Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lawn-Mowers and Free Software

I used to own my own business as a kid, from age 13 or so to 19, I had the cemetery market cornered in my home town of Jamestown Missouri. I needed lawn mowers that could stand up to 8 to 10 hours in the Missouri heat, and in fairly short order, found that the typical off-the-shelf hardware of the day simply couldn't cut it (couldn't resist the pun, sorry). Lawn-boy had the best lawn mowers by far for what I was doing. They were little two-cycle jobbers that after RTFMing, I could take apart (down to the needle bearings, if I had to) and put back together. One thing for sure -- I couldn't wear them out.

And they stood up to the heat and the abuse of my someday computer-science-loving brother Dan. The latter was the main problem in the equation. Dan was kind of rough on the little buggers. It was mainly the lightweight magnesium decks and handles I needed, and lawn-boys of the day were kind of expensive. As a Kid, I didn't have the cash to keep buying new decks all the time. So I did what any decent self-respecting businessman would do: I went to garage sales. After a couple of sub-50 dollar purchases of Lawn-boys, I learned a valuable fact: I could have a couple of year-old used Lawn-boy on the cheap anytime I wanted practically. Why? Because most people that had them didn't read the manual.

They hated mixing the 2-cycle gas too, but that's a side issue. Mainly, they never spent the cash to tune them up. "This thing is warn out, you can have it for nothing." was a typical phrase. I ended the business with a garage full of parts, and I gave away spare lawnmowers to my dad and grandfather. I had processed quite a few of them -- more than I can count, most of them in good working order, for parts such as handles and decks. The main component, the engine, was typically next to new in condition, unless it had been run without oil (surprisingly few were).

The point was this: on almost every occasion, I brought the newly found Lawn-Boy home, changed the plug, points and condenser (this was the 70's, OK!?) and pulled the easy-to-pull (with two fingers, no less) starter rope. Rarely did any find not start on that pull, and run like a champ.

People were simply not tuning them up. They were so easy to pull-start (it was a feature), that people assumed after 50-100 pulls of the string with a bad set of points/plug/condenser that it was never going to start. Maybe yesterday it had started on say, the 49th pull. Today, it was "worn out". They inevitably bought a cheap lawn mower, pushed the "old" Lawn-Boy into the garage, and it became my next years garage sale find.

The cheap common variety lawn mowers came with hard to pull (two arms required) ropes. If after 4 or 5 pulls and a hernia operation, the thing wouldn't start, it was time for a tune-up.

So how in the heck does this relate to open source software? It's very similar, I believe, to the issues around why people have Windows PCs that they won't replace, even though they go through enormous pain on a daily basis attempting to get them to work. They don't believe there is something more elegant that might do the trick. They know this devil, and are more likely to scrap it regularly and purchase a similar model.

I know it sounds like a stretch, but I couldn't resist comparing the two -- the dynamics are far too similar to ignore.


FeriCyde said...

Some idiot called rightsfault said: "Your blog is awesome, so I decided to spam it with a reference to my idiotic download site. Man, was I an idiot."

rightsvault said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve mccasland said...

paul that was great never knew mowing was that insperational remember helping you a couple of times before we left to church camp i think that was the same year we put your dads ford in the ditch by your house steve mccasland