Is free bad?

Pito Salas wonders if the preponderance of free software is bad for innovation:

Whatever the reason, I worry about the chilling effect this can have on innovation in our industry.

How many great new innovations have died on the vine because there was just no way for the creators to pay the rent while building the Next Big Thing? Even after a year, two years of development, the prospects for getting users to somehow compensate for the value delivered were small to none.

So just what great stuff aren’t we seeing? Well we really have no way of knowing. But we are seeing a lot of pretty cool applications. While some developers may not be able to pay the rent, a lot more seem to be doing stuff just because they can, or because they see a problem to solve.

And these free projects have paid off in other ways – reputation enhancement and jobs for the creators in some cases. In some cases that is the business model for the free software. And some of these free products seem to have had no problem getting funded.

I’ve been working away for the past while on a blogging client, because I wasn’t happy with what was available, and because I could. It will be free too. And for me, it’s just a cool project.

Via David Weinberger.

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Why people go to Starbucks.

Tim Harford, a Financial Times magazine columnist and a former World Bank official, thinks that people buy Starbucks coffee because they are commuters desperate for caffeine:

Rush-hour commuters are so desperate for caffeine, they’re practically price-blind. And when every precious minute of the commute is at a premium, why waste any worrying about paying $4.50 for a grande cinnamon spice latte?

Now really, if every minute of the commute is at a premium, then why would they choose to get coffee at a place with no drive-through, where they have to get out of their vehicles and wait in a long line for a beverage that is comparatively slow to prepare? It would be much faster to go through the drive-through and Dunkin Donuts for a regular coffee.

He also thinks that the vast number of Starbucks locations is a sign that they are desperate:

They have same thing as everyone else. It’s a sign of weakness. It depends on location; they don’t trust you to go out of your way to buy their coffee. Starbucks has to pay for the location by renting or buying property. The people who are really profiting from the coffee are the property owners. The location is scarce. If you’ve got the best location, that can’t be duplicated. That’s where the money is.

Starbucks is focused on customer service. When a location becomes inundated, they open a new location. And people come to Starbucks in droves. Perhaps Starbucks proves that location isn’t always important.

Via Starbucks Gossip.

Books are dead.

Ok, not all books. But there is no point to printing a book about technology.

When I started writing Java code again, I briefly considered buying one of the myriad books available, and was looking at one for about $70. As I started writing the code I used Google to find information, and I realized that the book would be a complete waste of money. Even the most expensive books still seem to leave out the stuff I most want to know.

Not only was it a pain to carry around, but no matter how recently it had been published, it was already obsolete. There were several rows of books about technology, most of which are poorer that I can find through a single search online.

While a book on philosophy might be perfectly reasonable, there will be no more books on Java for me.

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The internet shopping channel.

The head lemur is not Googling happily today, and he explains why:

It is not just this morning. I have found that Google is no longer the best search engine in terms of relevance for basic information, but has turned into the Internet Shopping Channel. Look for motherboard drivers and you will get results for forums and bulletin boards that mention the object of your search, that usually show the same question that you are asking, then usually require registration to see any answers, (like you really need to join yet another pointless forum site whose information makes Wikipedea look like holy writ) whose utility is questionable at the best of times, but do have the advantage of being a site having wait for it, AdSense which is the other half of the Google unique selling proposition and the major income source for them.

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Perspective.

Living in Canada, in the town where RIM is based, there is only one view or the RIM versus NTP battle. NTP is a greedy patent troll who doesn’t deserve a thing because they never created anything. And RIM is a wonderful company that created great technology that helps everyone. There is simply no sense of balance.

That’s why it is such a pleasure to read comments by Dan Taylor, or the Mobile Enterprise Alliance. Dan has very reasonable in trying to explain both sides of the situation, though he notes that he is increasingly receiving hate mail from Canada as a result:

Lately, and with increasing frequency, I’ve been getting my fair share of hate mail from Canada. From the appearance of this mail, there are a number of Canadians who see this potential injunction against RIM as an American corporate conspiracy against a successful Canadian enterprise.

This is especially ironic given the fact that RIM’s entire astroturf communications campaign against NTP has been based on the critique that NTP is too small to deserve a patent. The public logic of RIM’s supporters is that – since NTP never itself commercialized its patents – then those very patents shouldn’t be enforceable.

NTP may be a company of lawyers, but they are protecting intellectual property that belonged to one of their founders, the inventor of that property. The patents were granted in the early 1990s, before the patent system exploded with software patents. The amount they are seeking may be questionable, but they have passed every legal hurdle, while RIM has lost every appeal.

RIM is a Canadian success story, and it is to be expected that Canadians would be protective of them. But they have their own intellectual property which they guard ruthlessly. Jim Balsillie’s argument that RIM invented the BlackBerry independent of the NTP patents is immaterial. RIM is still responsible for action when notified by the parent holder of a potential infringement, though they have fought it every step of the way.

Those that live by the patent system also die by it. This is no conspiracy. Dan Taylor does an excellent job of explaining the real issues behind the case, without the hype.

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Charging for virus scanning.

According to Boing Boing, if you want to print a color file from your disk at Staples, be prepared to pay their $2.49 per file virus scanning fee.

Since it obviously doesn’t cost anywhere near $2.49 to virus scan a file, the best plan might be to avoid this ripoff and go somewhere else to print the file. Or if you have a few pages, just but yourself a cheap color printer. You’ll probably spend less.

The human story

Alice Marshall comments on Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine:

It tells the story of how Data General brought a new computer to market. Written in the days before the PC, to story of writing software must have seemed an unlikely subject for the general public. But readers were fascinated.

There is a lesson there are about the appeal of enterprise computing stories for publications that would heed it.

I read the book when it first came out, and I think that beyond the enterprise computing story, the real interest came from a human story of competing to be the first and the best, somethat that transcends the particular technology involved.

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What customers want.

I’ve heard a lot of marketers say this, and Robert mentions it as well:

I love these strange customers! They are standing in line to fork over $400.

No customer is standing in line to give you money. They are standing in line to get something that they value, for which they will pay.

As a customer, I’d rather have you think of me as someone you want to impress, rather that just a wallet.