2006-04-27 23:56

Kim's teeth

Filed under: Software - r0ml @ 2006-04-27 23:56

Gina used to have a recurring dream where her teeth would crumble in her mouth and fall out. Apparently, this is a common dream. Her mother used to have the same dream. And, shortly after Kayla went away to college, she called home to say that she had the teeth-falling-out dream, too.

A few weeks after that, Kim called home. She had never had the teeth-falling-out dream. However, she was sitting in class, and her teeth actually crumbled and fell out. Well, not all of them. Just two of them. And they weren't teeth. They were caps. Nevertheless, if felt like her teeth disintegrated in her mouth, and the pieces came out.

Our dentist is Mark Dunayer. He's awesome. I always use Dr. Dunayer as the quintessential example of excellence in any field. When we run out of medical reasons to go to the dentist, we occasionally opt for some cosmetic dentistry, just because the experience is so satisfying. If you don't look forward to a dental appointment, you owe it to youself to schedule some elective dentistry the next time you're in the New York metro area. But I digress.

We were of course, surprised that Kim's teeth had come undone. "Don't worry," we told her. "Dr. D will put things right." And, of course, he did.

But this post isn't about dentistry, it's about Open Source business models. As with software, you could view dentistry as a service business or a product business. You could think of it as buying a filling, which comes with free installation -- or getting a free filling, and paying a service charge for the installation. Or some combination of both. In any case, if the filling falls out in a few weeks, it'll probably be replaced for free. Three years later, if it needs work, it's more like upgrading to a new version than "supporting" the old.

How would dentistry work if it had to use an Open Source business model? Well, the fillings or crowns would need to be free. We'd have the option of installing them ourselves -- although dentists would sell installation support. And they would also sell "support contracts" for preventive dentistry -- cleanings and the like, as well as "bug fixes" -- crumbling teeth. Perhaps the amount of money involved would be the same in either case.

So I consider the options. On the one hand, the original dental appliances are free, and I'm paying for a "support contract" in case I need help. On the other hand, I'm paying up front for a "license" to the crown and expecting some kind of implied warranty, for fitness or merchandisability, as the EULA would have it. The difficulty with Open Source dentistry is convincing the market that charging for "maintenance" and giving away the dental supplies doesn't create a perverse incentive to do shoddy work. Things go wrong with dental work -- even the best. It would definitely make sense to buy support contracts for free (excellent) dental work.

How different is the software business and dentistry? Would we be as comfortable paying for support for free dentistry as we are for free software? And then there's the "free-as-in-freedom" issue. Aren't there laws preventing anybody from practicing dentistry? Wouldn't "free-as-in-freedom" dentistry need to abolish such restrictive practices? Or do we think software licenses are bad but dentists should be licensed? Perhaps the software and dental equipment shouldn't have licenses, but the programmers and dentists should be licensed? Why would we license dentists if we don't license programmers? And there's still the "free-as-in-beer" aspect. Now that we've convinced ourselves that free software isn't socialism, I guess it implies that free dentistry wouldn't be socialism either. Or would it?

I'm confused. But I do know this: if your software fails, you can still chew your food.