19 February 2008

Customer relations(hips)

Coding Horror: Tivoization and the GPL:

The way Tivo built their business around the GPL and then completely subverted it with hardware protection does rankle. But I also wonder how a company like Tivo could make money if users could simply recompile the Tivo software to stop phoning home and billing them. Like consoles, the Tivo hardware is typically sold at a big loss to subsidize the platform. If that hardware could be easily formatted and the software rebuilt, you’ve created a permanent loss leader. So I can empathize with their desire to control the platform.

There are two ways to deal with this.

  1. Provide products and services so good that enough people are willing to pay for them to keep you in business. Don’t sweat the dishonest people.
  2. Find a better business model.

If you trust your customers, you draw loyal customers. If you don’t, you draw customers who will easily stop being your customer or even rip you off when they can.

Of course, the other answer for Tivo would have been to develop all their own software instead of using GPL software. If software companies are going to call subverting copy protection “stealing”, then they ought to call subverting the GPL that as well.

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