A few years back, in 2004, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno launched a Musicians' Union called Mudda to stand up for the rights of the musicians who were having their music stolen in the 'post-Napser' age of p2p downloads. One of the taglines of Peter Gabriel's mission was the title of a confidential debate, How to compete with Free? As time has moved on the music industry has gained a few scalps by suing many organisations and individuals proactively sharing music over these peer to peer networks - the most recent casuatly being the Pirate Bay.
The initial victim of peer to peer sharing was the Music industry, but as bandwidth and disk space have got much cheaper, it has enabled users to share films and much larger files just as easily as downloading mp3s in the early days of Napster. Rather than the industries going into meltdown, they've come up with innovative ways to get users accessing their information. LoveFilm, Sporify and Last.fm are all solutions to the intial problem, however, as yet theyre not seen as 'perfect' solutions. Too much power has been given to the consumer - the only problem is that it's only the industries affected who see this as a problem.
At the weekend's festivities at the Hop Farm Festival, I was lucky enough to watch 2 Many DJs play a set on the Sunday night. Up til they I'd always been one for listening to pretty 'mature' music; mature as in age rather than maturity. I grrew up with most of my Dad's music - and it's a good job he had good taste! :) I'd never really 'gotten' the dance scene - loops and stuff were things that I did as a teen messing around on Software such as Sibelieus, Capella and Voyetra Midi Orchestrator. Writing a drum beat and adding a synth track on top didn't sppear to be so hard. However, with 2 Many DJs - these guys were remixing classic and modern tunes, and making them sound awesome together. It wasn't just the music they were mixing, but they also had a monty-python-esque video screen with animated remixes of the original album covers blending into each other.
2 Many DJs have caught the essence of community and 'Creative Commons' in their approach to producing music. They can use other people's tracks and beats in the way that software architects use difference software packages - put them all together and come up with their own unique packages. It's a bit like lego - the blocks are all the same - but it's the way they are arranged that makes them unique. If someone's already designed a car and you design a garage - doesn't it make sense for you to share your ideas to come up with a better model? Needless to say I was looking at their music differently.
So when it comes to making money - if 2 Many DJs are simply remixing other people's work - where does the money change hands. They remixed Michael Jackson, The Gossip, AC/DC, Daft Punk, Queen, amongst others - so how do these artists get paid?
When it came to the end of the night, I asked a mate who was familiar with 2 Many DJs how to get their tracks - can I buy a CD, or what if I want to do my own remixes. His respose was that people simply download their music. They like people remixing their stuff and want to hear more music made - so they actively support downloading via what most would say were illegal methods. I need to get more information on whether this is 100% true, or just a 'laissez-faire' approach by the band rather than a pro-active promotion - but if it is true it's sure pretty.
So if 2 Many DJs can get round and survive giving stuff away free, then it's not a business model unique to the 'Open Source' world. 2 Many DJs have had plenty of success doing it, and get asked to headline at Gigs all over the world. When it comes to programmers, the high life of programming infront of thousands of people dancing to your programming isn't really a viable option (unless you're Air). So Open Source programmers have to sell 'free'.
That takes me back to the original question: How do you sell 'Free'
Since 2004 I've been successfully using Open Source Software to complete essays, do accounts, run websites, and update my mp3 player and listen to music. I've been able to do practically everything I ever did using Windows - though much of it has involved alot of effort and a steep learning curve. As time has gone on, the operating system I use, Ubuntu, has seriously improved its ease of use - up to a point when I can do a fresh install of ubuntu and know that I won't have to spent a few hours tweaking sound & video settings getting everything to work. I know I can get it installed and all up to date in under an hour - and 90% of the software I use is already installed. It also enables me to know the price of my computer. Whereas before I was counting the cost in £s, I now count it in hours.
The problem is, that the majority of people count in £s. OpenOffice.org may well be free, but thye've got to download and run an exe file - or even worse work out how to open a zip file. Sure - to the intiated it's easy, but to the uninitiated they may just as well go and buy a CD and put it in the right hole for a little paperclip to tell them what to do. That's life.
Free needs to be sold as simple. We're getting there - but the truth of the matter is that people don't care. As Rory Cellan-Jones commented earlier today regarding Google's Annoucement of 'Google Chrome OS'
but my point is that most people never choose to install an OS. they just live in a windows world. Only sophisticates choose..
That's the truth. As much as people may like to choose Ubuntu or any other OS, to convert people they need to make a proactive decision. Apple have solved that problem by generating some kind of cult following. I'm not sure how they managed it - but the perception is that macs are easy and cool. People don't mind the difficulty (or the price), when they know that the perceived view is that it's easy. No one wants to be seen as a fool. Linux distributions are still seen as the realm of the geek, therefore it's not painful to claim it's too difficult. When you're selling free - it's easy if people already want it. If people don't want it already, then why should they want to want it?
I can't see Gnugle Linux (as I'm sure many of the FSF-ers would have liked it to be known as) being a massive break from the traditional Linux Distribution. Microsoft probably think the same thing - Google might have a good team, but they can't design an operating system from a blank slate. Google have already said they'll be using the Linux Kernel. However, what they can do is implement HTML5 and CSS3 to enable the browser to draw. Up til now, adding curves to a box in HTML meant using 4 pre-drawn graphics (or fewer if you were clever) - however, it still required a graphic to be placed upon a page - rather than drawn. Google are coming into the frame just as the 'browser' take over from the operating system.. and right now they're creating a hybrid as a means of migration from OS-based computing to browser-based computing.
Will Google OS 'Sell'?
If people want it - yes. Right now Google have got to focus on marketing this as a viable alternative to the status quo - something that the traditional Open Source vendors have been unable to do through lack of capital, and a lack of ability to stand up to the false claims made by Microsoft. However, the bigger battle is happening behind the scenes. As was seen with OLPC v. Intel, the majority of decisions are made behind closed doors where representatives of Open Source Communities have never real
ly stepped. Google have been there before and have that extra arrow to their bow. I just hope they don't turn into MS 2.0 in their quest for domination.