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osOpinion: The Value of Open Source

May 22, 2000, 07:01 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Aaron Fransen)

"Let's start by saying one thing: Value is relative. What's priceless to me is worthless to you (and vice versa), so it really changes the question of value to one of relevance, not actual worth. Does a car have value? Sure, if you have gas. Without, it's just a heavy, cramped room. Without, you'd trade it for a hamburger."

"In the software biz, there have always been two sides to the coin. On one side you've got the big guys, the ones who have hired squadrons of programmers to create their XYZ software system. Understandably, they tend to be very protective of their investment, and aren't anxious to give it away. There are some very basic economics at work here (and I'm sure that's no surprise to any of you): Spend money on R&D to give you a competitive advantage, to increase your market share and toss some money back at the investors. Giving away the software would upset a lot of shareholders."

"On the other side we've always had the guys who love to code, and better yet, love the recognition they get when they give the code away. Probably the first geek-mainstream conflict between these two worlds was the infamous "open-letter" from Bill Gates to the developer community regarding the use of the Microsoft BASIC shell. If you don't remember this, it arose because Microsoft's BASIC language was so easy to use (compared to what came before) that development on the various implementations flourished. People were giving their programs away, trading them at computer shows, and so on. The problem was that because you had to buy Microsoft BASIC, a lot of the guys writing code would "lend" a copy to their friends. Bill didn't like that, and I understand why: It cost him money to develop it, and being a rather astute businessman, wanted to make a lot of money selling it."

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