The Simple Economics of Open Source

Ed elb at
Fri Apr 21 16:09:35 CEST 2000

On the other hand, I didn't think much of the article.  If felt the authors
were snobbish because they gave the impression that programmers behave
somewhat like monkeys, motivated primarily by concerns about group status
and dominance.  The abstract's mention of "career concerns" as a motivating
factor was not explored in any depth; it simply made the abstract more

I thought they left out two important motivations for support/involvement in
open-source software: (1) frustration (with pointy-haired bosses who don't
know what you're talking about until you show them; with dysfunctional
software tools; with commercial-software "documentation" that is really
advertisement); and (2) risk reduction (concern over the potential money pit
that a commitment to Microsoft and commercialized software might bring).

Of course, even though I didn't like it, I'm glad they wrote it.
Misinformation, delivered to economists and marketing agencies whose
interests are to profit from emerging markets by finding influence points,
is a good thing.

Neel Krishnaswami wrote:

> Jeremy Hylton <jeremy at> wrote:
> >
> > The Simple Economics of Open Source
> >
> > The paper itself is available from one of the authors --
> >
> >
> > [...] The authors are Josh Lerner --
> >
> > and Jean Tirole --
> >
> >
> > I haven't read the paper yet, but the abstract and the discussion in
> > the Times make it sound like a worthwhile read.  Thought I'd share the
> > pointer to the paper and see if anyone else has read the paper or has
> > comments on it.
> The paper is quite good and very readable, as one might expect -- Jean
> Tirole literally wrote the book on market structure and imperfect
> competition[*].  There's nothing much in the way of new economics in
> the paper; it's more like a case study than a theoretical research
> paper.
> However, there are a number of excellent insights, among them an
> explanation (in a footnote!) of why the BSDs have been able to keep up
> with Linux technically, even though the Linux community is much
> larger. (Or for that matter, Python and Perl.)
> [*] _The Theory of Industrial Organization_: This is a wonderful book;
> it put in my mind the idea that the word "lucid" might have been
> invented just to describe it. Only a few other texts (notably SICP)
> have impressed me this much. If you are at all familiar with
> microeconomics, then you really owe it to yourself to dig this up and
> dig into it.
> Neel

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