How do we get away from a software economy built on large corporations using their market power to control customers? For a while we thought the answer might be to have Free software providing competition, and who doesn’t love free stuff? Large companies who wanted to maximise profits without making any investment in software turned out to be big fans.
A new crisis emerged as the success of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) threatened the existence of ‘free-market capitalist software’ providers like Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco, with FOSS accomplices like Google and Facebook using the savings offered by FOSS to build new service monopolies in competition to them. Microsoft and Adobe have been forced to adopt the service model. Funding of common-ownership ‘Open FOSS’ has all but dried up. Incompatible services duplicate effort, form commercial alliances and fight for market share.
How do small software providers feed themselves without becoming part of the problem for everyone else? How do hackers avoid working for nothing to prove themselves, then queueing for scraps of work at the gates of the monopolists?
Q: In the absence of workable software copyright and patents, what do ‘we’ have to sell?
A1: Our labour. We have a market value. It may drop as a new generation of computer scientists is educated.
A2: Our ideas. Ideas cannot be protected, only designs, so we are forced to hide our best ones behind the walls of our service castles or trade them for income from anyone willing to fund development. Ideas have a very short shelf life, particularly in software. Once an idea hits the market, it is very likely to be copied. It is best for the world at large if ideas do spread fairly quickly, so they can be built on by others.
My new Answer 3: Early access to an idea that will be delivered to everyone in a couple of years, embedded in a FOSS implementation. Is access to an idea, say 2 years before your major competitors something companies would pay for? I imaging this work being performed in co-operatives that form for the lifetime of a product, though companies might continue, with a portfolio of products at different stages. It would depend on short-term non-disclosure agreements. Competitors could challenge you but they would always have 2 years work to catch up on. Key players could always leave with more up-to-date knowledge but they would soon learn how key they really were. Co-ops might agree to fork and do commercial deals to share information. In some markets, the product might be a modelling tool, where the latest version would have to keep improving to justify the expense over the free version. An unhappy customer could find a new team to take the stagnating software forward.
“Hackers, hustlers & hipsters” can you keep updating your ideas every 2 years or are you only interested in raising a cash cow? Co-ops would need trustworthy sales & deal-makers who could keep a secret, to keep bringing in the money and product owners to keep in touch with customer’s businesses. Custom jobs could be taken on too, if there was no conflict with the shared-cost core project. I’d love some feedback because I have some ideas this might work for, in the energy market, where I spent a big chunk of my career.
@sil Commercial/FOSS hybrid products/services? Like TKMax sell last-year’s designer warez for the price of orange chips.