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Andrew, people develop open source software for a variety of reasons.
1. Love of the process.
2. A need to take a greater control of their tools.
3. A way of getting publicity or improving their egos.
4. A way of commodotizing Microsoft software or competing with Microsoft.
In my personal experience, the higher up the list you are, the better
the software you produce. So for instance the programming languges Perl
and Python were created by people who I have met several times and I
know that they have no hatred for Microsoft whatsoever. In fact
Microsoft employees have worked side by side with other developers on
Python stuff, and a tremendous amount of effort has gone into making
Python work well on Microsoft platforms and with Microsoft software
(even when "working well" means working around bugs in the platform).
If James Clark and IBM announce a new open source project on the next
day I will trust that the James Clark version will be better, as long as
he cares to improve it.
People do this for the pure love of it, and conventional economics
impinge only occasionally and in oblique ways. It is therefore very
dangerous to apply standard economic thought to the process. A start to
understanding this phenomenon is to read the writings of Eric Raymond.
> One key aspect of the problem is the relationship between the income
> that browsers generate (~nil directly) and the costs of high quality
> development. If we want high quality browsers or rich-clients then
> someone has to invest substantial amounts of money.
I'm sorry, but that is fundamentally untrue. No organization or
individual has to invest substantial amounts of money if the development
model is decentralized.
> Without income (directly or indirectly) we can't expect substantial
Also false, and demonstrably so. Where is the income for Gnome or Emacs?
> That aspect is quite simple ... if software companies can charge for
> next-generation browsers / rich-clients / call them what you will then
> we as users can expect added value to be part of the pay off.
That's insanely wrong-headed. Why would a centralized, closed-source
model necessarily produce more value than a decentralized, open-source
model? Have you been paying attention for the last ten years???
Look, Mozilla is getting better, faster, than commercial browsers.
Between spam blocking and popup blocking, excellent standards support
and many different models for different users, it is making great
strides. Opera is going head to head with IE on smartphones and winning.
The browser development stall is over and we're just about to get back
to the good old days of rapid improvement. Why would we change anything
just when things are starting to get good!?!?