Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Personal computing and capitalism
Published on February 14, 2005 By Draginol In Industry

In my last article, I talked about how there is a sub-set of people on-line who have a real problem with the concept of capitalism. That is, people intentionally making products and services that are designed to make money for the creator of those products or services.

But while capitalism may be tolerated by those people, some are pushed over the edge over the concept of charging money for intellectual property (such as software).  While one can understand having to pay for food or cars or other tangible things, the idea of having to pay for something that has no physical form and hence no production cost is anathema to some.

The result is that a small but vocal minority of people will go out and harass those who create commercial software. 

The example I gave was a the announcement of a  program called Multiplicity. It enables users to take multiple computers, each with its own monitor(s) and combine them together into a single unit that is controlled by a single keyboard and mouse.  At first, we saw people come on and insist it was no different than some freeware program that's available. And indeed, on paper there are freeware programs that are similar to Multiplicity. But in a similar vein, there are similar programs, on paper, to WindowBlinds such as CustomEyes.  Such freeware, open source programs tend to be more technology demo than something you would use.

The response I got from people in that thread was very interesting.  I wasn't aware that there were people who were really and truly insistent that commercial software and freeware/open source are generally equivalent in quality even though any reasonably experience software user knows that isn't the case.

Commercial software is almost always better than freeware.  Not because commercial developers are better programmers but because the commercial developer has a stronger incentive to keep enhancing, fixing, tweaking, polishing the program than the freeware developer.  The typical freeware developer is making something largely for themselves that they later decide to share with others. By contrast, the commercial software developer is making something they hope others will pay for. Big difference.

There are countless examples of freeware that is better than commercial offerings (Look how good Firefox is). But that's not the norm.

Personally, I use freeware when I can because I'm cheap. But if it's something that matters, I'm going to go with whatever the best and that normally means having to pay for it.

But getting back to the hatred of capitalism, once the argument over freeware vs. commercial in terms of software quality was simmering I also received private messages from ant-capitalists that essentially said "Look, you've already got Stardock and WinCustomize to post your spam on, why do you have to post your spam on Neowin's software news?"  Which was an intriguing unintentional admission. 

The software news section is designed for announcements of software news (I should know, I'm a news moderator there).  It doesn't discriminate on the type of software. It can be free. It can be commercial. It doesn't matter. But it was very telling that multiple people objected to the announcement of commercial software.  If Multiplicity was a freeware program, no doubt they'd been fine. Their hope, from experience, is to try to harass/shame commercial developers to go away. 

Of course, this is nothing new. I've been dealing with this phenomenon for years. During the dot-com extremes and the height of the open source hype such people were much more numerous and more vocal as we got regular demands for us to make our software open source.

But at the end of the day, software that is complicated and hard to develop, particularly if the quality of the software has to do with the execution of it, needs to be developed by people who are paid to do it. And that money has to come from somewhere. WindowBlinds dominates the GUI skinning world because it has been continuously developed for 8 years now. If it were freeware, it would have died off long ago, I can assure you of that. 

That is why capitalism is a force for good -- it provides an incentive for people to do things they would rather not do in order to make the product or service better. And that improvement benefits the user and provides resources to do other things that benefit users (such as pay for a skin site).

Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 14, 2005
Brad, I do not dispute the fact that most software companies may theoretically want to get a better product in order to sell it. But, in reality, a lot of programs have bugs. Some have huge bugs. And commercial software are no exception. Actually, maybe specifically because commercial software companies sometimes try to make the software too big, with too many features, it just makes the thing too slow, or more apt to crash or I don't know why. But, as a user, the fact remains that if I find a freeware too buggy, I just shrug and I uninstall it. But if I just spent moeny for a software that keeps crashing, then I'm not a happy camper. And sometimes (and I'm NOT talking about Stardock here), customer service in those companies is almost inexistant. You bought it, it doesn't work. Oh well, money wasted and nothing to do about it.
Plus there is also the "value vs cost" aspect. And that aspect varies a lot from one person to another. For example, is Photoshop that much better from PaintShop Pro to be worth some $700 more? Or how much better is MS Office compared to Open Office to justify a $800 vs $0 price difference? We're not talking $20 here. A product better be darn good to justify that amount of money. Of course, for a business, sometimes the cost isn't all that important if it guarantees that the job gets done. But for an average Joe, Open Office is most likely good enough. Not as good for sure, but certainly more than good enough to write letters to uncle Joe and the shopping list.

So, in short, while commercial products are probably better most of the times (not always), the financial situation of different people and the real need they have sometimes doesn't justify the cost attached for the little extra you get from a commercial software.
on Feb 14, 2005
I'm not arguing that commercial software is perfect. Only that, on average, it is better than similarly featured free programs.
on Feb 14, 2005
Capitalism is not only a force for good because it provides incentive. It also is a force for good because to date, it is the only way that civilized human beings can trade value for value. Without capitalism society degrades to those that have force of arms taking from those that do not, or mobs and gangs pillaging the few or individuals. Consider that all lasting relationships are built on capitalism. Even Love (yes it's Feb 14th) is based on fair trade, value for value. You love someone, not for pitty or altruism, but because they possess in themselves something that you admire, and hopefully something you respect. You trade on that quality and what the other sees and values in you. Instead of money, the currency is love.

And before you socialists comment this time... Soviet Russia is a perfect example of a society that tried to do without capitalism. The end result was a society where bread was all but unatainable to most of the population, where the standard of living was so poor for anyone other than the very few that ran the whole show that it was often worse than 3rd world nations. And make no mistake, even those that ran the whole show were vulnerable to the next person's whim. One wrong step, one slight and they were done for. (and don't go using examples of Russia today, because it's just another example of socialism trying to hide in capitalist clothing.)

Yes, you'll say, socialism isn't like that in Russia. Yes, you've hidden your agenda to get rid of fair commerce entered into willingly by both parties and degrade our society to trading on favours because every time socialism is tried, the end result is always the same: Abject poverty. So now you have the 3rd way, let capitialism rule, but steal money from those capitalists to feed and cloth those that do nothing with their lives. That choose to be losers not contributing to society through hard work and fair trade. Great system. Guit those that work hard into believing that they must give that hard earned money to those that didn't earn it, guilt them into altruism and make them pay the debit racked up by lazy people that choose not to earn their lives. EVERY case where socialism has been tried as failed. Every social program ever invented has in the long run failed. Why? Because as Brad says, there is no incentive, and there is no framework for two people to enter into a civilized relationship that can be productive. So over time, the lowest common denominator takes hold, and the cost of the project inflates slowly at first and then ever more quickly (Canadian Medicare anyone?) until it simply cannot be sustained any longer.

If religion used this system of guilt for success and obviscation of the truth through exceptions and subjectivism the way socialists wheld it, it would be very dangerous indeed... oh that's right... that's exactly what the religious right is doing! They stole it from the socialists! Damn them! No wonder they are so dangerous. Almost as dangerous as the concept of humans as ignorant creatures that can never know reality in its true nature...
on Feb 15, 2005

My father never said much to me that made sense as I was growing up, except.....

"A young person who is not a socialist has no heart, but an old person who is not a capitalist has no brain."

Stands up to critical analysis, does that....

on Feb 15, 2005
There Goes John With Another College Paper.
on Feb 15, 2005
"Commercial software is almost always better than freeware."
Erm, only if you ignore the cost of buying the software, and since we are talking about capitalism here we have to consider the costs as well as the benefits of software.
The initial startup cost is quite a barrier, one might just not be able to afford to buy the commercial software, or the freeware software might be used initially since it's easily available and then becomes ingrained.

on Feb 15, 2005
The justification for Capitalism is CHOICE. It presupposes the ability of human beings to make informed choice basesd on self interest. However, corporate domination of the Capilaist world undermnes this .
on Feb 15, 2005
I do support capitalism, but it IS possible for other extreme to happen, capitalism could go only for profits and damn the suffering people and keep cutting workers and benefits.

Best way is to have capitalism with little bit of socialism mixed in.
on Feb 15, 2005
On the left there is all capital owned and used by and for the people, on the right there is privately owned capital used to amass more privately owned capital. The former assumes all people share the same ideas on society, sharing and what not, the latter (correctly) assumes people are greedy and egoistical. Workers are usually more on the left, entrepreneurs on the right.

The righteous path lies somewhere in between.

Anyhow, I don't think the frogboy-getting-flack thing has anything to do with capitalism, share, free or payware, but more with a certain resentment of amphibians.
on Feb 15, 2005

I would love to experience a market like that where people were suffering and benefits kept getting cut. It would be very extremely easy to open a business and steal away all of the best labor by either better wages and working conditions.

People forget that markets compete for the best labor as well as compete to offer products at the best prices.
on Feb 15, 2005

Your definitions are somewhat scrambled. In capitalism, the capital is also owned by the people, individually. In socialism, it is owned by the state, and supposedly used for the benefit of the people. No one has been able to do this better than free markets do it. At least, not consistently. Free markets do not assume greed. Greed is a human emotion and market prices are a natural force like gravity. Greed is just one of the many reasons people work hard... Greed can also be manifested in ways that have nothing to do with economics.
on Feb 15, 2005
Market prices are as human as human emotions. We do not deal with aliens just yet and the whales won't buy from us no more since we started harpooning them. Economy is driven by human factors. The goal of capitalism is to use your capital to pursue more capital. I call that greed.

In socialism, the people are the state, so all capital is owned collectively.

Do not confuse theory (what I'm writing) and the absolutes at the ends of the spectrum with practice. There has never been a truly capitalistic state and there has never been a truly socialist state either.
on Feb 15, 2005
Yes, but with capitalism, you can choose to be as greedy as you want! Being self-motivated to succeed is a trait that only capitalism holds. All others motivate you to succeed based on what is good for others (or The Whole), which is not very motivating.
on Feb 15, 2005
capitalism isn't necessarily evil

it's just that most good capitalists are

on Feb 15, 2005


As always your blogs are insightful and good.  This one, like its predecessor, is also very accurate.  But I doubt you will convince any of the Freebees to switch, or any of the socialist that it is good.  Even Now, Bahu slaps the sysmte that gives him the freedom with a blanket "capitalist are evil", and with no supporting facts or even a basis in fact.

It is sad that on such an important topic as this, where I daresay everyone is reaping the benefit of capitalism, so few can  discuss it without calling it or the practioners evil.  I dare ssay that even the socialist wanna bees on this site are only moderately socialist and full fledge capitalist too.  I dont see any turning in their salary to the salvation army.  I dont think I ever will either.