Idea: A conduit for corporate funding of free software

Johan Hjelm
Tue, 02 Oct 2001 12:57:49 +0900

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I think you want something more than they are focussed on the

The problem is that you have to *guarantee* that the requirements get
implemented, and that it happens on time. Then, there are a few other
things. One reason companies like Ericsson pay Microsoft a hoard of money is
that somebody is responsible for fixing bugs - which your idea would
address. Another reason, though, is that they provide education and various
other services around the products (or make sure it is provided). Education
is really important; it is not enough to make the product easy to use, there
also has to be education providers, people willing to publish "Excel for
dummies", and so on.

You have to add some value that Microsoft does not provide, and while they
are not nice people, they actually do a good job of providing customer
(which may not be the same as user) value. "Cheaper" is one good value that
you can always look for, though. A lot of people will go mad when they
discover WordPad is gone from the newer releases of Windows (so much for
including word processing as a part of the operating system functions). But
what a company like Ericsson would look for would not simply be cheaper, it
would be "good enough for secretaries as well as engineers".

Of course, with proper project management and enough programmers to help
out, the bug fixing is a trivial problem. I am more worried about the rest
of it.


Andy Armstrong wrote:

> Here's an idea; it might not be new, but it's new to me.
> It seems to me that one of the reasons why commercial software still
> dominates the desktop is that free software developers would rather
> concentrate on gnarly nuts and bolts stuff like web servers, programming
> languages and operating systems -- these are certainly the areas where
> the most mature and highly evolved free software is found.
> There will, I suspect, always be a tendency for elite free software
> moths to be drawn to these bright flames given an otherwise level
> playing field. But what if corporations were able to tilt the playing
> field in the direction of the kind of applications they'd rather see
> developed?
> There's an unprecedented groundswell of anti-Microsoft feeling within
> companies outside the technology sector as they wake up to the
> realisation that Redmond has them by the short and curlies and doesn't
> intend to let go any time soon.
> How would it be if there was an organisation to serve as project
> management intermediaries between these companies and the massed ranks
> of free software developers. It would solicit user requirements from
> corporate clients and recruit, instruct and pay suitable developers to
> meet those requirements.
> At the moment if XYZ Corp wants a particular feature added to FreeWrite
> they have no idea how to go about making it happen. Their in-house
> techies probably don't program, and they have no corporate culture of
> commissioning and managing bespoke development. In fact they probably
> won't even articulate the desire for the feature to themselves because
> their relationship to the software they use is that they take what
> they're damn well given by Microsoft -- they're not used to having the
> back channel.
> Enter the organisation I'm describing. It's a schizophrenic beast; it's
> corporate facing flank is all suited and booted -- ready, willing and
> able to speak the corporate argot -- while the bit that hangs with the
> free software crowd sports vendorware, beards and sandals. In
> electronics terms it's an organisation that exists to correct the
> impedance mismatch that exists between corporate customers and the
> hacker elite.
> Its first job is to educate XYZ Corp and its ilk that, because this is
> free software, they can have any changes they're able to specify and pay
> someone to develop. Having got that message across it joins the dots to
> find out what the corporate client needs, recruite appropriate
> developers and get the job done and paid for. XYZ Corp needs to
> understand that the work they pay for will be GPL'd, which means that
> their competitors will get the same benefit, but so what? That's no
> worse than when new features appear in proprietary software and at least
> this way they get to have a say in the direction the development takes.
> It seems to me to be a plan with no obvious flaws -- so much so in fact
> that I'm sure it must exist.
> What does the panel think?
> --
> Andy Armstrong, Tagish

  Johan Hjelm, Senior Specialist
     Ericsson Research Japan

  Read more about my recent book

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