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Re: [ox-en] What if the designs of everything were free?


Hi Rich and all!

I had another thought on this.

Last week (13 days ago) Rich Walker wrote:
Of course, this already happens - see the OHGPL for an example, and
there is a lot of other stuff under and other places in a
similar vein. However, there may still be a difference between what can
be done by a disparate diffident group of contributors, and what can be
done by a highly-resourced focussed team. The issue we need to address
is how to generate the equivalent of highly-resourced focussed teams
without the current model of producing them.

Well, Free Software shows what disparate - while not diffident ;-) -
groups of contributors can come to. However, you mentioned the point
the high amount of resources needed to make some things happen.

To clarify, I think there are projects that need large amounts of "easy"
resources - for example, barn-building or testing a new kernel version
for working on all hardware. Then there are projects that need a
small-ish team to work on them for a substantial period, often with a
large amount of infrastructure. For example, producing a CAD system,
developing a new jet engine, or producing a new CPU architecture that
is viable. (The last of these reminds me that the Alpha AXP design
process was managed by a project team within DIGITAL that had no
resources to employ anyone outside the initial team, and no line
authority - so all they could do was to persuade other parts of the
company to do the work. Worth tracking down the Digital R&D journal
that this is in - I think it's still on the net).

This is something where Free Software has the advantage that the means
of production necessary for producing Free Software in many Western
households are standard devices today. I think this is one of the main
reasons why Free Software was able to take off at all.

Yes, for software we gain the twin advantages of cheap distribution and
cheap installation. But for hardware or physical objects these
advantages don't exist - the question is what changes to the model are
required. My supposition at present is that, failing a complete
transition to some completely different economic model, we will see the
need to cover-your-ass over the construction and installation charges
will tend to outweigh other advantages of Free systems, and
organisations with a CYA policy internally will select from things where
they can go and point their finger at the manufacturer in the event of
problems. (After alll, you can always un-install EMACS, but it's a real
swine to try to un-install a pipeline or engine).

So the question comes back to the old socialist question of the means
of production. However, in Free Software we see how the movement
builds its own means of productions part by part. I mean the `gcc' -
may be the root of everything - is one means of production. Emacs is
another and so on. Continuing this thought would mean that the means
of production necessary are built by the movement. I could imagine
this may happen.

Umm; i think you may be mistaken in this but. The means of production
for Free Software are perhaps *not* the tools used in the production
process - they are instead the tools used in the *distribution*
process. For example, I have acquired Free Software by post, by personal
handover or copying, over my Internet connection, and by purchase of
CD. Until I had a robust unmetered Internet connection, I don't consider
that I really had the ability to have a Free Software infrastructure,
because the overhead cost of distribution and installation was very high
- higher than for commercial software. But once it became possible for
me to upgrade a box by typing "apt-get update; apt-get upgrade" and it
to Just Work, I had a Free Software infrastructure.

Now, it is possible to manage the distribution of Free Software in a
more "anarchist postal service" manner, with CD's flying around in the
mail or by personal delivery, but in both cases we're dependent on a
very large body of infrastructure (Free Hardware designs for CD
recorders and pressing plants, anyone?) which represents a large-scale
investment of resources from other bodies. This is the interesting judo
manoeuvre of Free Software - given an infrastructure constructed for
different purposes, using it to sustain this community. Note the
quid-pro-quo inherent in this - the big success stories of Free Software
are often those that are the most critical to the infrastructure project
that Free Software depends on

cheers, Rich.

rich walker | technical person | Shadow Robot Company | rw
front-of-tshirt space to let     251 Liverpool Road   |
                                 London  N1 1LX       | +UK 20 7700 2487

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