cost.

Essentially, software companies survive via protection of the government or by offering services such as support (Red Hat, LinuxCare, etc), subscriptions (UserLand), or consulting services (ArsDigita). Those services have intrinsic value, unlike the combination of bits that makes up a copy of Emacs or Paint Shop Pro.

I'm not sure what all this has to do with the continuing GPL argument, but I find it really intriguing, and I thought I'd throw my thoughts out there.


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