I came across this entry about the decision to stop development of Dolphin Smalltalk in my feeds today. No loss to me since I use GNU Smalltalk instead of a commercial version. The ironic part to me is the view of the developers of Dolphin about the possibility of opening its source:
There will no doubt be a number of you who would suggest that we Open Source Dolphin. Of course, you are free harbour such opinions and to discuss the idea on the newsgroup but please do not expect us to be persuaded. It simply will not happen! Both Blair and I dislike the Open Source movement intensely and we would rather see Dolphin gradually disappear into the sands of time than instantly lose all commercial value in one fell swoop. But this is a discussion for another thread. The best, and probably only, way in which the future of Dolphin could be assured would be a sale of the assets to another company.
I’ve written many times about recognizing copyrights and licenses and how I don’t oppose people who want to lock up their code or data for whatever reason. I favor freedom both ways — developer and user — and I even defend their wishes regardless. I’m not just pro-open source. I’m not anti-closed source.
So while I appreciate the decision of Dolphin’s developers, I have to wonder what Dolphin’s commercial value is now. And to whom. And how it could “lose… in one fell swoop” something it already lacks.
I think the economic value is in the service side of it — those who use the product, not those who make it. Obviously their decisions (borne of necessity) to take other jobs demonstrates that development of Dolphin just isn’t a viable commercial venture. Yet others surely use their product to generate revenue. That’s why it was bought in the first place, to make money. Others have made money, but Dolphin’s developers haven’t.
This is for all intents and purposes where the open source model they say they dislike succeeds: in open source, developers (and others) generate revenue from servicing their software products, not by locking up code and selling it at a price above the cost to develop it. Open source — choose whichever license fits your own tastes and level of control — turns those using your product into co-developers. Rather than getting ideas and suggestions as feedback, you get patches and improvements without investing resources into development. This allows the developer to also focus on service, which is where the money is.
I haven’t used Dolphin (or Cincom). I really don’t know if the demise of Dolphin is good or bad; it doesn’t affect me personally (at least it won’t as long as the code requires me to buy a license or forbids me from using it in any manner I see fit). What I do know is I wouldn’t want to do business with the kind people who would rather leave customers out in the cold (or let their product “disappear into the sands of time”) than see development continue and not get paid (enough) for it. It’s now a lose-lose situation, nobody can win unless the developers do. That’s quite a contrast in worldview from open source norms. Even projects that come to a stall are available for those who want to use them (GNU Smalltalk development isn’t exactly moving at break-neck speed).
Why couldn’t the Dolphin developers change their business model a little and change the way their development is handled and/or funded? Why didn’t the developers see things clearly enough so they’d know the money to be made off their product wasn’t on the production side but in service?
It’s sad. Those customers who paid for licenses were probably the only ones making money off Dolphin Smalltalk. So screw them, huh.
At least the developers are offering to refund those who purchased licenses recently. I think that’s really the least they can do.