Open Source and Capitalism

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e7th04sh
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Open Source and Capitalism

Post by e7th04sh »

We all know, more or less, what capitalism and open source are. Now, being a strong proponent of free market, maybe even a radical one, i am also enthusiast of open source games and software. These are not contradictory stances, but they are not in perfect harmony, are they? My positive feelings toward open source are based on my experience with results of this way of producing - mature open source applications. They tend to be less fitting the market demands, namely are not super-easy-in-use, idiot-proof and eye-candy. Instead they tend to be more powerful, adjustable and smart. The games focus on the essence of gaming experience, not the visuals. In general they reflect the needs and tastes of developers rather than casual users, and i am myself (if not yet a developer) close to developer's attitude here. That has some bad sides - fe. large proportion of open source software is more memory&cpu-hungry, probably because developers often have better than average computers.

Most importantly tough, open source means sharing of knowledge, what means better productivity than a closed source competition.

I am curious what do you think about the relationship between voluntary coding and supply, demand and profit laws that constitute free trade. Is open source in some ways harmful or beneficial? Could some new form of working on projects be derived from open source, a hybrid of these two ideals? Entire impossibility?

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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Joram »

We all know, more or less, what capitalism and open source are.
Don't be to sure of that. I'm predicting that there's going to be some people who think that the United States is an example of capitalism. :whistle:
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Noy »

I'm writing a chapter on something related to this so let me make a couple of points.

#1: Context is critical. What does the open source project aim to achieve? I would submit that what open source programmers want to achieve is very different from what a closed for profit developer wants.

#2 Open source and closed models are very different in the way they handle the control of aims and content. This has an undeniable outcome for the final product. To explain what I mean I'll cull a paragraph from the draft of my work.
noy's work wrote: Likely one of the most fundamental decisions that any nascent project must decide upon is its organizational model. It will determine number of contributors, their motivation for participating as well as the method of organization and control. Two can be commonly observed; a free open-source model versus a closed for-profit one. Both imports a wide range of expectations and views. Closed source, for-profit models provide financial remuneration for contribution, typifying Amitav Etizioni’s utilitarian organizational model. Participants in such organizations may be controlled through their financial motivation, which can better ensure the project produces a defined product according to a coherent vision. Unfortunately such projects require significant financial resources at the front end, something that is often lacking. The other model is the free and open source, which reflects Etzioni normative organizational model. In these projects, contributors’ personal interests become the motivation for participation rather than financial gain. However design control becomes less apparent as individuals may have conflicting visions about overall game design and the ability to pursue it. The FOSS model encourages innovation through the sharing of source code. Thus while a leader may attempt to impose stringent definitions on the project, its unlikely to produce success. Contributors may abandon the venture or take the code to continue development independently. The advantage of the FOSS model is that it may access a large user base with relatively modest amount of initial resources.
Last edited by Noy on September 16th, 2010, 10:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Reason: typos in the draft fixed
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Yoyobuae
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Yoyobuae »

I want to believe that these two concepts are not incompatible. But it is hard imagining a real world integration of both concepts, such that the creators get rewarded for their efforts and users to pay for software they like.

In any case, the traditional model of selling software as products won't do. When the product can be easily obtained for free, it's kinda hard to convince someone to pay for it.

I'm thinking the way to go would be to offer support services to the users instead. Dunno what would be a good way to turn that idea into a pratical business. Providing tech support to the users? Doing customizations for them? Helping them find the software they need and helping them learn it's use quickly? There are many possibilities, no clue if any which one wou make a good business. If any. :?
e7th04sh wrote:They tend to be less fitting the market demands, namely are not super-easy-in-use, idiot-proof and eye-candy. Instead they tend to be more powerful, adjustable and smart. The games focus on the essence of gaming experience, not the visuals. In general they reflect the needs and tastes of developers rather than casual users, and i am myself (if not yet a developer) close to developer's attitude here. That has some bad sides - fe. large proportion of open source software is more memory&cpu-hungry, probably because developers often have better than average computers.
I think this happens more because it is the developers the ones that are more in contact with the design/creation/testing aspects of open source. But this doesn't have to be the case. Non-developers can also become involve in that process (Wesnoth being a good example of that). I guess as more users get into open source, the concept itself will expand from it's programmers only roots to include any other kind of people that are also interesting in the common goal of making good/useful software.

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e7th04sh
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by e7th04sh »

Quite surprized. :D Noy, please notify me when your work is ready, will You? Judging from the passage here, I will enjoy reading it.

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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Eleazar »

Yoyobuae wrote:In any case, the traditional model of selling software as products won't do. When the product can be easily obtained for free, it's kinda hard to convince someone to pay for it.
Not to underplay the challenge, but piracy and open-source alternatives, haven't quite killed commercial software yet. In the US consumers part with approximately 300 billion a year for software.
Yoyobuae wrote:I'm thinking the way to go would be to offer support services to the users instead. Dunno what would be a good way to turn that idea into a pratical business. Providing tech support to the users? Doing customizations for them? Helping them find the software they need and helping them learn it's use quickly? There are many possibilities, no clue if any which one wou make a good business. If any. :?
That method is used sometimes for the "enterprise" market, but would be really lousy for games or other easy-to-use software types.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Velensk »

If people want to get together and make something for the community and are willing to put the time and effort into it then why in the world should they not be allowed to? If companies who pay teams of people to make products for them cannot make products that compete with people just doing it to make a decent tool then they should not be bailed out.

There are some projects that are simply too big/unfun/or overly specialized to be a likely for people to just make it in their spare time for the community. In these cases it helps to have companies specialized in creating such things.

Other projects (like games) are more like art in that even if you have plenty of good things already made there will still always be a demand for more/different. For these you'll find plenty of 'home-made' ones and some put out by specialists. The ones that are home-made are unlikely to be as good quality but you'll find a few whereas there is no guarantee that the ones made by specialists will be good but they will have plenty of resources to throw at whatever it is which can definitely help. If the home grown ones are bad nobody will keep them (assuming anyone tried them in the first place) and the creator is hardly hurt any, if the professional ones are bad then eventually the companies who made them won't be able to do so anymore and hopefully will be replaced by ones that think that they can do better.

I don't really see much conflict just varying levels of investment and risk.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by johndh »

Eleazar wrote:
Yoyobuae wrote:I'm thinking the way to go would be to offer support services to the users instead. Dunno what would be a good way to turn that idea into a pratical business. Providing tech support to the users? Doing customizations for them? Helping them find the software they need and helping them learn it's use quickly? There are many possibilities, no clue if any which one wou make a good business. If any. :?
That method is used sometimes for the "enterprise" market, but would be really lousy for games or other easy-to-use software types.
You may have heard of a game called "Avaneya" that's currently in the works. The devs seem to have this kind of plan for revenue, where the game itself is gratis and FOSS, but premium content and/or value-added services will be available for a price. I guess we'll have to wait and see if that pans out.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by thespaceinvader »

Software-as-product can still work - open source distribution (at least the GPL model as I understand it) guarantees free availability ONLY of the source, not of compiled working product. It is well within the rights of developers of GPL software, for precisely this reason, to sell compiled copies. They couldn;t prevent redistribution, but it's extremely important to be aware that we, the people who know FOSS, live in a comparatively closed bubble of OSS-ness. We're certainly less than 10% of the market, probably less than 1%, for software. Selling compiled versions to the other 90% can make solid cash. And does. Controversy with Apple's store policies aside, Wesnoth is as good an example as any of that.

The Frogatto model can also be useful - I know it's not the first, but it's the one I can think about right now - develop an open-source engine, and closed-source the content. This way you conform as closely as possible to the OSS ideal, but can still protect your revenue stream.

To my mind, OSS and making money are by no means mutually exclusive. The difficulty is that there is an underlying feeling within the community that they should be, or such is my impression. I'd love it if I could make a full-time living making art for open source projects. But as things stand, there's simply not enough return in it. I'd have to be better at it, too, but that's a side point.

Well, that's my take, anyway.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Midnight_Carnival »

Aah, one of those flamewars that never really becomes a flamewar and just burns out slowly.

I'm too tired to write a proper reply, but I don't see how open source and capitalism have to have anything to do with one another.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Gambit »

Nobody here is flaming, or will be flaming.

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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by pauxlo »

Eleazar wrote:
Yoyobuae wrote:In any case, the traditional model of selling software as products won't do. When the product can be easily obtained for free, it's kinda hard to convince someone to pay for it.
Not to underplay the challenge, but piracy and open-source alternatives, haven't quite killed commercial software yet. In the US consumers part with approximately 300 billion a year for software.
Does this consumers number include corporations, or only private users? I can't really imagine the average user spending 1000 dollars a year on software. (I don't live in the US, but I did not spend any money on software for at least 10 years. And even before, it mostly was payed for by others.)

(I know there is really expensive special purpose software (some thousands of dollars), so this can shift the average easily - but this would mostly be buyed by enterprises, I think.)
thespaceinvader wrote:Software-as-product can still work - open source distribution (at least the GPL model as I understand it) guarantees free availability ONLY of the source, not of compiled working product.
It also guarantees that anyone who gets the compiled working product has the right to redistribute it.
thespaceinvader wrote:It is well within the rights of developers of GPL software, for precisely this reason, to sell compiled copies.
It is well within the rights of everyone (who did get a copy) to sell more copies, not only the developers.

But often most buyers will not sell it again (or give it away for free), so most people have to buy at the original vendors. And they will do, if the price it not so high to tempt searching other ways of getting the software - even more, if there is some added benefit in buying, like the ability to easily running it on a iPhone (instead of having to jailbreak it).

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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by thespaceinvader »

Both true. However, 1: most regular consumers don't read the license and so won't know thye can redistribute, paid or otherwise and 2: most normal consumers don't have the capability to resell even if they knew it was legal.
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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by Yoyobuae »

Eleazar wrote:
Yoyobuae wrote:In any case, the traditional model of selling software as products won't do. When the product can be easily obtained for free, it's kinda hard to convince someone to pay for it.
Not to underplay the challenge, but piracy and open-source alternatives, haven't quite killed commercial software yet. In the US consumers part with approximately 300 billion a year for software.
Ok, I think I didn't express myself well. What I meant is that open source won't have the protection of copyright.

Maybe I picked a wrong example. Another potential problem could be some other company using their resources to take your software and sell it far more efficiently than you do. There goes your profits.

But maybe that's not a problem at all. Maybe a company could create a system like Steam, but that is more focused to delivering open source software to their customers. It could offer added services to their users like multiplayer servers, personal profile with their achievements in games, etc.

Now that I think about it, it's interesting that the systems used to efficiently sell comercial/closed software, also can end up helping open source software in the end. For example, copyleft licences. And maybe in the future, Steam-like systems.

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Re: Open Source and Capitalism

Post by johndh »

thespaceinvader wrote:The Frogatto model can also be useful - I know it's not the first, but it's the one I can think about right now - develop an open-source engine, and closed-source the content. This way you conform as closely as possible to the OSS ideal, but can still protect your revenue stream.
That's how the makers of Quake and Doom do it. Their engines are all open source, but not their content, so we get tons of Quake-based games but the original creators still gets scads of money.
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