Land of the Free

Netscape preempted its client software's decaying share of their revenue by its recent announcement; the trend of 45%, 18%, 13% is clear enough, but certainly the next number in the series was not "0." Now it is!

But then it was free (and multi-platform) software that made the web; the Mosaic browser, for you youngsters. While it was soon capable of true multimedia, it was really two straightforward capabilities that lit the fire: integration of text and images, coupled with hypertext connections to interesting sources of information around the world. James Wallace's Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace tells the story better than I can here.

Has Netscape preempted Bill Gates megalomania as well? That seems doubtful. What began as an expedient for scientists to exchange technical information has become "essential" in many ways to computerized commerce (although certainly not to Microsoft's operating system, contrary to their contemptible posturing).

Consider these novel pricing methodologies brought to us by the interconnection of computers and their users:

  1. Free, and freely modifiable;
  2. Free, unless and until you're willing to acknowledge its value to you and pay for it (i.e. shareware);
  3. Nearly free, but essential - didn't DOS used to go for about $19.95? (Not to be confused with bundled "valuable software");
  4. Everybody pays, whether or not they want or get it - this is what the consent decree against Microsoft was all about;
  5. Essential - beyond "near-monopoly" to monopoly. AT&T used to be in this category, and payed for it through submission to tight regulation. If the O/S becomes a utility, will it follow the utility model of price controls and a high-yield (but low growth) provider? Probably too simple an answer for a technology that's not nearly ready to stop changing.

Of course, there are some things that are "free" now - like broadcast TV. Sometimes, free stuff merely serves to illustrate that you get what pay for. With TV, you pay by subjecting yourself to psychological manipulation. What, you don't think that works? Yeah, you're smarter than all those advertising folks, for sure.

But there is plenty of free software that's quite valuable; the Netscape broswer, to be sure, the SWISH-E search engine, make your own list. But a hobby's one thing; there's gotta be some money in it somewhere to keep the party going. Doesn't there?

We shall see.

This was originally published within on Jan. 24, 1998.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Saturday, 06-Jan-2001 12:39:47 MST