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Economist's Take On Open Source Development 416

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the big-brother's-hayday dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Economist Dean Baker outlines alternative funding mechanisms for software development in a new report called "Opening Doors and Smashing Windows" [PDF Warning], available at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. One proposal is to create a US government-funded Software Development Corps of public software corporations, which compete and produce only free and open source software. Baker estimates that through the resulting lower prices in software and computers, the government would recoup its annual $2 billion appropriation to the program and US consumers would save $80-120 billion each year -- all while 20,000 software developers are supported to work specifically on open source projects."
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Economist's Take On Open Source Development

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  • by Psionicist (561330) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:38PM (#13960634)
    The ransom model works pretty well in RPG communities and is already used for programs, but I don't remember where. What, you may ask, is the ransom model? Joel from Joel on software (who is a much better writer than me), says this about the subject:

    Have you ever heard of the ransom model?

    In short it works like this: you create some sort of downloadable product and set a date at which a specific amount of money (the ransom) has to be donated. If that amount will be collected before the deadline, the product will be released for free for everyone. If not, the money will be donated to a charity organisation and the product will never be released.


    I wonder how this would work for software. It is, after all, a different beast entirely than Dungeons & Dragons books.
    • In contrast to my earlier post about this article, this one is going to flamebait.

      Joel from Joel On Software is the software and internet equivelant of Star Jones. Isn't as interesting as he thinks he is. Isn't as revered as he thinks he should be. Isn't as authoritative and insightful and entertaining as he probably feels he is.

      By the sheer number of craptastic "articles" (lame blog entries) he's had posted on Slashdot, I had been certain there was a little Joel on a Pole going on backdoors at Slashdot. It
      • Isn't as interesting as he thinks he is. Isn't as revered as he thinks he should be. Isn't as authoritative and insightful and entertaining as he probably feels he is.
        And you are?
    • by Seumas (6865) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:55PM (#13960715)
      Oh - by the way - it wouldn't work.

      What genius is going to "donate" money for some software that hasn't been released yet? With the sheer amount of garbage software out there, the last thing I'm going to do is put up $10 for a piece of software that may never come (in which case my share of the money would get dumped into some frigging charity) or, when it does, is absolutely nothing like what I thought I was paying for.

      Here's what I call the ransom model:

      You make the software I want and if I like it, I'll buy it from you with cash. If you don't make the software I want or I don't like it, I won't buy it and will keep my cash. That's the true ransom model.

      In the scenerio presented above, it's a lose/lose situation.
      • by hawkeyeMI (412577) <brock&brocktice,com> on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:19PM (#13960812) Homepage
        It works better for requested features/improvements on existing software. For example. I'd pay a lot of money for a Tiger upgrade to the ext2fs plugin for OS X. Unfortunately, no (reasonable) amount of money will convince the author to make time for the upgrade right now.

        If, however, he did perhaps have time, he could say something like, "I'll add this feature once I get X dollars of donations toward it."

        Then people can chip in, he does the work, releases it open-source, and everybody wins. There's some website now that will help facilitate this -- it holds the money in escrow, and returns it if the minimum is not raised. I can't remember the name of the site though.
        • There's some website now that will help facilitate this -- it holds the money in escrow, and returns it if the minimum is not raised. I can't remember the name of the site though.

          This website [fundable.org] might be the one you're thinking of. There is a very cool, very relevant idea called the "dominant assurance contract". It's explained informally here [canonical.org] and more formally here [gmu.edu].

      • What genius is going to "donate" money for some software that hasn't been released yet?

        Anyone who pays programmers. Think about it.
      • by Psx29 (538840) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:53AM (#13961152)
        I was thinking of having the software released but not opensourced, and then the author says he will no longer work on the software so people will pay to make it opensource so others can work on it
      • by Anonymous Coward
        You make the software I want and if I like it, I'll buy it from you with cash. If you don't make the software I want or I don't like it, I won't buy it and will keep my cash. That's the true ransom model.

        Dude, you just described capitalism.

        Are you saying capitalism is like holding people for ransom?

        What. A. Fucking. Communist.
      • One could collect the "ransom" deposits into an escrow account. Then if the reserve price isn't reached after a specified time limit (e.g. 1 year), you'd get your deposit back, plus interest.
    • RPG (Score:3, Funny)

      by HermanAB (661181)
      So what the hell is a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) community? Sounds distinctly middle eastern...
      • Re:RPG (Score:3, Funny)

        "I used to think D&D was cool, but then I found out this [howstuffworks.com] gets me much more respect than my original mint condition Dungeon Master's Guide ever did!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:39PM (#13960640)
    Since when is it the job of the government to promote open source?

    Do we really want the government to actively go about picking winners and losers in entire areas of the worldwide economy?
    • by argoff (142580) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:07PM (#13960767)

      Since when is it the job of the government to promote open source?

      Do we really want the government to actively go about picking winners and losers in entire areas of the worldwide economy?

      While I agree that free and open source software is fine without the governments help (in fact, we don't need it or want it), since when is it the job of the government to enforce and impose restrictions on copying for the sake of large media companies??

      This first paragraph ....

      Copyrights and patents are forms of government intervention in the market that are relics of the medieval guild system. They are an outdated and inefficient means to support creative and innovative work in the 21s t century. These government-granted monopolies lead protected software to sell at prices that are far above the free-market price. In most cases, in the absence of copyright and patent protection, software would be available over the Internet at zero cost.

      .. blew me away and is probably the most insightfull thing I've ever read in a government publication. What a hero, the author will probably get fired for such blatnet honesty.

      • "...probably the most insightfull thing I've ever read in a government publication."

        When did the Center for Economic and Policy Research become a branch of the government?

        Answer: It's not. It looks like a blue-sky, privately funded, 6-year old non-profit. In fact, from their site, "It is an independent nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC. CEPR functions as an economic "truth squad," conducting professional research and getting it out to the media, policy-makers, and advocates."

        A "truth squa

      • In most cases, in the absence of copyright and patent protection, software would be available over the Internet at zero cost.

        If it were available at all. There is definitely justification for copyright law, and that is to ensure that you can sell a work without fear of people ripping off your work. The only problem with copyright is the extend that they've taken it to, such as making it illegal to crack DRM. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with copyright itself though.
    • by anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @01:39AM (#13961275) Journal
      It is precisely in those sorts of situations, where the market situation leads to natural monopolies, and consequent high prices, that the government should look closely at what is going on, and figure out how to shake things up such that competition will again become healthy. Failing that, if no competition for a given niche can exist, the next two choices are regulation (like the telco's) or creating 'competition' like the suggested 'software corps.'

      The premise of a free economy is always being able to take your money to a competitor. This fundamental does not hold in cases of A corporate monopoly or even duopoly (cable & telco internet access), Extremely limited choices, in and of itself, are always bad for the public, and bad for the economy. That is why power, water, cable and telco companies are either regulated today or outright run by the government. A good argument could be made for regulating Microsoft (the goverment would have to approve the price of windows, and they would have to justify increases, and demonstrate their costs to a government board.)

      Rather than spending money on legislators, spending money on development, fostering open source via an express government preference will probably provide all the help open source needs to break the MS network effect, and therefore the monopoly, restoring the market to a healthy state. Once there are competitors in a market, the government actors should step back.

      There are lots of issues that are like that, like Consumer Electronics should drop all the
      cheap protocols and go wireless. check out the last post here: http://stuffdreams.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    • The role of the government is to serve the interests of society. Sometimes the interests of society are not served best by letting "the market" run by itself.

      If promoting open source would be beneficial to society at large, e.g. because free market mechanisms cannot bring about such a change by itself, then sure it is the job of the state to bring it about. What else do you think a state is for, then to act in the interest of its citizens?!?
  • Nice but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dark Coder (66759) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:40PM (#13960645)
    As much as I'd like fostering software competitions, it still doesn't address the following issues:

    1. Software QA, particularly SW Security QA
    2. License type (GPL IV?)
    3. Interference by intra-politics meddling
    4. Posting encryption SW
    5. Control, who maintains it


    • Re:Nice but... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)
      As much as I like fostering open source software competitions, I don't want my government funding or operating it. These are things that private individuals, contributors, users and corporations can setup. I don't mean to sound like I'm flamebaiting here, but the first thing that went through my head is "Hippy-haired RMS-style socialism".

      And, if you live in a socialist country, that's great. But let's pick one.

      Heck, while we're at it, why not put automotive companies out of business by having government-fun

      • Heck, while we're at it, why not put automotive companies out of business by having government-funded and operated initiatives to build and sell cheap or free cars in regional co-ops?


        If the free market had failed for cars, I would be all for it. A better comparison would be to modern health care.

        Every industry other than health care would benefit from a streamlined, socialized health-care system. Similarly, every company other than Microsoft would benefit from a high-quality open-source OS and office suit
        • Re:Nice but... (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Seumas (6865)
          I'm still failing to understand how the free market has failed for software. Between home and the office, I have multiple flavors of linux, OSX, Solaris, HP-UX and Windows. I have the choice of paying for the standard $400 MS Office suite or downloading OpenOffice or StarOffice (or even others). I have a plethora of decent browsers, music players, art programs, entertainment, games and everything else under the sun between free, cheap, costly or expensive.

          How exactly is the free market failing? If it weren'
          • Re:Nice but... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:18PM (#13960802) Homepage Journal
            Yeah, absolutely! And that DARPANet thing? Total bureaucratic government waste. Never went anywhere. Stupid long-haired hippie socialists, with their dumb ideas about standardized protocols and decentralized networks. Fortunately, that failed like all wasteful government programs, and we now operate on computer networks such as Compuserve, Prodigy, and GEnie developed and run by the free-market genius of efficient private enterprise.
            • that DARPANet thing?

              It does not follow that because a particular thing is done with government funding, that it wouldn't have happened otherwise.

              -jcr
              • Re:Nice but... (Score:3, Insightful)

                by 808140 (808140)
                Maybe, but I don't think that was his point. His point was that DARPANet, which undeniably grew into one of the most impressive of man's modern achievements, started as a government funded project. This was in response to the GP's assertion that the government fails to do anything right.

                The truth is, private enterprise has so far been pretty bad about architecting anything with interoperability in mind. As economists say, incentives matter, and they're right: there's no incentive for a private company to
            • Re:Nice but... (Score:3, Insightful)

              by MBCook (132727)
              DARPANet's eventual fate and the way it was designed shows one good point. The internet is designed so that it works on anything. Whether you use DSL, Dial-Up, Cable, T1, Satellite, Cell Phone, or whatever, the internet is exactly the same. It doesn't matter what the underlying physical medium is. This was designed this way for one good reason: it's better for the network. If you need to switch out your token-ring network with 802.11g, the computers will still be able to access the internet. You won't need
            • by dasunt (249686)

              Yeah, absolutely! And that DARPANet thing? Total bureaucratic government waste. Never went anywhere. Stupid long-haired hippie socialists, with their dumb ideas about standardized protocols and decentralized networks. Fortunately, that failed like all wasteful government programs, and we now operate on computer networks such as Compuserve, Prodigy, and GEnie developed and run by the free-market genius of efficient private enterprise.

              Even a blind cat occasionally finds a mouse.

              DARPANet was created t

          • Actually, I was under the impression that the United States had handed its welfare system over to a private company. Lockheed Martin if I recall correctly? Anyway, the reason most government services exist is because the initial capital needed to create these systems is outside the realm of for profit coporations. Sure the utilities and phone companies are good now, but what about when the first started out. The initial infrastructure costs would have bankrupted any company that tried to complete these
      • If you didn't notice, we already have this system... they are called "research grants."

        Would you say our system of funding the basic research that creates prescription drugs is socialist? The problem is it is rarely in the interest of a corporation to devote money to basic research. Sometimes the government needs to step in, or at least try to affect the direction of R&D.

        Anyway, socialist/communist/etc is just a label. Engineers are more practical... we're in favor of whatever works in a particular situ
      • Heck, while we're at it, why not put automotive companies out of business by having government-funded and operated initiatives to build and sell cheap or free cars in regional co-ops?

        Now there's a great apples to apples comparison. Let's try and consider some other analogies. What if the government went around spending money to build some sort of interstate highway system? That's just going to put all the private toll highways out of business and be a complete waste of money. What about government providing
        • Not to dispute your larger point, but I can't resist pointing out that interstate highways are literally the worst boondoggle ever conceived and implemented by the federal government. Thanks in large part to this one infrastructure project, we're stuck with all the problems of sprawl, a favored mode of transportation inordinately dependent on oil, inefficient development, and dehumanizing trends in urban design, to name a few, and that's in addition to the ongoing cost of roadway maintenance. America would
      • Heck, while we're at it, why not put automotive companies out of business by having government-funded and operated initiatives to build and sell cheap or free cars in regional co-ops?
        See my sig.
  • by tcopeland (32225) * <tom.thomasleecopeland@com> on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:43PM (#13960660) Homepage
    ...sounds more interesting to me. He proposes an "Artistic Freedom Voucher", whereby people would be provided with a voucher for, say, $100, which they could direct to a person engaged in creative work (like writing open source software). This sounds rather nifty, since it would allow folks to "pay" for the projects they find most useful personally.

    Of course, another way for open source programmers to make money is to publish a book [pmdapplied.com]. Programming in Java? Give it a look! Think of it as sponsoring an artist :-)
    • by taxman_10m (41083) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:45PM (#13960673)
      Why wait for a personal voucher, just personally take $100 out of your wallet and give it to the project of your choosing.

      "Voucher" is the new monorail.
      • True, true... I guess I felt it was the "less evil" of the two proposals. Big government-sponsored companies trying to "do open source"... sounds DoublePlusUnGood to me... lots of UML diagrams would be produced though, I dare say.
      • Because, money is evil. Vouchers require administrative personel. Staffing. Oversight committees. Planning boards. Watch dogs. All of which comes out of a little administrative fee added on to vouchers. Let's see cash do that.

        Plus, I still don't want my government endorsing open-source companies. I don't want them endorsing anything. Not companies. Not churches. Nothing. I want them to do the three or four necessary things they're obligated to do and stop trying to push utopia through government process. If
    • If you're going to be a bum, be a bum. Stop being a bum and calling yourself an "artist". If you didn't want to starve, you could have been a lawyer or something else in school that required more than the ability to coordinate color or sculpt clay between pot-smoking breaks (I grew up near Lewis & Clarke university and Reed college, so I know of what I speak).

      An "Artistic Freedom Voucher" sounds like it's clearly a politically correct version of the vouchers they tried to use in San Francisco where, ins
  • The Economy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I don't really see the document listing the impact to the economy if you did this all at once. A lot more than 20,000 programmers are employed writing and supporting software they're trying to phase out.

    I have always been a proponent of go with whatever is the best model. Yet it seems that governments all over the world are trying to prop up open source to try and put companies (mostly Microsoft) out of business. If the product is better and the model works - why does the government have to get involved
    • I don't really see the document listing the impact to the economy if you did this all at once. A lot more than 20,000 programmers are employed writing and supporting software they're trying to phase out.

      If a million people were employed making mud pies, it might look like and economic hit when they all loose their jobs, but the reality is that all money being used for their salaries is now immediately being used more efficiently somewhere esle. And they are now on the fast track to having skills that th

    • In the short run, there would be no impact to the economy.

      The cost of switching to new software is always weighed against the cost of making small improvements/changes to the software already being run. There is a cost to everything.

      All the programmer jobs would not go up in a puff of smoke. Code is still there to be maintained.

      If we had a free-market, efficient system of software development (no copyright, patent protection would do it) I think we really could get by with less programmers, and far fewer do
  • by RLiegh (247921) * on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:47PM (#13960680) Homepage Journal
    See subject for sarcasm.
  • um, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by taxman_10m (41083) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:49PM (#13960693)
    He wants to take $80-120 billion a year out of the economy and create a new tax payer funded federal agency? This is a good idea?

    Last time I checked software and computers weren't expensive at all, certainly not enough that it needs some hair brained solution like this. Talk about a solution in search of a problem... yeesh!
    • Take a careful look at the website. It's a liberal organization, so there isn't much surprise at they'd want to create yet another federal agency that could never be shut down.

      The problem with starting something new up is that it already exists. There are a LOT of government agency programs that you can get money from to do software development if you're doing academic research. Some of those programs even require that you team with industry in some way (a start-up will do) to help do the tech transfer.
    • In a nutshell, he's saying Open Source cannot survive in a marketplace, therefore it must suckle at the government teat. Personally I'm offended.

    • An example of similar thinking. [wikipedia.org]

      Doesn't appear to work.

  • ...let's wait for a view or even a publication to counter this view. I will admit I agree with a lot of what the author has mentioned. To what I am skeptical about, I have to say that I have no knowledge. I was a good read though.
  • Bad math... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Duncan3 (10537) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:51PM (#13960701) Homepage
    120B/yr saved / 20k new jobs = 6M.

    Last I checked most software developers make less then 6M/yr, with overhead, more like 250k. So you're talking about replacing 480K jobs, with 20K jobs. Sounds great to me, they just have to work 24 times as hard. And we can outsource them so we only have to pay them 10k/yr too!

    Our local McDonalds REALLY needs someone working there that speaks English, so those 460k unemployed software folks will have jobs waiting for them.

    This will of course be moderated as -1 Flamebait: disturbing Slashdot reality distortion field subclause 37 - everything should always be free, and subclause 17 - people that don't get paid love taking my support calls.
    • Re:Bad math... (Score:4, Informative)

      by seebs (15766) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:36PM (#13960879) Homepage
      The amount saved per person has nothing to do with how much they are paid. Just because there's two numbers and one's bigger doesn't mean the right thing to do is divide the bigger one by the little one.

      The theory is that $2 billion pays for 20,000 programmers. Calculating this out will show you an estimated cost of $100k/year/programmer, which is a reasonable figure for salaries plus overhead. The savings are not that those 20,000 programmers don't have to get paid elsewhere, but that their code will be more widely used than it would be if they were writing proprietary code, and as a result, the economic value to our society, in the form of lower software costs, would be something like $80 billion.

      Which is frankly not a particularly unrealistic notion.
    • 120B/yr saved / 20k new jobs = 6M.

      The bad math is yours. You posted a tally of value, not cost. With a 2B/year allotment, the cost works out to an average of 100k/developer. If the value of their work is considered 60 times the cost, I say that's money well spent.

      This will of course be moderated as -1 Flamebait: disturbing Slashdot reality distortion field subclause 37 - everything should always be free, and subclause 17 - people that don't get paid love taking my support calls.

      Guess what I

    • Last I checked most software developers make less then 6M/yr, with overhead, more like 250k. So you're talking about replacing 480K jobs, with 20K jobs. Sounds great to me, they just have to work 24 times as hard.

      Or possibly, by having all the work collectively pooled as a common resource the programmers won't have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to do something and save themselves considerable amounts of work.

      I'm not saying the plan is great, or that the numbers all stack up nicely, but your cla
    • I very much doubt the math too. It would be interesting to know how they calculated this (the savings especially). How much software can really be made by 20k programmers? What can they make together? They'll need some management/clerical/accounting/legal/HR/whatever else staff, offices, and all kinds of stuff (can't just hite 20k ppl and tell them to start coding something like that). They say 80k$/yr but with only 25% overhead. I do know our overhead to our employer here is around 100% (benefits, insuranc
  • I'm not so sure... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nitehawk214 (222219) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:51PM (#13960703)
    I doubt government funds could be appropriated in this fashion. Instead what will happen is this would be treated like any other government contract. Companites, rather then individuals would compete, and skill/quality would be low on the list of requirements.
     
    I am a big open source advocate where I work, and I feel the Apache model has the most merit. Of course projects such as Apache only really succede when they are large enough to attact a large number of developers and companies to support it. As with any open source projects, the vast majority of ASF's [apache.org] projects fail, mainly do to lack of intrest. But they come out with the ocasional gem.
  • US consumers would save $80-120 billion each year -- all while 20,000 software developers are supported to work specifically on open source projects.
    ... and FEMA faces a new flooding disaster as 50,000 Slashdot readers simultaneously wet themselves in excitement.
  • by mochan_s (536939) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:05PM (#13960754)

    US government-funded Software Development Corps?

    I thought they were called graduate schools?

    Seriously, it's already there in the form of graduate schools. Just up the funding of graduate school science programs rather than create an artificial agency.

    • The problem with just increasing eg. NSF's budget for funding graduate research programs is that they've historically not been interested in funding "practical" stuff. In fact, a proposal to NSF that is mostly implementation of existing concepts rather than pie-in-the-sky research is going to get rejected out of hand most of the time.

      The other thing is: Do we really want CS grad students producing software for people other than themselves? (The software engineering practices in most of the CS research

  • Hell no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by photon317 (208409) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:05PM (#13960755)

    The last thing the free software community needs is the US government fucking it over with beauracracy and red tape and project proposals and grants, etc. The best thing the governments of the world can do to encourage and promote the free software movement is to officially adopt open standards (open protocols, open document formats, etc) for all official business. Don't screw over a good thing by trying to play parent to it. We get by fine on our own thanks.
    • Don't look now... but there's always been US Government (complete with beurocracy, red tape, proposals, and grants) involved in Open Source.
  • 0 cost for software? (Score:2, Informative)

    by mr_typo (207426)
    Despite the subject dear to most of us, we shouldnt ignore the fact that he is essentially claiming that developed software is free. He is totaly ignoring the costs incured in developping the software, and only accounting for the costs incured in copying it.

    In his t-shirt example he is claiming the price of $20, which without doubt is probably 99% manufacuting expenses and remaining 1% design expenses when spread over the first 100.000 copies. However, for software the ratio is the opposite, with 1% materia
    • by tftp (111690)
      Actually, by the time you recouped your initial software development expenses you already spent more money on further development, bug fixes and new features, and compatibility with new devices and new OSes... so you have to claim the profits from the next 100,000 copies, and so it goes. I don't know many software products that are developed once and then frozen. They bitrot within months, and even if they still work (big if) they look ancient. If you sell a software product you just have to have people
  • by 3seas (184403) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:13PM (#13960788) Journal
    it is done just like everyone else who contribute to open source.

    If the governemnt contributes funds then it must be without strings.

    What would make sence, is to simply focus in on development of the applications the government themselves would use and to make this open source on teh grounds that it is the tax payers who have paid for it. If they want to hire open source programmers to do so, then so be it. But to subsidize open source development in general is against the legal scope of the government and contridicts the competitive economic system we are supposed to have.

    Open source doesn't need that kind of help from the government.

    But in teh spirit and intent of open source, it is within the scope of the government to make use of and even contribute to open source as other do, by contributing code or sponsoring projects of potential use by the governemt themselves.

    It is teh ability to create and modify for your use, that makes open source more what the usrs want than software dictated to the user (i.e. proprietary).
       
  • ... the government would recoup its annual $2 billion appropriation to the program and US consumers would save $80-120 billion each year

    Whenever the government says it is going to save consumers money, hold onto your wallets!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:31PM (#13960862)
    www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/WEBSUC.html

    The url above is for "The Success of Open Source" by Weber. Another take on open source is by Clayton Christensen in his books on innovation. I highly recommend both.

    The thing about open source is that it puts the lie to the notion that people only do things for monetary gain. It is a poisonous notion when it is used as the basis for economic policy. In that light, the notion of massive government subsidies for open source efforts, is ham handed. IMHO, economists and policy makers should make the effort to understand how open source actually works before they propose to spend billions of taxpayers' dollars. I suggest they start with The Bazaar and the Cathedral. It's available for free download.

    There is a place for publicly funded research. There is a place for publicly funded open source work. The model for both is probably similar. The idea that private enterprise should fund all research and software development produces bad results. For instance, having drug companies do all medical research means that only profitable drugs are produced. A free cure for cancer won't happen in such a regime. Similarly, pouring money into private corporations to fund research is usually a massive waste of money.

    I'm not against public funding; I just don't think that this proposal is sufficiently enlightened to work.
  • by msbsod (574856) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:48PM (#13960929)
    Since Linux came out almost 15 years ago I have seen so many students wasting their time on writing Linux software instead of finishing their thesis. Bad strategy.
  • by argoff (142580) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @11:49PM (#13960937)

    While his argument about copyrights was genius, I didn't really like the way the conclusion seemed to force a choice between closed software and socialist government. IMHO, we are better off with neither.
  • A really bad article by a public school graduate? It doesn't really warrant any comment. Government funded FOSS - I ask you. DARPA? Who said DARPA?
  • > One proposal is to create a US government-funded Software
    > Development Corps of public software corporations, which
    > compete and produce only free and open source software.

    And, of course, which comply with a rapidly-proliferating array of restrictions and regulations, stifling all creativity.

    Fortunately, it'll never happen.
  • by Arandir (19206) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:10AM (#13961006) Homepage Journal
    Open Source is a failure. No, that's not me saying it, that's what the report says. Once you get past the rhetoric, it's essentially saying that Open Source cannot survive in the marketplace, and needs government protection.

    Bullshit. Linux came about during the very decade that everyone said no one could compete against the Microsoft monopoly. It succeeded where BeOS, OS/2 and DR-DOS could not. I'm also seeing Firefix usage zooming. OpenOffice is getting noticed. And of course, the web belongs to Apache. Open Source *IS* succeeding! If you think otherwise it's because you're trying to judge its success by the failures of others. That's not how the game works.

    If government wants to help, then it can help by getting out of the way! Government can stop standardizing on proprietary formats. Government can stop handing out software patents. Government can stop recognizing mouse click licensing. Government could liberalize copyright and abolish the DMCA.

    Whenever you hear someone say "I'm from the government and I'm here to help," run the other way!
  • ....the government would recoup its annual $2 billion appropriation to the program and US consumers would save $80-120 billion each year -- all while 20,000 software developers are supported to work specifically on open source projects.

    Huh? Seems like your math doesn't work out at all. Exactly how do I recover my $500,00 in campaign donations? I mean, c'mon guys, be serious.

    - Lobbyist for Some Big Company, Esq.
  • by davejenkins (99111) <slashdot.davejenkins@com> on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:32AM (#13961073) Homepage
    The nine worst words in business are "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help." I'm sorry, but the last thing I want gumming up the Open Source model is some government yo-yo oversight organization. I don't want some dipstick bureaucrat deciding which projects get funded and which ones go hungry. All that would do is create a layer of suckups and lobbyists who's sole responsibility is to write proposals for funds. This is the same disease that has plagued NASA. If this organization hires engineers-- do you honestly think you're going to get the cream of the crop? I know Alan Cox would really resent working for the Feds. So would the Rasterman. I would hate it (and I'm not even an engineer).

    DARPA offers prizes-- that's great. Ongoing funding or bureaucratic employment is the last thing OSS needs.
    • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Sunday November 06, 2005 @04:34AM (#13961681)
      "All that would do is create a layer of suckups and lobbyists who's sole responsibility is to write proposals for funds." Sounds like you're a bit too familiar with the academic world. Nearest I can tell, the "principle investigators" spend the vast majority of their time talking up the importance of their work in an effort to get funds.

      This is basically how the government works, you politick and network or else you will not succeed. Anyone doing real work will not be successful because they don't spend enough time advocating themselves. This is also true in the the corporate environment, the bigger the company is, the more you have to politick and network to get things done and the less real work gets done. The difference is that in the business world, these inefficiencies will eventually get bad enough that the company will no longer be competitive (except through anti-competive practices, usually, but not always, involving government intervention).

      So with the proposal mentioned in the summary, it would probably start out as $2 billion, and have good results. Then as time went on, more bureaucracy would develop, managers would become entrenched, and the cost would balloon as quality would diminish. Soon, no good software would ever be released, and it would essentially turn into a welfare program for developers. This is the point NASA is at today. The US military is not far behind, but the government seems to be intent on tearing down the established military complex and rebuilding it from scratch, hoping to start over at the point were it is relatively efficient.
  • by RussP (247375) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @03:02AM (#13961493) Homepage
    I didn't RTFA, but I like the idea -- even though I am a libertarian-leaning Republican. I've always considered it ridiculous for the govt to send billions of dollars to MS for Office when, for a fraction of that amount, they could help develop a good, free alternative. Everybody wins -- except MS, of course. The govt saves money, and the general public is freed from the shackles of MS proprietary formats.

    OK, now maybe I'll RTFA.
  • by ESR (3702) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @04:41AM (#13961699) Homepage
    I'm very seldom moved to post on Slashdot, but this article did it.
    The nonsense starts with the author's blithe assertion that an asymtotic-to-zero cost of software distribution over the Internet implies zero cost of production, and proceeds from there.

    In fact there are lots of goods that have a high cost to produce the first copy and near-zero-cost to produce the second copy, but any self-described 'economist' who uses that cost pattern as an excuse to ignore the production cost of the first copy is exhibiting severe brain damage.

    The little that is true in this paper (the argument on the high costs of IPR) just gets overwhelmed by the tide of toxic nonsense. If anyone asks *me* what I think of this government-funding scheme, it'll get both barrels...
  • by iwbcman (603788) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @05:25AM (#13961843) Homepage

    I did RTFA. And although I was quite impressed with how the author grasps many of the underlying issues, their entanglement and complexity I was bluffed by sheer naievete(sp?) of the underlying economic assumptions and the their theoretical underpinnings.

    He documents quite accurately how 'IPR' works and how it effects the development of software and the *costs* this form of development has for society, yet these *costs* are not the subject of the mathetical extrapolations which he engages in. The mathematics used in this essay as well as the entirety of latent definitions of value/waste present in the text are based on a woefully inadequate naieve economic understanding.

    I am not an economist and I have never formally studied economics but the assumptions at work in the economic understanding revealed in his terminology and his calculations are baffling to say the least. If such is what is taught to students of economy is it any wonder our economy is so supremely fucked.

    It is a shame that otherwise good arguments and a good grasp of the complexities involved are so thoroughly underminded by such sophmoric misuse of mathematics (with their appeal to 'empirical reality' ie. facts) and woefully inept econcomic theory.

    The profound weakness of the underlining economic theory at work in his paper is that each and every argument can be turned to it's opposite and equally proven. He states that if all software were available at 0 cost and freely modifiable that there would be no duplication of software-ie. no one would bother righting something already written. Anyone who has opened their eyes knows that the reality directly contradicts such nonsense. He forgets that where economy is understood merely as a system of incentives/disincentives, and that such are purely monetary in nature, that in order to prevent people from duplicating programs one would have to a) pay them not to do so or b) not pay them for having done so(two sides of same coin). But this negates his complaint against unnecessary duplication of software because those who do duplicate software are being paid to do so. In totality the economic assumptions underlying this essay are fundamentally incapable of grasping what FOSS is and how it works.

    So at once the author is capable of providing a rather damning indictment of IPR and he succeeds in painting an accuarate picture of the *costs* of this regime, but he is incapable of grasping that which he wishes to see as an alternative to IPR, namely FOSS. His argument is that one can substitute FOSS for IPR by creating public corporations which employ FOSS programmers. In so doing he ignores that it was the contention of the conditions of employment as a software developer which gave birth to FOSS.

    What FOSS is, is only relevant within the terms of reference which constitute the status quo. How FOSS is, is an insight into that which already is no longer captured in our grasp of the status quo-for it is different, different in the sort of way which makes a difference for those engaged in it.

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