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R: Consortium Caml
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Date: 2001-02-12 (12:54)
From: Markus Mottl <mottl@m...>
Subject: Re: R: Consortium Caml

On Sun, 11 Feb 2001, Daniel de Rauglaudre wrote:
> Consortium is for companies which *already* believe in OCaml, not for
> a hypothetic investment! If there are no such companies, ok, the
> Consortium will fail, that's all. It is not a problem for us. The
> Consortium is not a start up!
> Yes, if you consider that OCaml has no advantage relative to Java. In
> this case: don't pay. What is the problem?

What I had tried to explain is that one does not have to be schizophrenic
to believe in OCaml but invest in Java at the same time: this can be a
rational decision!

The problem is the following: you don't want to get peanuts from the
members in the Consortium but a significant, sustainable income that
allows you to invest into further development.

I don't doubt that some companies (better: some responsible persons)
are willing to pay a "moral" contribution. But do you really think that a
"moral" contribution will make a big enough difference?

Just listen to other people's (and my) comments in other mails here:
they say that "2kE is too much". Yes: too much as a donation but not too
much as an investment! If I could sell my right to vote at an arbitrary
point of time and if there were a market where I can do so, I'd very
likely invest more than 2kE into "project OCaml". But as a membership fee
(a "moral" contribution) per year this exceeds my capabilities (or my
"moral" - in whichever way you want to see it).

> In this case, if there exist no companies able to spend 2KE by year in
> the world and loving OCaml, the Consortium fails. What is the problem?

This world would surely be a more peaceful place to live in if companies
donated for the love of it... - but unfortunately also a poorer world.

> >   * It is realistic to assume that companies already using OCaml want to
> >     continue doing so - but they don't want to continue bearing the risk.
> Which risk? You mean 2KE or you mean OCaml? I am sure that there are a
> lot of companies for which 2KE/year is peanuts.

Given it's current size OCaml is still a risk! Go out to some average
commercial company and ask them about using OCaml. They will tell you:

  * Nobody uses it (= customers want e.g. Java)

  * We can't get programmers: in Austria there are only two
    OCaml-programmers that I know personnally, me being one of them,
    the other having been "converted" by me... ;)

  * We can't get support (France is far).

Betting on Java is safe from a commercial point of view even if the
language is crap if you compare it on a technical level.

> Let's continue like that, no problem. If you think that OCaml does
> not deserve some investment to add libraries, programs, to discuss
> together for the choices in the language, then the Consortium fails.

And if it is only me who invests, OCaml will fail anyway, and I'll have
lost my donation. That's the infamous Prisoner's Dilemma...

I *do* think that OCaml very badly needs additional resources to give it
the final touch to "conquer the world", but from a business point of view,
I am in doubt that the scheme as proposed stands a high chance of success.

> There is no problem. The Consortium is not a start up. It is a
> proposition. If people think that this proposition is not the good
> one, then it fails.

Or we first discuss other alternatives? Right now? ;-)

> >     You'll hardly raise enough money without investors who only want to
> >     take the risk - in exchange for a potential future profit.
> When you buy a car, do you consider that your money is a "risk" and
> you want some "profit" back? I would understand if the fee was 2ME,
> but 2KE, are you laughing?

Giving a donation has a direct impact on the profit/loss balance,
buying a car is just swapping things on the activa side (not considering
depreciation): you don't get "poorer" when you buy a car, only less
"liquid". You can always sell your car to get your money back (or at
least most of it). But I don't think that INRIA will give me back my
donation if I am not satisfied: I'll be poorer *and* less liquid...

> I am not sure of that. You consider that bosses are just interested
> on investment, get money, money, money?

In the long run, yes, they have to, otherwise competition will drive
them out of the market. This may sound harsh, but is a guarantee that
companies will not continuously waste resources (there are many, many
alternative organisations that one might consider as a donator!). You
should not forget that the present scheme of the Consortium allows free
riding: your competitors that do not invest will have an advantage from
your donations, too!

It is *not* the fault of markets or companies if we don't manage to
find a scheme that allows to express the (in our opinion high) value of
OCaml in a price on some market! If we succeed to find a suitable model,
I have no doubts that money will pour in.

> Ok, money is important, but
> it is not all. You may consider that you have technical decisions to
> take, and the result may be OCaml. If you consider that your programmers
> loose too much time debugging languages with pointers raising Memory
> Fault.

> In this case, as a boss, you may think that you loose too much money
> using bad programming languages.

True, but your competitors also use the same inferior technology. Unless
a significant number of others settle on a new (better) technology,
there is no incentive to move on from an economic point of view (may
still be too risky if there are competing technologies - so better
stay with the mainstream: again a Prisoner's dilemma). It's known since
Schumpeter that competitive markets can have problems with supporting
innovative processes: companies are too busy fighting competitors to
have significant resources for innovation...

But things change if you manage to map your innovative process to a price
(a most challenging task!): then you benefit from speculators who take
the risk in exchange for a potential future profit. You could probably get
the Nobel prize in economics if you find a general way of doing this...

What is very important to see here: companies that use OCaml are most
likely not speculators! - It is rather the other way round: they want
to hedge away the OCaml-related risk so as to concentrate on their
intrinsic business (which is not investment/speculation). In case there
is a perfect price for OCaml on a market, a company that uses OCaml can
even reduce its overall risk by going short on this market (i.e. speculate
on falling prices)!

> How on earth could you consider that we can get money from a programming
> language?

I have not said that I have ever managed to do so or that I even knew how
to do it. But unless we manage to do so, unless one "can earn money" with
a programming language, there will be no investors. I am at least quite
sure that the proposed scheme has inherent shortcomings from an economic
point of view. There must be better ways to go about doing things.

> I prefer that OCaml remains a good product rather than a well known
> product.

Who says that "becoming well-known" implies "becoming worse"?? Take a
look at the mainstream languages: they are all ill-designed from the
ground up! I have no fears whatsoever that OCaml will descend down to
the level of Visual Basic...

If the licencing issues and the rights associated with voting (you
decide this!) are well-chosen (a potentially tricky legal question),
there is no danger of companies doing perverse things with the language
out of ignorance (they will definitely not do this on purpose for their
own disadvantage).

> There is no problem than the
> Consortium fails. It is just a proposition. You seem to consider that
> it must fail. Ok, it's your opinion. You may be right. Let's see.

You have to change things so that people who came to the same conclusions
as I did think otherwise. Look at this arbitrary payout matrix
(assumption: others also invest = consortium succeeds):

                          OCaml fails  |  OCaml succeeds
  My profit on donation:      -2kE     |        8kE
  My profit on free riding:    0kE     |       10kE

Here a rational agent will choose strategy "free riding" whatever the
outcome is! Nobody will rationally donate for OCaml unless his "morally
feeling good" is worth than more 2kE to him! (I am not this moral...)

Here a possible matrix where my voting rights are permanent:

                            OCaml fails  |  OCaml succeeds
  My profit on investment:      -2kE     |      18kE
  My profit on not investing:    0kE     |       0kE

If there is only a small probability of success, I'll surely invest here
in OCaml, especially because I can have significantly more profit if my
not-investing competitors do not have voting rights when OCaml becomes
a success -> I can influence OCaml to my favour, they can't...

Best regards,
Markus Mottl

Markus Mottl,,