What is "Software Manufacturing"

In the FLOSS community you often see people referring to software using other methodologies such as what Microsoft does as non-FLOSS or proprietary. While that might work for those in the FLOSS community, I have always felt that it is better to try to refer to a community not by what outsiders would call them but what insiders call themselves. This keeps conversations at a much more friendly and respectable tone.

I believe that most people will agree that the most successful of the companies using the incumbent methodology is Microsoft. Microsoft calls themselves a commercial software company, but that term is not unique enough given what differentiates Microsoft, RedHat or my own software business is not whether we are commercial or not (we are all commercial), but the methods of production, distribution and funding that we use. It is also possible for someone to create software using the same methods of production and distribution as Microsoft, and yet not be commercial if profit is not the motivation for the software creation.

If you go to the front page of the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft they state that, "Established in 1990, The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) is an industry alliance of software manufacturers who share the common goal of reducing software piracy".

While I strongly disagree with their definition of "theft" which suggests you can steal something that is non-rivalrous (See: Jefferson Debate), or the abuse of the word "piracy" to refer to copyright infringement rather than robbery committed at sea, it is quite distinctive for them to refer to themselves as "software manufacturers". The term manufacturing has a well known meaning when referring to the industrial processes used to create tangible goods, and a distinguishing feature of their methodology is that it applies methods of production, distribution and funding used for tangible products to intangible software. With these methodologies software is "manufactured", distributed by "retail channels", and where there is a charge it is "per unit" where the marginal price is non-zero.

When you want to refer to the methodology rather than organizations using a methodology, it seems obvious to transform "software manufacturers" into "software manufacturing".

See also Wikipedia: Software Manufacturing.

Note: I am posting this article as there have been a few people who believe that I coined the term "software manufacturing". While I may use it often, and an online search will show my name often, I can not claim to have originated the term. The term is used by those using the methodology to refer to themselves, and is a term that does not also overlap with part of the FLOSS economy.

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Wikipedia edit war?

If you look at the history on Wikipedia you will notice that the term has been mofidied in interesting ways. First there was the suggestion that the term was "used by one blogger" (I suspect meaning me), then it was redirected to be a synonym of "software engineering" which is an entirely different term. It is interesting how much trust went into doing Google searches for terms as an indication of how well used the term was.

A user going under the handle Cmacd123 correctly clarified the term to have the opposite meaning of "commons-based peer production".

I was listening to FLOSS Weekly #7 which was an interview with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. They were discussing how terms took on a life of their own, including Wikipedia articles of their own biographies. I think it would be interesting to see what type of commentary, possibly derogatory, would exist if there was a Wikipedia article for Russell McOrmond.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Wikipedia article scheduled for deleting...

If anyone wants to weigh in on that, please do. I'm suspicious of some of the Wikipedia participants as to whether they are part of the "software manufacturing" subset of the software sector, and are not able to see that alternatives exist. If alternatives don't exist, then what is the purpose of the term? The most active person wanting to remove the term suggests that "manufacturing" and "developing" are synonymous in the software sector.

It is interesting that the lack of usage found by Google is being used as a reason to delete the term. Just to be curious I searched for my own name on Wikipedia and found The Jefferson Debate which in the links is attributed to my article "A Godwin's law for copyright discussions?".


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.