Jerry Maguire on the future of the free software industry

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[Reposted from my professional site]

Suddenly, it was all clear. The answer was fewer clients. Less money. Caring for them and caring for ourselves.

Jerry Maguire

“Fewer clients. Less money.” Sacrilege in a world where the goal is to grow the first billion dollar “open source vendor”. But that chimera that Matt Asay holds a torch for may never come. Free software has a lot of selling points – and the main one is that if your vendor is charging you too much money, you can find a different, smaller one who will charge you less.

That doesn’t mean that the originator of the software can’t make money – knowing the software better than anyone else, and being able to customise the software, is a pretty powerful selling point and a clear path to building a profitable small business.

As many commentators have said (and I agree), support is not a scalable business model. Other smaller, more agile, companies can start businesses around your product, gain expertise, become contributors to your project, and syphon off some of that yummy support and maintenance cash you’re hunting for.

But so what? Free software doesn’t get developed like proprietary software, why should the free software industry look like the proprietary software industry?

Here’s my vision of the future: Smaller businesses. Each with fewer, happier clients. Less money. Lots of them, all over the world.

Call to release team: Open shop on GNOME 3.0 planning!

freesoftware, gnome 6 Comments

vuntz has blogged today about some of the brainstorming that has come out of the Summit this year – and that’s great. The Summit’s an important chance to get a lot of focussed work done.

It’s a start on the road to a GNOME 3.0, but it’s not enough. what I’d like to see happen now, if the Release Team (and indeed the GNOME community) is serious about implementing a two-step 4/4 beat in the project, where every 2 to 3 years we have a major version, and we continue with our 6 month drives, then we need to get serious about co-ordinating those major feature arcs.

I’ve discussed this a few times in private, but nothing’s been announced – so as I threatened to do at the JDLL, here’s what I think that the release team should do: Open a consultation period when the community proposes major themes/feature arcs for the desktop – proposals might be conservative or ambitious, it doesn’t matter. They should be realistic, but exciting and over-arching.

Some examples I can think of are “Integrate with web services where appropriate” – and give examples of the web services and applications in question – or “Make contacts first class objects” – and show the interface for this, how we start to depend on libsoylent, various applications that include presence, more than just throwing out an idea, getting concrete about what needs to be done for the feature arc.

After the (short) consultation period, the release team announces the theme for GNOME 3.0, consults with the various maintainers concerned to ensure we’re all on the same page, and that major features are added to the mid-term roadmaps of all the applications concerned. And then magic happens, code gets written, and we have a major new feature arc for our desktop in 1 to 2 years time.

Rinse, repeat, every 2 years or so – in the run-up to a major release, we pick a new major feature arc and drive for that. In the absence of this kind of co-ordination, we will continue to have the kind of piecemeal progress that we’ve seen over the past few years – all our apps are improving, the GNOME experience is better than ever, but we don’t have a story to tell.

Congratulations Jono

General 1 Comment

Jono: Congratulations on the release of Denied by Reign – I must admit it’s not my cup of tea, but I’m looking forward to the first non-metal remixes/covers of it.

If it’ll help the advancement of your plan for world domination, I’ll happily leave the album scrobbling on last.fm – playing on repeat all night with the speakers off ;-)

Just so long as my neighbourhood radio ends up having more Nina Simone than death metal.

GNOME at JDLL 2008

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It’s been a quiet day in GNOMEland here in Lyon. Not too many people around the JDLLs this year – hopefully things will be more lively tomorrow, and some lessons will be learned for the organisation for next year.

I finally got some A1 & A2 posters printed up that look very nice, if I may say so myself – special credit to artists & contributors andreasn, mizmo & zagorskid for the material.

Fredp, looking zen, at JDLL 08 in Lyon

Fredp, looking zen, at JDLL 08 in Lyon

Along with some “Why choose GNOME?” hand-outs, a Nokia N810, Nokia N800, a couple of laptops, and fredix, Dodji fredp and myself, the stand is looking not too shabby – could be better, could be worse. Tomorrow Dodji will be gone, but vuntz will be here.

End result

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After all the to-and-fro of an afternoon on the phone with various departments saying it wasn’t their problem, I finally got on the phone with the French company that (allegedly) has the event box. Unfortunately, with the information I have, they can’t find it. They might have it, it might get to me soon, but as the guy said, “If you send stuff with the postal service, we don’t guarantee a delivery date”. Helpful.

So the event box is on its way, it’s probably in France, but no-one can tell me where, or when I might expect to receive it. So I’ll be spending tomorrow morning printing up some posters and hand-outs for an impromptu stand, I’ll bring my laptop, an N800 and an N810, my go-ban, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go…

If I arrive late at La Doua tomorrow, GNOME-fr people, you’ll know why.

DHL phone service

General 1 Comment

Apart from a very pleasant Julie, everyone I’ve talked to from DHL today has been shockingly disagreeable. I’ve gone from people hanging up after 5 seconds (raises the agerage number of calls) to one woman who insisted on interrupting me half way through every sentence.

At least you can get them on the phone – I spent over an hour talking to no-one on the Coliposte telephone service. Coliposte have it all worked out. “If you want to talk to automated service A, press 1. If you want to talk to automated service B, press 2. If you want to talk to a human being, please hold until you get bored and hang up.”

Delivery service telephone helplines: turning good days into bad since 1982.

Decision time

General 9 Comments

I bought some shares in Sun a while back when they were pretty cheap (pre-reverse split, around $4) – I really liked their product line, and liked the noises I was hearing around their free software strategy. For a while, the share did well, at one stage I was up about 50% when the share went over $6.

But then there was a series of things that seem to have shaken confidence – the ticker name change to JAVA seemed about as gimmicky as McCain “suspending” his campaign, the reverse split sent completely the wrong message to the market (another cosmetic change, but one that sends a message that you think the price might be going down), and from the heady days of 2007 when we had 5 straight quarters in the black, Sun’s back in the red for the last couple.

With shares now down to pre-split levels, Sun’s lost 80% of its market value in the last year, which leads me to think that one of three things are true:

  • Sun is going down the tubes, and the market is singing their requiem – in which case I should sell at a loss, take whatever I can get and call it quits
  • Sun is a prime acquisition target – I should probably hold onto my shares in that case and get a little more than current market value
  • Sun is a company that will survive and thrive again, and it’s currently undervalued due to the crisis – in which case, I might consider doubling down

Obviously I’m no market expert, and how the share price goes over the next month or so will depend on earnings announced at the end of October – the way things are going, you have to expect those results to be bad. I’m not one to ask for advice like this usually, but I’d appreciate people sharing their insights on Sun’s prospects.

Congrats on 2.6.0!

gimp 1 Comment

Congrats to the GIMP team on the release of the GIMP 2.6.0. This is the first version to depend on GEGL, which makes it a major milestone for GIMP historians. GEGL can optionally be used for colour operations, and an experimental GEGL operation tool exposes the power of GEGL operations to the user – in a future release, these will hopefully be available as configurable effect layer modes. There are some other pretty impressive new features described in the release notes.

This also represents a very quick release cycle – under 1 year since 2.4.0 – which is good to see.