I was talking to a good friend of mine last night about one of my previous blog posts.
It’s no secret that I don’t believe the mechanical scalability of the support model in Free Software. I’m not even too sure of it’s directedness in how it orientates the organisation employing it towards the work it think it needs to do.
But I can be convinced of it’s usefulness as a leveraging device. let me explain:
In the current software industry and community we have a problem, it’s a great big fat one that is hurting how people use computers and how computer technology is allowed to progress. This problem can be neatly summed up as ‘Microsoft’, it doesn’t have to be them, it could be Apple in a few years or IBM back in the 80s. It’s a huge monopoly with vast technical, legal, governmental and monetary leverage. A company that tells everyone what they will use on their computers (or as their computers) by force of removing everyone else from the market place who could possible offer an alternative, by defining de jour standards that only it controls and understands and by making fools of us.
Normally the government or market would stamp down on this problem, because monopolies do horrible things to themselves and others. Much like anyone given too much power. But this time, that legal mechanism was allowed to fail.
Now people in the Free and Open Source Software community want Software licensing to give the customer and society proper and useful rights to the use, modification and distribution of software code and their derivatives. This change in production is nothing short of a revolution. It may not even stop at a software revolution, it may and appears to be, turning into a fully fledged information ‘production’ revolution.
So getting rid of the existing hegemony will take quite a bit of effort building the kind of required counter leverage. Most of it coming from volunteers and the naturally more efficient processes that the licenses allow. Some of it can come from invested parties or angel investors, some may even come from proxy funding like the support funding model.
But you do need something to replace your mechanics with, once you’ve managed to get rid of the old guard. Once you’ve managed to remove or assimilate Microsoft, Apple and Adobe (that list is growing small all the time, ain’t it) you’ll need to have concrete, scalable and customer facing mechanisms for funding the progress. I don’t believe the support model, or the online services model has a place here.
I also see danger signs when a typically FOSS company needs to have any closed source software in order to protect revenue (this is just a leverage to increase the scaling of the proxy fund). That means: a no to proprietary extensions, a no to other products that are enterprise ready that you misrepresent to companies to convince them to shell out big money for (mysql I’m looking at you) and a no to tying trademarks to copyrights.
These devices might be required to win the revolution, but I think they’ll be a hindrance come the time to scale this thing up world wide and in a way that every non technical user has a way to push the software forwards in the way they wish.