boomberg bloopers

Seth David Schoen schoen at
Fri Feb 16 19:45:23 UTC 2001

David Johnson writes:

> On Friday 16 February 2001 02:20 am, Seth David Schoen wrote:
> > If there were a big market for some kind of labor and a lot of people
> > began to do that same labor as volunteers, or as a hobby, the people
> > who did it for a living would see their livelihood threatened, even
> > though the activities of the volunteers or hobbyists are totally
> > legitimate.
> Bullocks! If I donate my time to a soup kitchen I am not threatening the 
> sandwich shop. And my letters to the editors do not threaten the daily 
> columnists.

I probably should have been more specific about "that same labor".
The reason these things don't threaten the livelihoods of the other
laborers is that they are not good substitutes for what they displace.
(If you want to write a daily column for free, and donate it to a
newspaper, you do threaten the daily columnists.  If you want to run a
sandwich shop as a hobby -- like the Internet cafe in my early example
-- you do threaten the commercial sandwich shop.)

Since I think free software is a good substitute for proprietary
software most of the time, I think it is a threat to the livelihoods
of many proprietary software developers, and the business of their

Maybe Allchin doesn't think free software is a good substitute for
proprietary software, so he thinks it's not a threat.  Except perhaps
he's saying that the public hasn't yet noticed that open source
software isn't as good as Microsoft software?

It's difficult (as other people have pointed out) to understand the
exact nature of Allchin's concern.  If he doesn't think that the free
software community produces a good rival product, he doesn't have a
long-term reason to worry; but he is, he says, concerned.

> > If you look at bottom lines instead of ethical or legal principles,
> > _any_ competition -- especially competition from competitors who
> > experience fewer costs -- is undesirable and harmful. 
> Bullocks again! Competition is an aid to an industry. A monopolist, 
> regardless of your moral position on the topic, is prone to poor quality and 
> high prices, while even two competitors in an industry will at least "raise 
> the bar". Given that the competition is voluntary, and not an artificial 
> product of a court ruling, it can only be a benefit.

The bottom line of a monopolist who can extract monopoly prices is
still better than the bottom line of a competitor who produces a great
product.  There are some exceptions to that (where competition led to
innovation and growth in a market), but in the short term being a
monopolist is much better for bottom lines (not for "an industry").

> Of course, most, if not all, Open Source is "free beer" and not sold as a 
> product (although the shrink wrap, service or support is). It is not in 
> competition with closed source software anymore. That Open Source has become 
> a significant enough factor to make Jim Allchin sweat is an indicator that 
> least certain sectors of the closed source market are obsolete.

I don't understand how you can say both of those things.  If those
sectors are "obsolete" (because of open source software?), how is that
open source software not competing with the proprietary software?

> The profession of scribe used to be a lucrative trade. But the invention of 
> the printing press vastly lowered the producing copies of books. The 
> profession of scribe didn't go away, it just had to find new market niches. 
> I'm sure the Jim Allchins of those times accused Gutenburg of Uneuropean 
> activities. In the same way, digital meda and networks have vastly lowered 
> the cost of producing copies of software. And the public is starting to find 
> this out. It won't take the closed source industry out of business. But 
> closed source will have to find new market niches besides the "one size fits 
> all" niche they've been in.

I agree with this -- but I emphasize the part that any particular
scribe may go out of business, if the changes are really dramatic
enough.  So it makes sense that they worry, it makes sense that they
gripe; it just doesn't make sense when they say "There is no real
competition here".

Seth David Schoen <schoen at>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5

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