danbricklin.com/log

Starting April 16, 2004
Licenses can be changed like code as Movable Type shows, Reactions to the new Movable Type licensing scheme, An essay on thinking about software licensing, NY Times article on BloggerCon II, Pictures from BloggerCon II,Thinking about how to make a living as an entrepreneur software developer
16Apr04-15May04
2004_04_16.htm
Saturday, May 15, 2004 
Licenses can be changed like code as Movable Type shows [link]
Yesterday I pointed out some of the problems that were surfacing with SixApart's licensing scheme for the Movable Type weblog tool. While many people understood (and even supported) the company's move to expanded offerings (in terms of support and other corporate market requirements), the particulars of the licensing terms were a problem for many due to how they were using the product. People who thought of themselves as low-end users that would be on the bottom of the payment scale found themselves at the top of the scale. Restrictions that are common in a traditional commercial licensing agreement (about multiple CPUs) inadvertently confused authors who made use of shared hosting environments. (Shared hosting is very popular for personal web sites, and the equipment used, which may often include dual processors or clustered servers, are beyond the control of the low-end user -- they often don't even know what's being used.)

In an email exchange with Anil Dash of SixApart, he made a very astute comment: "...people see code as malleable but text on a website [and licensing terms] as being hard for us to change." The reaction to licensing terms for the version 3.0 Beta was made as if it was cast in concrete, though the term "beta" implied that the code itself wasn't. (SixApart didn't help itself by announcing the licenses at the same time as the code downloads became available, rather than beta testing them publicly first, and some of the details were software-coded into the order processing system.)

Sure enough, today the license was changed (much like a very quick fix to a bug) along with clarifications from founder Mena.

According to her, the term "weblog" may have had a different meaning to people in a survey than it was used in the product's user interface. Using multiple "weblogs" to assemble a single web site or weblog (as seen by the reader) now only counted as one weblog as far as the license was concerned. Dormant weblogs and authors now don't count either.

Here we have a simple set of changes (or clarifications, depending upon how you see the sequence of events) that solves the licensing problem for many users. It's probably what the SixApart people were thinking, but, as we see, licensing and marketing material needs to be beta tested, too, not just program code and user interfaces. Understanding your market to the level of detail they care about (and need) is really hard. The questions you ask when doing market research have to be understood in light of the market's thinking. The choices you provide for answers in a questionnaire may not always cover the entire spectrum as completely as you think.

The company's philosophy about charging is set out in her posting, even saying that an area that some may feel should be treated as low-end (hosting dozens of weblogs for dozens of "friends") is one they do want to consider higher-end (and are willing to lose those people to other products if you don't agree).

In addition, and very important in my opinion, they removed the absolute caps on number of weblogs and authors, putting in place a simple incremental price for each, with no cap.

Throughout this, many of the most vocal complainers made it clear that payment for programs was not the problem. (Many had donated to the company already.) It was the specifics of the licensing scheme and the impression of "fairness" that was the problem. For some, it was just the specific price points chosen, not the fact that there was one. Movable Type was never a "pure" open source product, and had been charging for commercial use for a long time. Users who wanted only GPL or similar licensing with redistribution and other rights were not their audience.

The history of the product up until this point is interesting with respect to learning about business models. They built up their "franchise" and got the company going with a good product, modifiable (for your own purposes) source, a large part of the audience who could legally get it for free, donations, for-pay services (installation), and reasonable commercial licensing.

The new licenses at first looked to many current users like a change in the business model, away from the "large part...for free" and not just a beefing up of the services/commercial part. Today's tweaking seems to be an attempt to move it back to where it was (and apparently in the company's mind never changed from). Hopefully, the sequence of announcement and tweaking won't hurt their franchise.

Friday, May 14, 2004 
Reactions to the new Movable Type licensing scheme [link]
I've been getting interesting feedback to my software licensing essay. In the midst of all this, SixApart has released a new version of Movable Type with a new licensing and payment scheme. Pricing is now based not just on whether you are commercial or not, but also on how many authors and weblogs the system is handling. Much has been written about this change. Different people react to it differently depending upon their circumstances. For example, poor students maintaining weblogs with old posts from high school friends (so have many authors, but few that are current) see a huge jump in cost. Corporations that use it for one person see no problem.

I've read lots of posts about the issue, including the MetaFilter thread, Shelley Powers' post, and others. Here's what I see at first glance:

Licensing, pricing, availability of modifiable source, etc., are all part of the "feature-set" we look at when evaluating products. The thing to learn here is that the choice of how you differentiate between users for pricing is a key element in a product's feature-set. You had better be pretty clear about the philosophy behind that differentiation and change it at your peril. Users take advantage of the complete feature-set, including licensing terms, when they use a product. If multiple authors are free, then users create them to solve a myriad of problems. If multiple weblogs are free, they use that ability to make up for deficiencies elsewhere. If you change that, they feel betrayed as much as if you removed a key feature.

Be careful about absolute limits on software that aren't intrinsic. Always have an easy way to buy out of those limits with a pricing scheme known up front. Those limits are another part of the feature-set.

Most importantly: A large number of users care about what the license says and do not want to violate it, even if that is easy to do. SixApart does not enforce its licenses with special limiting software or hardware. Movable Type is written in Perl and is easily modifiable by good programmers, and those modifications are not too hard for non-programmers to apply. Despite this, people are talking about stopping using a product they like, just so that they won't violate a license they don't agree with. I know this is probably not the case with all users, but the existence of so many of them bodes well for "for pay" (at least sometimes) software. As I wrote in my essay, there is a special status given to the original creator and maintainer of software, and many people want to treat them in a "fair" manner.

Sunday, April 25, 2004 
An essay on thinking about software licensing [link]
As I posted a week or so ago, I'm trying to figure out how I want to structure things for my reentry into the small software developer world. After talking to various people and doing much reading about open source, I decided to write an essay covering some of my thinking. It includes a first attempt at a licensing scheme.


Monday, April 19, 2004 
NY Times article on BloggerCon II [link]
The New York Times ran an article this morning about BloggerCon II. As Ned Batchelder points out, he's the first person quoted and I coincidentally posted a picture in my BloggerCon II photo album of him being interviewed by Julie Flaherty for the article, but it showed her more than him. Here are some more pictures of the event being covered by a reporter being photographed by others blogging it, etc.:

Ned looking at Julie as she asks a question gesturing  Henry smiling as Julie asks a serious question
Ned Batchelder and then Henry Copeland being interviewed by Julie Flaherty of the NY Times -- both ended up in the article
Julie in a group in front of the desks   Overexposed picture of Jodi holding a camera aimed right at me looking over it  Jodi holding a Nikon
Julie sitting on the floor taking notes during Jeff Jarvis' session (which made up most of her article), Jodi Hilton taking pictures for the NYTimes from the back of the room
Even more circular: You can see the various pictures I have of the photographer Jodi Hilton, especially the one up there looking right at me. The print version of the NYTimes has an accompanying picture (chosen by a photo editor in New York, I assume) taken from a slightly different place in the back of the room (probably a few minutes later as she made her way around the room). You can see Jeff Jarvis pointing at someone with a raised hand about to be called on. The person with the upraised arm is wearing a plaid shirt that looks just like the one I wore that day (see Amy Langfield's Photoblog) and is sitting right where I sat...

Saturday, April 17, 2004 
Pictures from BloggerCon II [link]
I've posted lots of pictures from BloggerCon II, Dave Winer's conference that was at Harvard today. No text, just pictures. I'm sure others covered it well.


Dave Winer smiling  Lots of people in a big classroom
Dave posing before and the first session

Friday, April 16, 2004 
Thinking about how to make a living as an entrepreneur software developer [link]
I was looking at my the referrer URLs in my server log file and found some hits coming from Sébastien Paquet's weblog. Looking there, I found out about an essay by David Bollier with the same title as one of mine, "The Cornucopia of the Commons" (the footer of the essay, to my surprise, referred to my essay). It's worth reading. It's about the gift economy, using the example of community gardens in New York City and GNU/Linux.

Essays like this (and more recent writings, like Richard Stallman's "Free but shackled: The Java trap"), as well as the success of many open source projects (measuring "success" in various ways), point out the value to society and economic growth potential of "open" products and "gifts" where people benefit from the work of others without being forced to pay in a strict, DRM-like, one-use/one-pay way. This also fits in with my exploration of how artists get paid and the problems of trying to move art to a strict simplistic, locked-down DRM model.

As I move back into the world of trying to make a living through product development as a very small software developer, I'm struggling with figuring out the way I should structure things.

There is the traditional proprietary software model, where each copy of a product is distributed directly or through a reseller for a fee, and the software is maintained and modified only by the original developer. I've done that many times over the years. Marketing and sales costs can be quite high, and it doesn't lend itself to the type of simple utilities I plan to start with, nor benefit from the lowering of marketing and distribution costs possible with the Internet.

There are the shareware (please pay me if you like it) and trialware (it stops working if you don't pay after a while) models. They have been successful for various utilities and fits well with the Internet. They do, though, not seem to be put together that much with open source that can be read and modified by the user.

There is the "free open source with paid service model", shown to be viable by companies like Red Hat and IBM. That looks good, but as a small company, I'm not sure (after having just spent years in a business that had a very high service component) that the needs of providing on-demand and 24x7 service will fit with the company size and lifestyle I want.

Another model is one used initially by SixApart with Movable Type, where they had a somewhat open source product (you got source and could make your own modifications, but were not allowed to redistribute it), no fee for noncommercial use, and a fee for commercial use and some simple services (help with installation). I like the idea of identifying those who benefit financially from a product and have a business model themselves which involves income and expenses, and having those people pay. I don't like, though, the restriction on distribution that keeps the product from being improved or distributed by others. Listening to Clayton Christensen, I want to help leverage the work of others who have their own motives, even if it's profit, to widen distribution.

I'm working on some simple licenses to try out with my first simple products that keep much of the benefits of more traditional open source licenses. According to GNU the "freedoms" the license should provide include: Freedom to run the program for any purpose, freedom to study how it works and adapt it, freedom to redistribute it, and freedom to improve it and redistribute the improvements. The differences from licenses like the GPL (and why I am wary of doing this) are that I'm trying to find particular instances where payment must be made in order to provide the income stream for the developer (me), and I'm not forcing those that redistribute to forego charging similarly for their improvements. My assumption is that the developer has no other income stream -- they spend all of their time developing the code and they are paid only out of the income stream generated by that code. The question is "who" and under which conditions makes that payment. I know that perceptions of how "free" a product is can affect acceptance but too little payment flowing to the developer can kill the company.

While I think I fully understand and appreciate the benefits to society of GPL-style licenses, I'm looking to get at least some of those benefits in a way that can support an entrepreneur developer. "Proprietary source" does not bother me, I just know that it's not the only way, either. I'd love to find a hybrid that works in certain cases to the benefit of all. Many traditional open source projects depend upon labor donated by people who have other jobs (akin to musicians with a "normal" day job playing in a band at night) or labor donated by bigger companies with an income stream that comes from something other than just writing the software (like IBM selling services and helping Linux).

I'll post some simple drafts that capture what I'm thinking early next week.

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