John Horvath on Fri, 6 Feb 1998 09:54:13 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> end of freeware?

Freeware Capitalism
By John Horvath

Recently on many lists there has been discussions about Netscrape's
plans to include the source code to the next version of communicator
under the banner of freeware. As can be expected, many applauded this
move as a sign of things to come, as if the net were about to move in a
non (or de-) commercialized manner.

What got me about most of these net enthusiasts is that they wouldn't
know what to do with source code in the first place. I don't see where
the real advantage is for most people, apart from the few that are
experienced enough to dabble in code. And even so, Netscrape's intended
move toward freeware threatens the entire free/shareware field, for the
many browsers that offered by these means (yes, there is more to life
than just Explorer and Communicator) will most likely lose support since
attention will be directed toward Netscrape development.

It must be also kept in mind that what Netscrape is doing is nothing
new. Microsnot offered IE for free; was that done for the benefit of
users? Clearly not. It was a cunning move at market penetration and
exploitation, which the freeware move by Netscrape is merely an
elaborate repetition. Indeed, the history of Netscrape reads like the
history of a wannabe Microsnot company, where the former adopts much of
the behaviour of the latter.

Above all this, the Netscrape move toward freeware is perpetuating the
myth of the Internet as a "gift economy". Let's face it, most of what
you can get off the net is junk pushed by multinationals. It is either a
product that gets you hooked on to another one or makes you just consume
more time on the net. After all, the goal of the access people and
telecoms is to have users spend as much time on the net as possible,
regardless of what they are doing. The objective is to have you consume

Still, you might also find useful things on the net for free.
But that's because someone has already hacked it or distributed it
through BBS or sneaker networks. Deja vu? Isn't this how (and why)
Netscrape started offering their program to "non-business" users?

The assumed "gift economy" on the Internet is nothing more than a very
elaborate marketing ploy. In North America (US and Canada), for decades
people received in the mail free samples of products, everything from
shampoo to fruit punch crystals. Was this an example of a "gift
economy". For the most frugal, collecting such samples from other
mailboxes made it appear as a gift economy. But in reality it's just

Ultimately, what is of main concern is that as soon as the big boys
start moving into the free/shareware arena, it's without doubt, to
paraphrase Churchill, the end of the beginning. Freeware and shareware
are the means by which small producers, many of them individuals, were
able to offset somewhat the bulldozing effects of the big boys. And now
the bulldozers are headed straight for this arena.

As for Netscrape, such a move makes good business sense and spells
trouble for workers in the field of software development. The company
had a poor last quarter in 1997 and was already hinting at job cuts.
Well, what better way to shed staff by having your product taken further
by the freeware people, having code-dabbling hobbyists fix and further
develop your product? The question for Netscrape now is how to tame the
freeware beast so that profits are secured.

Thus, whether either out of ignorance or collusion (or a unique blend of
the two), net enthusiasts are extolling the virtues of the net once
again, about how we are all going to benefit, etc, etc. Freeware
capitalism: the road to hell is paved with more than just good

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