December 15, 2005
Franz is a Tough Customer
Richard Fateman in comp.lang.lisp:
> I am just curious: did you or your company ever had to take
> action (by lawsuit) against a potential programmer when he was
> using ACL and making great profit out of it but never reported
> it to you.
Let me change your question to:
"Did Franz Inc ever take action (e.g. threaten a lawsuit)
against a company which was shipping ACL with its product, but
failed to properly report and pay royalties?"
Posted by jjwiseman at December 15, 2005 04:33 PM
Wow, what a bunch of assholes.
I love that 'shipping ACL with its product' is what they call compiling binaries. Which nearly every development environment on the planet lets you do for free.
I'm sure this sort of insanity really helps lisp's reputation!
Ash, I hope you realize that the Lisp case is different: the compiler is part of the runtime. You don't have that with most other languages.
This is definitely a legitimate complaint on Franz's part. That's not to say that I wish their redistribution fees were cheaper, but that's just because I want to be greedy...
I just wish that they had a "Hobbyist" version that didn't have the "features" (time limits, etc) of the Trial version, but yet was cheaper than $599.
I'd be perfectly happy with something like this with a "no commercial use / no redistribution" clause attached.
I'm playing around with Lisp, but have limited myself to CMUCL/SBCL so far. If I could get a full commercial implementation (with threads, for OSX) for $150 or less, I'd jump all over it.
I must agree with Bill's comment, a hobbyist version of ACL would have me spending alot of my book money on it, *if* it was a bit more affordable. Consider this(if Franz is watching): I could get a Mac Mini and OpenMCL and a good portion of functionality I would have from a Mac Mini and ACL for less than the cost of ACL it's self. Hopefully economic forces will help Franz decide that the community and indeed potential market size has grown enough that they can afford to "stack em deep and sell em cheap!" :)
For $599 I can buy a lot of Lisp books, maybe all of them. Oh what am I saying?! As soon as I have a good paycheck I'm going to blow it on ACL and books anyways.
What people aren't calling out is that the low $599 Franz price is an academic _lease_ price. Once you start talking about actually purchasing it, the price gets insanely prohibitive. Lispworks is just a matter of writing a check and getting a box back. They're not going to send Vito to take it away in a year if I don't keep paying.
I'm the first one to stand up and say that I don't like the Franz license terms. But that's mostly because I see them as limiting Allegro's quality implementation to only high-end customers who can pay through the nose, and that means less people with access to a quality Lisp.
But here's the thing. Franz is a business and they have to make money and pay their employees. They are not a charity. Franz survived AI Winter when almost nobody else did. And they did it by recognizing that when your market is small, you have to charge your customers a lot per instance of your product in order to survive. I think the big question is whether such pricing will ultimately be forced to change as the market expands and there are other options (quality open source implementations, for instance), or even whether a standalone company can survive in such an environment (most standalone C compiler guys got pushed to the very high end with parallel compilers, etc.).
Finally, I have no sympathy for people that violate Franz's license agreement. If you don't agree with it, don't sign it and use something else instead. If you do sign it, abide by it and don't steal from Franz.
I was planning to go to my local Maserati showroom, walk up to a salesman and start complaining about the high cost of the product. "Why is it so expensive," I imagined myself saying. "What's the matter with you people? I'm a CUSTOMER. Satisfy MY NEEDS," and my voice will screech to a perfect scream.
Alas, I'm an adult so I don't do such things anymore. (Well, not as often at least).
Cincom, which has been in business since 1968, has a VAR model similar to Franz for VisualWorks (Smalltalk):
I won't comment on Franz's business acumen because I think that their business model makes a lot of sense.
But this sort of discussion implies that LispWorks is second rate. It is most definitely not! LispWorks' cross-platform gui CAPI and Knowledgeworks are top-notch. Unless you require intense support, I think that LispWorks makes a lot of sense.
Dave Roberts and ministrelboy: I don't think anyone was implying(on purpose anyhow) that Franz was somehow of lesser quality or ethically challenged(erh with the exception of ash's). I think those of us who advocated a hobbyists' version are actually trying to say that a core version of a Franz product with perhaps not so many flashy features found in the top end might sell. One successful example of this business model would be QNX which has made available for free(contrast that with the fact I and perhaps others are willing to pay for a slightly crippled ACL) a version of Neutrino which comes with restrictions. How is it a success? I know plenty of hackers who have downloaded it and played with it for a couple of months. "How is that a success?!" -- well I think it's a success when you have the deft paying attention to your product, it that your product probably has alot of technical merrit and that is one very important key to selling software in my oppinion(in the progra... ok... in the *Lisp* programming market). Other people,(one of them a billionare) might have a different oppinion and the sales to counter my claim... but I think it holds up in common sense. What it comes down to regarding the price of ACL is, the Lisp user base and hence market is growing and if Franz wants to capitalize on this fact they may end up surprising us all with a very creative proposition in the future, and if they don't someone else might.
At the back of my "On Lisp" book there's an advertisement for Allegro CL/PC (this advertisement must be from 1995 or so) where Franz offers to sell ACL for $795 with unlimited runtimes.
Clearly, they have tried the hobbyist market and found it too tricky (or unprofitable).
I maintain an application. Many times potential customers call me up and demand that I sell my software to them for a low price. I usually say no and do not try to negotiate. Frankly, I stopped caring about money many years ago; I am only interested in supplying a very high-quality application that is polished, free of error and fits its user like a glove. It is unfortunate that I am the only one locally that supplies such software. I have often wished to have a lower-end competitor who will take care of these customers. In fact, I have written articles in my website on how to duplicate basic functionality with Microsoft Excel.
This reason I'm telling you all this is that I would find it very exhausting to support customers that do not make a significant contribution to my development effort. (I think that this pricing strategy is called cream-skimming). I would rather have a few customers that pay alot rather than many customers that pay very little.
I believe that Franz supports many types of customers, but the one thing that they have in common is the willingness to invest in the future of Allegro CL. It will be extremely difficult for them to move to the Borland Delphi model that you suggest.