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Billion dollar opportunity? Phooey!

© March 2009 Anthony Lawrence

At "Open For Business ", an interesting post says that the price of Open Source is expertise. I'd say that's definitely true (and have said so in the past). No argument there. However, this paragraph caught my attention:

Analysts are talking about the "billion dollar opportunity", but the brightest example of Open Source business success, that everyone references, garners harsh comments [about making a profit] Does there have to be a clash along this boundary? Sure, Redhat has essentially adopted a traditional licensing model, but if you don't understand the benefit of the role they play in the larger OSS ecosystem then you aren't really paying attention. Having strong ideals is one thing, paying for groceries, mortgages, and braces is another.

OK, agreed again, but does it have to be a "billion dollar opportunity"? What's so horrible about just making a decent living? Why is it that somebody has to get rich for this to be a good thing?

Can somebody please tell me why having a decent income isn't enough? I was talking with some neighbors at coffee this morning. These are mostly conservative people, mostly voting Republican, mostly McCain supporters in the last election, and not big fans of Obama even now. People who generally are far removed from my political views. I ventured that since the AIG mess and everything else around it, I've become much more socialistic. I believe in things I never believed in years ago: socialized medicine, higher taxes for the filthy rich. I didn't expect agreement, but to my surprise I got affirmative nods - these conservative leaning folks are looking pretty radical!

I don't mean that I'm not still a believer in the capitalist system. I am, but I have come to believe that it needs more controls, more taxes, more safety nets, and more people making an honest living from honest work.

Selling expertise is an honest living. You aren't enriching yourself by abusing others. With the incredible communications the Internet has brought us, small groups and even individuals can compete with giant corporations - this is a very different world.

Open Source doesn't have to be a billion dollar opportunity to make it valuable.

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Mon Mar 30 13:59:50 2009: 5902   NickBarron


I wish I had coffee with my neighbours in the morning. If only I had the time! and we actually knew each other.... Ah friendly England...

I do see what you are saying concerning the "earning a decent wage" I think this has not been happening in recent times. People just drive for more and more money again and again. People also live way beyond their means. One situation I use for monitoring this in my own mind is the type of cars young people drive.

When I were a lad learning to drive (insert Yorkshire accent as mandatory) all off five/six years ago. You started in an old car and that was your vehicle for a year or two at least. At the moment I see kids passing their test and driving new cars while working part time!

Either parents have bought them by obtaining a loan or the kid has bought them on credit...

You just don't see old cars around that much anymore in the UK, people just don't want to live within there means. So they try to increase their means to match their tastes

Mon Mar 30 14:05:11 2009: 5903   TonyLawrence

We do the "coffee with neighbors" thing once a month..

Old cars? Funny you mentioned that. Yeah, when I was young most of us had what we called "beaters" - old, beat up vehicles. You don't see that much anymore, at least not in the 'burbs.

I shudder to think what it means if the Wall Street cruds who got multi-million dollar bonuses aren't "living within their means"..

Mon Mar 30 14:15:37 2009: 5904   NickBarron

Once a month? Do you organise it at each others houses according to an unwritten rota system? :)

Yes well beaters in the states bangers in the UK same thing really, but they just don't seem to exist.

The unfortunate thing is the people making the mass millions are a very small percentage indeed. Even so they will be blowing the cash I imagine. Just walking through Covent Garden from lunch, so many beautiful and exotic cars Ferrari, Maserati etc. Never be able to afford one of them :(

Perhaps if I started to screw people over I could make it!

Mon Mar 30 14:17:24 2009: 5905   TonyLawrence

The car thing reminded me of our early days when we were first married. We had two cars, both "beaters".

One day my wife drove hers over a speed bump in a parking lot and the rear bumper fell off :-)

She put it in the trunk and brought it home. Later I tied it to the car with rope :-)

Kept it that way for quite a long time..

Forgot to say that "coffee with neighbors" is on a Saturday.. we meet in the community clubhouse, the developers/owners provide coffee, donuts, bagels. Nice way to meet new people and catch up with others.

This month someone new came and brought coffee and a donut with him - nobody told him he didn't have to bring his own :-)

Mon Mar 30 14:37:40 2009: 5906   NickBarron

Sounds like good old times to me! :) My parents had the same sort of set up when I was a kid, perhaps it is just the rose tinted glasses but those times seem simpler and fairer. They lived within there boundaries too but alas everything seems to be about what you can borrow now. Or well it was until the basement walls and roof fell in on the system.

Coffee mornings sound like quite a nice thing to do, I should not be wanting to be doing things like that I am far too young, but it does sounds very appealing....

Seems like you have a nice community around you :)

Mon Mar 30 14:37:40 2009: 5906   NickBarron

Sounds like good old times to me! :) My parents had the same sort of set up when I was a kid, perhaps it is just the rose tinted glasses but those times seem simpler and fairer. They lived within there boundaries too but alas everything seems to be about what you can borrow now. Or well it was until the basement walls and roof fell in on the system.

Coffee mornings sound like quite a nice thing to do, I should not be wanting to be doing things like that I am far too young, but it does sounds very appealing....

Seems like you have a nice community around you :)

Mon Mar 30 15:40:51 2009: 5909   BigDumbDinosaur

Back in the early 1970s, when I was in my late twenties, I drove a bright green 1960 GMC Suburban. At the time, I certainly could afford a late model vehicle, but there was something perversely satisfying about driving a 13 year old vehicle that seemed substantial enough to derail a freight train. A 1960-era Suburban wasn't anything like today's Suburbans. This old monster definitely was a truck, with a very sturdy X-frame, manual steering (complete with a bus-sized steering wheel), a humongous 351 cubic inch V-6 and a Dual-Range Hydro-Matic, the latter a four speed slush box whose lineage dated back prior to World War II. The body definitely showed its age and the transmission its primitiveness, in that the truck lurched on every upshift. However, it was a very reliable machine, would start without hesitation on the coldest days and never got stuck in the snow. The V-6 had an incredibly flat torque curve, giving the unmistakable impression that it could pull a battleship into dry dock. Plus I only paid 100 bucks for it and it got 15 miles per gallon. Unlike Tony's wife's car, the bumpers stayed firmly attached to the frame, even in collisions, of which there were several -- it handily survived all of them, which couldn't be said for the other vehicles.

Going back even further, when I was in high school, I had a 1947 Ford two door sedan, complete with three-on-the-tree and a 239 cubic inch flathead V-8 that put out a whopping 100 horsepower. This car was so simple in design it could be fixed with little more than a screwdriver and a couple of open end wrenches. It was given to me by an uncle, who understood that a teenage driver didn't need a fancy new car, just one that would get him where he needed to go.

Today's kids are spoiled brats who, in driving new cars, haven't learned the value of money and the work required to get it. Instead, they use credit as though it is free, and then can't understand why they are in over their heads in debt. These are the same sorts who got sucked in by a adjustable rate or interest-only mortgage. Oh well! Sometimes one has to get burned in order to understand that fire is hot.

Mon Mar 30 20:22:12 2009: 5910   ScottCarpenter

Speak the word, Brother. It's always more, more, more. It's hard to find a comfort zone with decent compensation and work/life balance. With all of our technological advances, when are we going to reap the reward of letting the machines do the work and us enjoying more leisure to pursue what we enjoy?

Mon Mar 30 22:41:49 2009: 5911   TonyLawrence

We'll never get there because of greed. Most people just don't know when enough is enough - they want ALL the cake, all the water, all the slaves.. umm.. make that "employees".

Tue Mar 31 17:37:41 2009: 5929   drag

A lot of the problems we've ran into is the government stepping in and reducing the penalties and risks for capitalistic ventures. Risk is the biggest thing that holds capitalism in check.. if you use the government to reduce or remove risk then you can have huge short term economic gains, but the government is actually very limited in what it can do effectively and you end up with crashes like the ones we have recently witnessed.

One of the classic examples is the airline industry. The government steps in and keeps those companies afloat on a regular basis. They claim they want to make sure that the airline industries are very important for the economy of the USA because they are so important for travel. So the tax payer has been subsidizing the big airline folks for decades now, and every year they still post losses. Meanwhile there are lots of smaller airlines that do not get government assistance and yet are still able to operate profitably. They can't grow because they can not compete with those massive companies that don't really care about the need to actually turn a profit....


As far as open source vs closed source goes....

If a company like Redhat with a total of 2200 employees and operating costs in the millions compete effectively against a company like Microsoft with 91000 employees and operating costs in the billions.. then that is a wonderful thing. They are able to do that because open source is cheaper, faster, better.

That is _exactly_ the sort of thing that our country needs. It is what the economy needs.

ALWAYS. ALWAYS. The economy of the USA is driven by small and medium sized businesses. They are responsible for the vast majority of the economic growth of this country. They are responsible for employing and taking care of the VAST majority of the employees in this country.

This is why things like the stock market and such is such a joke and why the numbers are all over the place. Because the fortunes our country is not directly tied into the fortunes of those companies on Wallstreet. YES, they control the majority of the money in the USA, but that does not mean that they are the ones responsible for creating the economic successes of this country.

The success and sustainability of our country is ensured by the decentralized nature of our economy. Centralized management in the form of large businesses or government is the bane of efficiency and flexibility.

Just like how the Internet is able to work because it is decentralized and controlled and maintained by individuals for their own self-interest.. just like how Open Source is able to work and produce superior products because it is individually driven with people working in their own self interests in a community... that is how our economy works and is the strength of this country.

Screw big business. Screw big government. People in charge of those are in charge because they are cautious enough to avoid big risks and are very good at ass-kissing and telling people want they want to hear, not because they are smart and are able to successfully deal with high risks and overcome failures, setbacks, and roadblocks.


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