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RE: How are Subscription Costs for Engineering Software and CAD affecting your bottom line?

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Dennis

Your concept of evolution-software seems like a good idea. In what way would
it differ from the free software foundation, General Public License (GPL)?
Or the other similar licenses: Design Science License (DSL), Science
Commons.

http://www.fsf.org/

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/dsl.html

http://creativecommons.org/

http://sciencecommons.org/

The general concept of all is to provide all users with the freedom to adapt
the software to their own needs, or fix bugs immediately. There appears to
be no constraint on anyone charging a fee for added value and services
provided. Which from a simplistic viewpoint suggests, one user buys, sells
to two associates for half-price, recovering their costs. Each buyer in
return sells to two others at half price, and so on, until the cost is less
than 1 cent, and the software is given away.

Which poses the question of how does the originator recover their
development costs? The answer to which is I think they provide real service
to those they sell directly too, and also possibly those who get the
software by the indirect path. Thus potentially anyone can sell the software
and make a profit, the originator doesn't have to worry about distribution
costs, but if those who sell cannot support the software, communications
eventually channel back to the originator. When it channels back the first
solution to any problem, is the author sells their current version of
software, or charges a service fee for assistance provided. The same goes
for any other competent developer who may have made a modified version.
There thus becomes registered, controlled and quality versions of the
software and uncontrolled low quality versions.

The GPL doesn't stop the software from being commercial, it just requires
freedom to modify, to adapt the software to the users needs, and such right
to be passed onto all users. Users cannot charge a high price for software
they do not support, when the software is otherwise available from elsewhere
for zero fee. Since software is relatively easy to copy and distribute, and
easy for some to modify. There is always the possibility that someone will
modify and provide the software at say half the price of the original, with
improved features. So all suppliers have to provide quality service and
support, not just large scale sales of copies. Further more there is a
diversity of software available, simple versions of an application with few
features and able to run on low end computers, and feature packed versions
requiring high end computers. Or laden with useless graphics demanding lots
of memory with no productive value. The software can be added to, or
stripped back to its basic function: the user decides which way to take the
development and accepts responsibility for it. The user is not hindered by
the developers having other priorities and interests, which may be of
limited value to many users. Users don't have to wait for bugs to be fixed,
they fix themselves if they know how.

Pirating is also not a major issue. The author makes their living providing
a service, others from distribution. Since any distributor has the potential
to modify the program, to be clearly identified as their supported version,
the original author shouldn't be hassled by persons having problems with a
modified version. To a certain extent it favours small and independent. The
original authors may not get rich, but they should make a living, and
publishers are somewhat constrained from getting rich from others efforts,
because all persons are potential publishers.

Which I think is the gist of the CopyLeft movement: authors have typically
relinquished their copyright to publishers who then proceed to get rich.
Photocopiers, and computers, desktop publishing, and now the internet have
changed all that. What value are intellectual property rights to authors
anyway? They can create, modify and adapt until they find an audience for
their work: what ever form it may take. Locked into a publisher an author
has all their eggs in one basket and it may fail. With a diversity of forms
of their work in the market place there is greater chance at least one of
them gains an audience. The authors sell to their network of readers/users
and small publishers, which in turn feed other users and publishers. Each
can choose to grow and gain greater market, but for the most part each is
part of a complex network, and supplier to a lower level distributor with a
different kind of market. With printed materials for example one publisher
may produce an expensive book on glossy paper, whilst at the bottom of the
line, are cheap photocopies or printouts of a pdf file. The United Nations
for example has started putting CopyLeft like clauses in some of its
publications, because the intended users of the publications cannot afford
the originals. Now an aid organisation can purchase an original book on
appropriate technology and copy and distribute to remote villages.

Not all people have the same resources, needs and expectations of quality.
But people can better afford certain things if they produce and distribute
themselves, rather than be supplied with a cheap copy by a big international
supplier. Cannot maximise the size of market by insisting that funds from
all sales flow directly to a common origin. The GPL in essence creates an
indirect flow, there are no royalties, each author or supplier simply
supplies a small group of people. Seen from afar the network of users
however is huge. Each works at expanding their own local domain. Unlike a
normal distribution network however, instead of the price increasing as go
from producer, to wholesaler to retailer, the price decreases as value is
removed, or increases if value is added.

Creative people have better things to do with their time, than build and
manage infrastructure to track royalties and distribute product. My
understanding is that the GPL/DSL permits others to distribute, without
robbing the author of their copyright. Further there is little need for
anyone to risk massive investment in such infrastructure for large scale
distribution.

So I don't believe that your concept of evolutionary-software is a bad idea,
nor necessarily a poor business plan. On the other hand, the total market
for Multi-Lat software is potentially small, if limited to the perspective
of engineers. If allowed to expand to other users, architects and builders,
then the market will increase: the user interface and error trapping will
have to improve and the form of the output will also be different. But the
number of persons able to provide feedback will increase, as will the number
of persons able and willing to make the improvements.

Apparently a calculation engine only takes about 20% of the development
effort, it is error trapping and the user interface both input and output
which takes 80% of the effort. It is the user interface which really
determines the success or failure of a product, along with backup service.

SO whilst you may have put a great deal of effort into developing the
various versions of Multi-Lat, and learned a great deal in the process, it
doesn't necessarily make the product of any value to others. As they say the
journey is more important than the destination. So others starting from
scratch and developing their own workbooks is potentially where the real
value lies.

If feedback is what you have been seeking in the past then releasing simple
independent modules at

http://www.excelcalcs.com, and  

http://www.examplecalcs.com/

has the potential to generate more feedback. For users will ask why can't it
also do... ? What about integrating calculation of... ? Then you can ask
them to modify and demonstrate what they mean. After all I assume Multi-Lat
requires modules for ASCE7-05 to get loads, and for NDS wood engineering to
check resistance, plus some reference to IBC. All of which are useful in
their own right, but probably not directly accessible for other purposes
through Multi-Lat. In other words effort wasted, because the product is
hidden. By separating and developing each as independent modules which are
merged into the larger Multi-Lat, the contributors may increase and the
development and revision to new codes progress faster. Also not all current
users may want to move over to Excel 2007, so taking them on the development
trip will allow each to update to current code, using whatever version of
Excel they choose. For that matter allow versions in OpenOffice and Google
documents to also develop in parallel.

Also by separating out the modules, the individual codes and their
ambiguities can be debated in more detail, with contributions from persons
who have no need of Multi-Lat but do need to use loading codes and wood
engineering codes. Also it is easier and faster to release something small
and simple which is free from errors. Also as the system advances and
develops errors, the smaller modules provide something to back track to.

Teach users how to fish rather than give them the fish. Then likely to see a
greater level of participation as users have a greater sense of ownership in
the tools they use. Also new participants can jump in at what ever level of
development they choose. Otherwise the principal form of criticism is
recipients not using the software, too huge, too cumbersome and too time
consuming to learn and check, and no feedback advising of such.

Also if things had to be perfect before they are released then nothing would
ever get done. Modern industrial society is stagnating because people are
being locked in school for longer and longer, as history sets down
increasingly complex foundations for people to get started in life. Society
needs to support a greater diversity of systems, rather than concentrating
on a single approach because of some nonsense about economy of scale. More
elementary systems are needed so that individuals can get started and grow
and evolve into participating in more complex systems through real life
practice.

For example I believe Multi-Lat is limited to 3 storeys. Strip it back to 1
storey, and another 2 storey version. Others will develop those versions
whilst you concentrate on developing beyond 3 storeys. People will come
along pick up the historical trail of development, and follow the bread
crumbs to the current point of development, or pick up an earlier
development and shoot off along a different path.

In other words if you originally wanted to provide a free tool developed and
evolved by peers. Then the freedom needed to be there for it to happen. I
believe you probably inadvertently stifled such freedom, by releasing
something substantially complete and thus denying others opportunity to
contribute anything.

However users are generally always likely to outnumber developers, so
charging users a fee for services provided is not unreasonable. Also copying
and transmitting files, and maintaining a register of users, is not an
expensive exercise, so license fees can be low, whilst additional services
are charged on an as needs basis. The additional services being that the
software as is: is not suited to the individuals needs and they don't have
the time to customise it: but you will for a fee.

The file on the disk, the Excel workbook is not worth anything. It is what
people can do with it that has value; it is how users profit from its use
that allows the price to be pushed up or otherwise pushes the price down, as
otherwise explained above.

So there is plenty of opportunity and channels of distribution to both
develop and expand the market for Multi-Lat: as to whether can make an
income adequate to support retirement from a single product that's another
matter. But with a few software tools hopefully you can.



Regards
Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
mailto:sch.tectonic(--nospam--at)bigpond.com
Adelaide
South Australia 




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