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Q+A

Here we can have a discussion about the book. Post comments or bugs you’ve found. I am happy to improve the book and I’ve made thousands of changes based on reader feedback already.

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24 comments to Q+A

  • Roger Steiner

    I downloaded and read your book. I found it very interesting.

    I migrated to Linux with the first issue of Ubuntu, and never looked back. No more anti virus software, no more defragging the hard drive. No more software crashing the entire computer. No more having my data highjacked by a software company. I am free!

  • Dr McCay

    I completely agree, but there is one problem: economics. The basis of modern-day economics focuses on everyone trying to make a buck, and thus competition, free-enterprise, and free-trade. The results of such a “selfish” system is that we have nation ruled by corporations who exploit the resources of under-developed countries, and essentially rob from the poor and give to the rich. The day Walmart, Monsanto, Costco, Boeing, and Microsoft choose to base their decisions on the good the community (rather than on the good of the stockholders), will be the day that Keith Curtis’ ideas will actually be of some use. Until then, it is all theoretical hype that will never truly be realized.

    • Actually, the surprising thing I discovered while researching the book is that the economics is not a problem. Free software is better for the free market than proprietary software, similar to how free speech is better for the free market. The problem is that not enough people realize it is better — but that is an entirely different problem. The book spends a number of pages on this important topic, and ways programmers can make money on free software.

      • I have a proposal on my website:

        README (about the idea)
        unfinished proposal paper

        that describes a software system that theoretically ought to make freely licensed works (starting with Wikipedia-type articles and other documents like blog posts, but eventually encompassing software) profitable for their authors–hopefully more profitable than trying to sell copyrighted versions (at least for broad categories of works) and certainly more profitable for most works than hosting them next to Google-style ads. The paper explicitly positions the system as a competitor to copyright regimes and argues that it could compete in so-called “free markets” (whatever those are) and specifically in the current market conditions on the Internet. In other words, it could provide monetary motivation to people to choose free licenses over others.

  • Arun J Holla

    Although free software may be better for free market, that is not the motivation of corporations already in positions of power since it is not in their best interest and they will do everything in their power to manipulate the situation to their advantage and at the end of the day they will win since they are in power. There may be singular instances where a particular corporation may get incarcerated for what they do, but the overall trend is clear if we look back over the last 150 years.

    while i do understand that especially in software industry the entry barrier is quite low compared to capital intensive industries, so new companies can come in and challenge the status quo, the point i am trying to make is that monopoly and cartels are not loopholes or failures of capitalism, they are the highest form of success since the ultimate goal is to increase profits regardless of the social and environmental cost. there has never been a free market and there will never be one.

    I believe that there is a bigger story to be told. Suppose that there is an optimum strategy of running the operations on this planet. Any deviation from this strategy reduces the efficiency across the board leading to waste of one form or another. and eventually the accumulated errors or wastes catches up and leads to systemic collapse.

    Every instance of lack of co-operation represents a drop in our collective efficiency. I think the open source movement is a step in the right direction, but its not sufficient. We need a systems approach to do running things on this planet and to reduce the accumulated errors by maintaining dynamic equilibrium as much possible given the state of technology at the time.

    Pls look into http://thezeitgeistmovement.com and http://thevenusproject.com and let me know what you think about it.

    • I agree that larger companies have economies of scale advantages in a free market. Economies of scale are where the efficiencies and profits arrive, which can be used to further improve the product. But the person in position of power is the the consumer, the one with the money to spend. So producers always have to be working to build better, faster, cheaper. Adam Smith explained all this in 1776, but it appears that too many have forgotten it. (Milton Friedman Lead Pencil Story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6vjrzUplWU)

      So you are correct in saying that a monopoly is the highest form of success, but you are not considering the dimension of time. A seller never has a lock on the market forever. Microsoft is not a monopoly now, and it never was. A monopoly should only happen where the other competitors are incompetent. A big reason for Microsoft’s success is the incompetence of its competitors. It isn’t Microsoft’s fault that Linux hasn’t taken over. Actually, the PC industry is almost at the point of transitioning over to free software already. It just hasn’t happened on the desktop much yet.

      I agree that we don’t have free market, but the problem isn’t the companies, it is the government. AT&T was a government-created monopoly. Governments highly regulate every big industry. They created Fannie and Freddie, which precipitated the housing crisis. Please read “Free To Choose” by Milton Friedman. In every poor country, there is a lack of individual liberty which leads to a lack of economic prosperity. Explain Cuba otherwise. And the problems in the US aren’t the big companies, but big government.

      We are far from understanding how to optimally run the operations of this planet. It is the entire planet which is contributing to this process. The free software movement has millions of people contributing to it. It is ignorant of history to think that any more big government programs are helpful to making this happen. Just build a system with maximal economic liberty and let us all figure the world out. You can have enlightened capitalism. Apple has “Gone Green.” Educating the citizenry on morality is also a good way to build a better world. Who says the CEO of a company has to be evil? I agree that the Baby Boomer generation has been bad for our world (http://www.jenx67.com/2010/09/problems-in-our-world-arent-technical.html.)

      Changing the license agreement of software, and getting all of our scientists to work together doesn’t require any other changes to the outside world.

      I agree there are ways to make the world go better: cheap (not green) energy is one of the biggest ways.

      I agree that we may move to a post-capitalist world one day. But I think the free market capitalist model will get us there most quickly. Anyone who has got ideas are welcome to contribute. People with good ideas should build them and sell them. It is scarily wrong to think that we need to centralize economic planning to get to that post-capitalist world. Everywhere the government sticks its fat fingers, it makes things worse.

      The world needs more free software and free market. I talk about the free market and the outside world for some pages at the end of the book.

      I read the first few paragraphs of the mission statement on the Zeitgeist movement and thought they were total garbage, but I’m sure they have some good ideas. I may get back to them later. Anything specific you wanted to discuss?

      -Keith

  • John Williams

    While the current Government is a large part of the problem the austrian line that it is the bane of human existence is seriously lacking in vision due to being completely locked into viewing Government based on it’s current reality completely divorced from any vision of what it could be. The biggest problem with Government is that it has become a Corporate/Government hybrid which is an amalgamation of the worst attributes of those respective parts. Corporations use the deluded belief in greed to manipulate Government to use it’s power, coercion, to further it’s own ends. Greed and the widespread worship of it as the driver of progress is at the heart of the problem. Greed has been confused with the much more useful ideal of enlightened self-interest and has been a corrupting influence on government from external non-transparent manipulative outside forces in the form of corporations doing whatever they feel is necessary to appease stockholders.
    The federal reserve is a perfect example. It is neither Government nor corporation but it uses the worst aspects of both. The coercive nature of demanding people use its currency, enforcing a monopoly, is based on Government power along with its centralization meanwhile private corporations use the Fed to enrich themselves and a subset of the population, including politicians, at the expenses of everyone else. This is not a democratic government it is corporatism. Separate these two necessary parts of society and ideas such as yours will organically come into being. The problems you point out are symptoms of a bigger problem removing government coerced monopolies especially in monetary matters is the solution. The best way to do this would be to allow Government and the free market to compete against each other in any industry, removing all coercion, and creating truly free markets not just free for corporation but free for states and municipalities who decide they can compete and provide better services based on the democratic process. Roosevelt’s vision ended up as corporatism when the true 3rd way is to allow Government and the Private sector to compete with each other creating checks and balances between the private sector and Government in order to facilitate the decentralization of power which is the reverse of what the new deal has given us. Anything that creates decentralization is going in the right direction which is the opposite direction of the last century.

    • The problem with big government is that corporations invade them and create regulations that help the incumbents and hurt the newcomers.

      That is why the Austrians have it correct and you still have it somewhat wrong. Government policies have been impeding the free market. Energy brownouts and starvation occur because of bad government policies getting in the way of people acting in their own self interest.

      I’m not going to disagree that the Federal Reserve is a problem. It was an attempt to separate itself from Congress. Would you prefer those idiots to set policy?

      Fixing the fed is not enough. We also have government labor unions that are bankrupting states. We have trial lawyers pushing doctors out of medicine. We have schools that cannot fire bad teachers. Energy production is basically outlawed. Healthcare costs bankrupted the US car companies. The problems in our world are vast.

      I agree that we do need to roll back the welfare state. We don’t need gov’t and the free market to compete with each other. Gov’t should do its job which is very limited (currency, military, border, welfare net, safety regulations, etc.) Healthcare is not one of them. You also don’t want the government choosing winners and losers. They choose poorly: look at the billions wasted on corn-based ethanol, or today’s windmills, when the real wind energy is up high. The free market would innovate in Kites, but the government is distracting everyone with mindmills that won’t pay for themselves for 25 years. We can do better than that.

      Please read “Free To Choose”. Milton Friedman explains it all. He discusses Federal Reserve in there as well.

      Regards,

      -Keith

  • John Williams

    There could be nothing more free-market than local Governments having the ability to compete with the private sector since it creates the maximum degrees of freedom possible. I understand the conventional free-market argument and when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776, which was during a time when roughly %90 of the population were farmers, he was absolutely right. Now though corporations routinely rival Governments and can be just as damaging to society with very little recourse to get them under control once they have gained alot of power, something which would be even worse under Austrian inspired systems. At least in elected Government democracies they can always be voted out once the majority of the populace becomes completely fed up. In other words corporations can be just as dangerous as government but the problem is when they get too much power they cannot be voted out. Corporations today are just as much to blame for the sad state of Government as Government is. My argument for competition between government and the private sector, especially at the local levels such as state or municipal, is based on the idea of a need for checks and balances. If government does a lousy job companies can step in and if they do a lousy job democratically voted on institutions can step in. This allows much more degrees of freedom for individuals than arbitrarily deciding whole sectors of society and the resources therein cannot participate due to ideological beliefs dependent on the view that because something has been true in the past it will always be true. If that type of thinking were employed by some of the greatest inventors in history we would not have airplanes and many other useful inventions today, it is an extremely limiting way of looking at the world.
    Labor unions are another symptom of the existing corporate government/hybrid and is also dependent on monetary conditions. Capital is the facilitator of modern trade and therefore is the most important aspect of the modern economy because it is part of virtually every transaction that occurs. When monetary policy is distorted everything becomes distorted. Unions used to be about safety and job security and fair wages but now they are a reaction to inflation because if individuals do not get a raise every year they are becoming poorer in spite of compounding productivity gains which in a steady state population base realistically should equate to greater wealth for the median populace every year, that is, in the absence of continual inflation. A sane economic system would be based on enlightened self interest, creativity and innovation not destructive greed and wealth transfer. This would naturally propel prices downward on average, due to efficiency gains in productivity similar to what free software would do, and instead of everyone swimming upstream against inflation, including public unions, which creates strong incentives to do everything to drive prices as high as possible in order to survive a balanced equilibrium would eventually be reached. One sure way to stop collusion between Government and the private sector, who are both equally responsible for the corrupting influences in society is to let them compete based on democratic principles. I do not mean on the federal level which has enumerated powers but at state and municipal levels which are constitutionally limited only where powers have been given to the federal Government or have been deemed inalienable rights of the citizenry. This would create the checks and balances that are desperately needed in the 21st century between Government and the private sector while allowing a truly free market that serves the best interest of citizens instead of serving the interest of the few at the expense of the many. Our current corporatist monetary system is the root of many problems in society today and is a driver of consolidation of power into what is essentially an aristocracy, in many important sectors, which dramatically slows progress by clinging to the status-quo and for the most part abandoning any vision which includes drastically greater efficiency in order to retain power and status. Balance Government and the private sector with checks and balances in the same way as the different branches of government and it would do alot to alleviate those problems. One way to do that is to let them compete while introducing strict conflict of interest laws that protect the people (States) and the private sector while drastically increasing transparency. Government competition would lower prices and force private companies to innovate in order to compete and with a sane monetary system which was more open and decentralized (government and private competing) prices would constantly be driven down benefiting everyone vs constantly being driven up mainly benefiting those that are already wealthy. This would drastically reduce consolidation of wealth and power and unleash a much more competitive economy.

  • John Williams

    Enlightened self interest has a very specific meaning and is completely separate from greed look it up. I am strongly opposed to coercion of any type even if that coercion is directed against Government operating under democratic principles. Why arbitrary lines are drawn here and there instead of a pragmatic focus on the results of freedom, security and prosperity I’ll never now.

    Also what kind of priest will the private sector use. Corporations in todays world are not much different from Government other than the fact that they are harder to restrain, any human fallibility that influences Government will equally influence the private sector. Their is no magical separation between the two they are both nothing more than a group of people so they both will be just as likely to succumb to corruption. The problems occur due to lack of freedom due to coercion and it is inconsistent to say the only way to solve that is to limit other possibilities, freedom and choice. Trying to counter coercion with new forms of coercion will inevitably only create new problems, maximal freedom for creativity and choice avoids that inconsistency.

    • But a government doesn’t consider your motives in a legal transaction. That is the point. It cannot know, and shouldn’t know. So when you say that greed is the problem, it means you are confusing morality and economics.

      If you are opposed to coercion, you should be opposed to your hybrid economy. Empowering government to compete in any areas except for the minimum necessary is already giving it too much power.

      Corruption doesn’t happen in the free market because there is no coercion. Everything is win-win. Please read “Free To Choose” and you will have a new understanding.

  • John Williams

    I read the article and it in no way disputes anything I wrote and actually supports it. I do not know how private corporations are let off the hook when they are just as much to blame for the fiasco of Obamacare as the government is because they are the ones who lobbied for it. Private corporations should not be let of the hook because throughout history that has been what espoused when it is plain as day they are both in bed together. The problem with Government is that very dynamic. If Government was not flooded with cash from lobbying groups of private corporations Government would not be corrupt. It is just as unethical to bribe someone, no matter how subtle that process might be, as it is to accept a bribe so I find it hard to understand how conglomerations come out so clean and Government so dirty when it looks like they are 2 sides of the same coin in the article you referenced.

    • Not all private corporations lobbied for Obamacare. It is almost collectivist to think of “the corporations” like that. The key to a prosperous society is individual liberty which comes from recognizing individuals, and individual corporations.

      The problem isn’t the cash flooding into DC. The problem is when those politicians don’t act in the best interests of their states anymore, and lie about what they are doing, etc. Taking money from lobbyists doesn’t make someone corrupt. Many lobbyists have good ideas. There is a free speech aspect that is important.

      Government screws up the corporations. Government outlaws nuclear power, and then manufacturing moves to other countries, etc. Corporations are only as good as the regulations that govern them. In the US, it is almost impossible to create a school because of all the public ones to compete with. See the coercion in that?

  • Glen Oakley

    I’ve gotten through much of your book, and have loved every bit of it. I noticed today that Debian is pulling an April Fools joke on their site, claiming that they are merging the efforts of Debian, Gentoo, Grml, openSUSE and Arch Linux. I remember you discussing about how Ubuntu’s split from Debian hurt both distributions. Do you think that a merger like this would be desireable and beneficial (if it weren’t a joke)?

    • I think working in bigger teams is better because it enforces a division of labor across a larger amount of people. But there are billions of PCs out there, so enough people for many distros.

      Glad you are enjoying the book.

  • Charlie Steinschneider

    Could you please clarify why you think c#/mono is such a success compared to java? I may be missing some details here, but its seems to me that c#/mono would have most of the disadvantages of java, since both are proprietary languages in which only the specifications are available.

  • Faraz Lawrie

    Excellent book. Period.
    Just a few nitpicks:-
    1-FOSS people will never accept Mono as you suggest. They already distrusted Novell, and the new leadership has fired the Mono devs as you must know already.The GNOME people tried something orthogonal with Vala/Genie-a better way to write C.

    2-Python…ah Python is like my second favorite language [after haskell] but like you said it fails miserably on a)speed b)GIL. You can port all the libraries you like but to succeed it must be realistically within 20%-30% of the speed of C/C++ to alleviate developer anxiety if for no other reason.

    So if you are serious appealing to LKML will do no good – rally your troops and let us make python faster. The default choice everyone suggests is of course PyPy but you already know that.

    But if you are brave enough there is another darker, more dangerous road. It is called BERP https://github.com/bjpop/berp

    This is a source-to-source compiler for Python3->Haskell.
    The reason I bring this up is:
    a)We get to use the amazing GHC compiler and runtime [which now has a fancy LLVM backend these days] for free. GHC produces fairly competitive binaries as you can see at THE PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE SHOOTOUT. Compiled Python should be fast enough!!!

    b)IMHO Haskell wants to set some new record for language introducing the coolest features [STM,GADT] and has a rich dev community with constant experimentation [O'Haskell, Template Haskell, Concurrent Haskell, Parallel etc.]
    However the alien syntax seems to scare people. If BERP succeeds Python will be able to add these features, albeit packed in a user-friendly Pythonic form, with little effort – hence making a more powerful ‘lingua franca’ as you put it.

    Sadly, the project seems to have only one dev working part-time. I am too green in Haskell so usually I just lurk around.

    Since you feel so strongly about these things, I urge you to do what you can to salvage this situation.

    Cheers

    • Thanks for your nice comments. I have gotten flamed and laughed at by people so it is nice to remember that other people have other opinions.

      Your Python -> Haskell idea is interesting. I do agree Haskell looks scary. I wish everything started with C-like syntax as much as possible ;-)

      I think perf is not the biggest problem for Python with Cython and PyPy and the ability to call into C. I think it is more of a perception problem than an actual problem.

      However, there can be communities of hobbyists doing all kinds of interesting things. There are people building new operating systems and emulators for old game consoles. With your tool, you can take advantage of the benefits of Python, combined with the benefits of Haskell. I think you should recruit to the Haskell community. You could just pick Python to be your default language to port from: Django, Sage, etc. Who knows how much you can do, but you can just do as much as you want, a piece at a time. So the key is: what Python codebases do you wish were in Haskell today? It is a big world.

      I only care about Python for computer vision, strong AI, and the Linux desktop. There is a big world outside of those three things.

      Kind regards,

      -Keith

  • Cesar Gil

    Amazing book. Very refreshing view of technology. We need more people wanting to bring the future closer and faster to all of us. I found the tone and ideas contained in its chapters pleasantly similar to the ones proposed by the people at the Singularity University.

    Regards.

  • Charlie Steinschneider

    I think your criticism of Java may deserve an update in light of Oracle’s recent lawsuit against Android and copyright over the Java API. Mono definitely looks more attractive now.

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