Just idealism from now on

This morning the nerdy feeds were full of the good news that AOL has set up a Mozilla Foundation to “safeguard the independence of Mozilla”. At lunchtime I glanced at the Register, and discovered that AOL just shut Netscape, and sacked almost everyone who worked there. That means, of course, almost everyone who did active development work on Mozilla. The one thing that we know about the Mozilla project is that only about ten people can understand it. As an experiment in open source democracy it failed miserably. OK, Firebird is a nice browser now. But who is going to pay for its further development? Mitch Kapor put up $300,000; AOL cut them loose with $2m; others will do something. But that’s not going to pay for real developers out of interest. From now on they’re burning their capital. My back of the envelope guess is that Sun is spending $5m a year (100 full-time developers is the figure we know) on OpenOffice. If they pulled out, who will keep it going? The only answer that I can see is some kind of EU body. But the essential point is that it won’t be kept going by nerds. It won’t be kept going by idealists. Big software projects like this need big pockets behind them. In this instance, people are going for OpenOffice, and Linux, because they know that Microsoft wants to keep up its 80% profit margins on Windows and Office. But if MS were prepared to settle for less grotesque profits, it could almost certainly offer a much better product for perfectly reasonable money.

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