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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] the state of the union

From: James Blackwell
Subject: Re: [Gnu-arch-users] the state of the union
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2004 13:27:06 -0400

[long post about what "we, the revision control system community" have
learned in the last couple years]

I buy that. Thats a reasonable interpretation. I do think that you're
still missing an feature svn has that we lack -- intuitiveness

Tom Lord wrote all these:
> * CA Response: Do Not Be Afraid of the XL
>   If Jblack's attitude towards XL is at all typical I've done a
>   hopelessly bad job of explaining my intentions.

Ok. I'm far from the only one, but I'll perform the stand-in position
for the moment:

s-exps suck, Suck, SUCK. I mean really SUCK. Suck so badly, that earlier
today I told someone that if I had enough tanks and guns, I would round
up all of you s-exp lovers into concentration camps for proper disposal.

90% of the argument would go right out the window if you had a different
syntax. Sure, there's some respectable people that I trust that have
brought up a variety of good what-if technical arguments, but I trust
that you would be able to work around them.

But the s-exps syntax I'd have to live with on a day to day basis. I don't
want to have to live with that. Moreso, I do *NOT* want to have to teach
just about everyone out there without the benefit of a comp sci
background how to think if a different order than they're accustomed to.

>   Ok, no problem.  Forget it.  XL (and furth and pika) still figure
>   mightily in my plans but there's no need (and apparently only modest
>   opportunity) to explain it all, to much, in advance.   I'll retry
>   the "thinking out loud" thing a little later, when there's more
>   context built up.

If you lost the s-exp interface and replaced it with a more common
paradigm, I bet a lot of people would say 'Hmmm. I still think its
overkill, but if "Tom" is the one doing all the work, I'll go along for
the ride'

Nobody needs to tell you that you've built up a huge amount of street
cred. Sure, you're not perfect and you've made some mistakes on minor
details. You've always been *dead on* in all major issues but one: You
consistantly overestimate how much effort people are willing to expend
to learn how to do things the "arch way".

>   In the meanwhile, I (and my colleagues, who I'll trick into doing
>   most of the work) can, hopefully, contribute a bunch of neat new
>   features that have only the barest perceptible connection to XL.
>   Stay Tuned.

Colleages as defined by?

> ** Opinion: Business Plan Idea --- Innovation + Free Software
>   Some people say that free software licensing stifles innovation
>   by removing financial incentives.
>   Maybe.
>   Or maybe not.  From my perspective, we're awefully close to an 
>   innovators paradise in free software.

I think the free-software-business model will kill off any company that
provides crappy support -- which means that this new model will kill off
most current companies (or at least the ones that don't catch on and

>   A software innovator should be someone who is able and willing to
>   beg, borrow, steal, or spend enough money to self-fund for the first
>   couple (or few) months of development on a new idea.  In my case
>   (arch's case) it was "borrow": faced with ruin anyway, i maxed out
>   some credit cards on food rent and ISP service to bootstrap arch
>   (and I still have some bad debts to show for it).  But that's ok.
>   Let's say that's fair.  Alternatives would include working off hours
>   while holding a day job and just having some good 'ol fashioned
>   savings.  Entrepreneurialism thrives on risk taking.  So, sure, a
>   software innovator in the free software world must be able to lay
>   down the first few bucks himself.  Put his money where his mouth is.

I don't agree. I think that what we're seeing is a parallel of exactly
how science was performed prior to the 20th century. Sure, these days,
science is supported by government and educational institutions, but
back in the 'pillars-of-science' days, science was either performed or
sponsored by the well-to-do.

Take a look at today's hackers, and compare them to the
'pillars-of-science' of centuries past. For the most part, their free
software work is either A) Done on their free time, B) is an offshoot of
their "real day job" or C) Is sponsored by somebody that people that
look very far ahead and say 'invent it today, and we'll come up with a
way to recoup from it later'.

Today is the blossoming golden age of free software. Some day, we'll all be
in history books as the nutty guys who invented a whole new field.

> [ then came the early adopters, who encouraged further development]
>   At that point, with 5 or 10 luminaries saying, "Hmmm... *maybe*",
>   I *should* have been able to monitize those endorsements.   Suppose
>   that those luminaries each could (and did) give me a $350/m grant
>   for 12 months ... suppose that that was the tool they possessed for
>   saying "Hmm... *maybe*.".   Then that would have been a cheap R&D
>   line item for their host organizations.   It would have added up to
>   enough to let me continue to let my debts ride (honorably) and
>   continue my entrepreneurship.   I'm not saying that literally
>   selecting an illuminati and making them into a micro-grant committee 
>   is the only way to do this -- it's just one concrete possibility
>   that points out the general idea:
>        ~ innovator takes a little risk
>        ~ industry R&D budgets take on a little risk to extend
>          the reach of innovators with early but promising projects

Tom, this is a case of timing. You won't hear dubya Bush say it, but we're
still in a recession (in which IT was/is particularly hard hit). During
recessionary times, the *first* thing to go is money for long term
development. Companies are just too busy trying to exist to expend
resources on thinking ahead.

And the fact of the matter is, despite how difficult times have been
for everyone, you *have* managed to scrape together some funding. Sure,
not much. But some, in a day in which *nobody* gets funding of any sort.

>   That's a "faster, cheaper, better" approach to incubating new
>   projects.   Companies (IBM, RH, Novell, HP, Sun) could certainly
>   afford to pony up a few million bucks over a couple of years to
>   experiment with this approach.

Companies don't make that sort of investment. That opens them up to
investor lawsuits for throwing money away if you don't succeed in
turning that money into more money. (Remember? Companies are owned by
investors, and its not the company's money -- its the investor's money)

IBM is making money, and they're dumping a *lot* of money into free
software development. You're just not one of the people they picked.

RH is barely over breaking even, but they too donate a lot of code into
free software. 

Novell is in huge trouble. Their main product is dead, and they haven't
found new products to sell.

HP is still choking on the Compaq merger, and I believe they're having
money problems as well.

Sun is also in a huge amount of trouble because of lintel. I'm sure
they're well aware that they need to either change or die, but you won't
see them admit that in public.

The way I see it, you're approaching the wrong companies. Don't approach
the companies that are in the business of (in)?directly profiting from
propreitary software. Instead, approach the companies that are hurt by
proprietary software, and convince them "hey, if you give me $300 a
month along with all these other guys, you won't have to pay $xxx,xxx a
year to these companies that are selling you crap you hate, and then not
helping you when the crap breaks"

>   Why would innovators bother, though?  A program of micro-grants
>   alone would make free software R&D, at best, a break-even career
>   (your living expenses equal your pay) with book deals.   Hardly
>   much of an inticement.

Before I can answer that question, you'll have to explain to me why
Newton worked on physics, Einstein played with light instead of revising
patents, and Gallileo suffered so badly from verbal-diahrea that the
church locked him up in his own home for life.

>   So I propose a three step game:
>     1. Innovators take some risk on the order of 3 months of 
>        self-funded effort.

Nope. Innovators take as much time as is necessary to build a project up
to the point that companies become dependant upon its success.

>     2. Free software companies institute a micro-grant program that
>        can, in principle, cover the month-to-month living costs of,
>        say, 500 designated innovators.   Innovators whose self-funded
>        projects pass muster with more than a few known-smart hackers
>        can receive micro-grants to extend the reach of their
>        self-funding for, say, 6m to 2y.

Pointless. There's a *LOT* more starving developers than there are
companies. This is truly a case of spitting into the ocean.

>   Ultimately, free software innovation is a lot like professional
>   sports, especially individual competitor sports like golf.  There is
>   a huge social value to having these skilled players, to granting
>   them the freedom to develop their game.  Smart business folk have

I like my "golden age of science" analogy better.

> * Parting Shots
>   The other day I said something clever but I think it is not
>   original.  I can't think of who said it first, though.  
>   It goes like this:
>       The end-state of every substantial, successful free software 
>         project is a bureaucratic power struggle.

I suppose that's plausible, though I would be more inclined to call it
"empty nest syndrome". A developer births a project, and with careful
feeding and guidance, cares for it until the project takes a life of its
own. The original developer would naturely fight to retain the original

>   Arch is entering that phase.   Soap-operas among the core developers
>   aside, the bottom line is that we are erecting a bureaucratically
>   driven mainline, making the game just tedious and complicated enough
>   to not be worth trying to "game";  making the game hopefully
>   consonant with what's best for arch.

Yeah, I think they're just growing pains. We're all blessed that
everyone involved has a *very* strong urge to get along with everyone
else. One of the things we have going for us is that nobody wants to be
in charge, but there's several people willing to do so if necessary. :)

James Blackwell          Try something fun: For the next 24 hours, give
Smile more!              each person you meet a compliment!

GnuPG (ID 06357400) AAE4 8C76 58DA 5902 761D  247A 8A55 DA73 0635 7400

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