[Fsfe-ie] The cost of proprietary software

Éibhear ifso at gibiris.org
Fri Jan 21 11:41:27 CET 2005

Malcolm Tyrrell said:
> Now I'm no economist, but an interesting thought just occured to me.
> How could one estimate the negative effect of proprietary software
> licensing
> to the Irish economy? We regularly hear about the positive, e.g. the
> success of Irish software companies abroad, or the importance of large
> software multinationals to the Irish economy. But a huge majority of
> other companies, government bodies, homes, schools, etc must be licensing
> proprietory software, leading to a massive loss of efficiency.
> I'm wondering if arguments about the benefits of (proprietary) software to
> the Irish economy aren't overstated.
> It would be interesting to be able to claim on a brochure that
> "Proprietary software costs the Irish ecomomy ??? Million Euros per year"
> or something.


The current issue (45) of Linux User and Developer magazine has an
interview with Jon "Maddog" Hall of Linux Internation (www.li.org). In it
he discusses a topic very close to this. I don't have the copy beside me,
but his argument goes something like this:

A user has a task to do. He (or she, but I'm going to stick with "he")
finds that the non-free software tools purchased by him can do 80% of the
task. However, the other 20% needs to be done too, and the user ends up
doing the task by hand. The cost of this manual aspect to the solution is
not trivial. I don't know if he has a formula or calculation. If the user
attempts to get, convince, cajole, bribe, or whatever, the supplier to
enhance the non-free software to allow the other 20% to be done, his
milage may vary. The implication would be that the bigger the supplier,
the less likely the change would be made.

Now, Maddog goes on to argue, free software can help in one or two of
three ways. The first is that there is likely a free software tool that
will perform the 20% of the task that the non-free software can't/won't.
Secondly, there is likely a free software tool that will do 100% of the
task. Thirdly, if a free software tool only does a portion, 80% or 90%, of
the task, a software development business available locally to the user
could enhance the tool to finish its capabilities.

The consequence of this is that the user's time and effort are saved,
therefore saving money which can go back into the local economy (rather
than to Seattle, Redwood Shores, Cupertino, Salt Lake City, etc.), and if
the enhancement is still required, that business need not leave the

A very simplistic paraphrase, with little economics insight, of a
simplistic expression. Apologies to the list and Maddog Hall if I have
misinterpreted anything.


Éibhear Ó hAnluain

More information about the FSFE-IE mailing list