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You may write the author, Tom Hull, at thull @ kscable.com. Hull is also the author of the Ftwalk programming language, a script programming language which is free software available for UNIX systems.
In general, this critique reflects a more general line of thought, which is based on the recognition that the inefficiencies and ulterior motives in our current modes of production require much unnecessary work to produce products and services of often dubious merit for grossly inflated prices, effects which diminish the quality of our lives and the worth of our work. Nonetheless, my proposal here is not especially radical: it does not challenge the precepts of intellectual property; it requires no political action (not even the application of antitrust law); it can be initiated by a small group of people, and to some extent simply builds on work already done by various individuals and groups.
Some paragraph notes:
Of course, Microsoft (and all other commercial software companies so threatened) will do their best to compete with free software, and can be expected to do so as desperately as they compete with everything else. There will be many arguments floated as to why commercial software is better than free software. Many of these arguments are variations on the master salesman's boast that he can sell more $10 bills for $20 than a less convincing huckster can give away. Such arguments can be defeated by establishing that free software is quality software and makes sound economic sense. Some arguments are more substantial: commercial software companies have a huge head start; some such companies have convinced many users to trust their brands; the true costs of software include the time that it takes to learn and use, so no software is really cost-free; the investment that users and companies have in commercial software can make switching painful; many people still regard commercial software as something of a bargain.
One issue that needs to be recognized and understood is the notion that free software, openly published in source form and freely inspected by anyone who has an interest or desire to do so, is worthy of far greater trust than closed, proprietary, secretive software. I for one found the installation of Microsoft's Internet Explorer to be a very scary experience: the computer running totally out of my control, recongifuring itself, plugging into Microsoft's own web sites, setting up preferences and defaults according to Microsoft's business machinations.
Sometimes I wonder whether Microsoft's underlying goal isn't simply to make the world safe for computer viruses. I'm not an especially paranoid person, but how can you ever know?
There are other ways to handle this level of funding, such as imposing taxes on computer hardware (sort of like the gas tax is used to build roads) or even on commercial software (sort of like using cigarette taxes for public health). Developing countries, in particular, should support free software development, since the notion of intellectual property must appear to them as one more form of tribute to the rich. These approaches require political efforts that are sure to be contested and hamstrung. I'm inclined to start small, start voluntarily, and see how far reason and civility takes us.
It should also be emphasized that there is at present a substantial amount of free software already written and available, and that there are many organizations and individuals that have contributed to the development and dissemination and support of free software. What is missing is a systematic approach to funding development, and a strong and consistent system for user feedback and direction.
The argument that large companies (government, any organization that spends serious money on software) should routinely support free software development is strong and well focused. Even if such an organization never directly used free software, its existence would provide a damper on prices and a strong bargaining point with commercial software vendors. It is a win/win bet: free software, cheaper software, more options, more competition.
It is completely obvious that free software organizations must be international in scope. It seems likely that most of the support for free software will come from outside the US, perhaps by an overwhelming margin.
This proposal does not dispute the rights of intellectual property owners. Under this proposal it should be possible to buy or license technology where appropriate, and inventors should consider the possibility of selling their inventions to the free world. Whether intellectual property rights in fact encourage innovation in any useful way can be debated separately.
Another aspect of this proposal is that it does not try to kill off the profit motive in software development. As I envision it, most of the free software work would be done by small companies bidding on contract proposals, presumably with the intent of making a profit. (The companies are likely to be small because they won't need to float a large marketing/sales organization, which is the main advantage big software companies have over small ones. Also because the free software networking organizations should work for providing sharable resources, such as capital and services, saving small companies from having to overextend themselves.)
My proposal is that free software will start out aiming to produce the most basic and most broadly used software: it will in effect harvest the "cash cows" of the commercial software industry, rather than attempt to innovate at the fringes of development. (Of course, innovators are more than welcome to contribute.) Beyond free software there will still be shareware and commercial products, which will to some extent compete with free software and to a larger extent open up new niches where free software is not yet available. The free software industry will provide a damper on the sort of prices that can be charged. It will also help lower the costs of all software development, and may eventually provide a salvage market for discontinued commercial software. Shareware may be a fruitful ground for speculative software development, with the goal being to develop and popularize a new product that can be sold off to the free market.
Finally, I believe that no restrictions should be placed on the use of free software: that it can be repackaged, sold, incorporated into commercial products. Free software will reduce the development costs of commercial software, which will help make commercial software cheaper, better, more competitive: all good things. The goal after all is better, cheaper, more usable and useful software: victory is not measured in bankruptcies. The impulse to segregate free software from commercial software is doomed, as is the impulse to isolate free software from commerce. We live in a jungle of commerce, which no one can truly flee from, regardless of how offensive it may seem. The proposal here is to start to take short, deliberate, sensible steps toward reclaiming parts of that jungle for everyone's use and betterment.