NCBI needs help

Ted Dunning ted at
Fri Jul 10 00:21:42 EST 1992

this is a public response to a snide email followup.

To: kristoff at
In-reply-to: Dave Kristofferson's message of Thu, 9 Jul 92 19:11:59 PDT <CMM. at>
Subject: NCBI needs help
Reply-to: ted at
--text follows this line--

   > In article <CMM. at> kristoff at GENBANK.BIO.NET (Dave Kristofferson) writes:

   >    Given the resources that NCBI has for research, it would also
   >    be unlikely that the small commercial concerns would be able
   >    to compete on the basis of new algorithm development.  A
   >    possible compromise, in my opinion, would be for NCBI to
   >    continue its database production and algorithm research roles,
   >    but to stay out of the user interface business.  They might,
   >    of course, outline standards for database access interfaces,
   >    but general toolkit development seems to me, at least, to be
   >    overreaching their mandate.
   > this is Goofy.


well, hi, yourself.

   > you should be in just as good a position as all the other companies
   > that sell government funded software.

   I didn't realize that we were so fortunate!!

you should be as fortunate as sun microsystems.

   > letting ncbi develop software of any sort will just _help_
   > intelligenetics business.

   I'm in a jovial mood this evening 8-).  I'll pass your message along
   to the CEO's of all of the software companies involved in the
   Biotechnology Association.  They, too, despite having closely
   monitored this situation for some time, were not aware of their good
   fortune, so I am sure that this will make their day.

yeah, do that.  you might pass it on to the ceo's of companies like
dec who are going down the tubes because they didn't realize the
competitive advantages of a reasonably open software marketplace.

specifically, the opportunities for a company like intelligenetics in
terms of government funded software of any type include:

1) selling a documented and debugged _product_.  researchers _never_
produce this, nor will they, no matter if they add a user interface or
not.  customers, on the other hand, need it, along with the
handholding implied.  one example is tae which has been used by used
by the astronomical community for years.  it was government funded and
then sold by a number of companies.  more recently, this software has
been repackaged dramatically and these companies are benefitting
again.  none of them had the resources that jpl and nasa in general
applied to the problem, but they now benefit as if they had.

2) sell service.  i have been involved in starting a number of
companies involved in software sales.  every one of the successful
ones eventually realigned themselves so that actual sales of the
software was actually a secondary activity.  it supported itself, and
it supported continued development, but the major profit center in the
company was customer support.  cygnus software is another example of a
company that is doing very well supporting free software.

3) let the free software do the vicious job of market expansion.
customers who don't yet have an established need for your product take
enormous amounts of time to develop into customers who understand
their needs and are willing to pay for your added value.  free
software that meets some of their needs is an excellent way for them
to learn just how much value you are adding.  yes, you lose the
die-hard customer who would much rather spend $1000's of dollars of
their time instead of hundreds of their dollars for support, but you
don't really want those customers anyway.  

the case study here are all the of the companies who repackage (and
debug) spice.  spice currently comes from berkeley in a form that is
entirely useable for circuit design.  many academics use spice or the
other comparable free software.  on the other hand, once they are
hooked on the advantages of simulation and they have a real, funded
application, they buy a value added copy from micro sim.  when their
students go into industrial positions, they also opt not to use the
free software in general.

you may make fun of the strategy of having the government do the hard
work for you, but you will quite possibly wind up going down the tubes
just like the companies in other industries who thought the same
thing.  prime and dec are two wonderful examples.  examples of
similarly positioned companies that changed their tune and turned
things around are ibm and hp.

but, as you say, you have on the ground experience.  

but then again, so did ken olson.

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