Sequence analysis services

Sys. Adm. sysadm at webgenetics.com
Sun Aug 18 09:26:45 EST 1996

On 17 Aug 1996, Greg wrote:

> Bernard Bellon (bellon at abil.univ-mrs.fr) wrote:
> : >> http://www.webgenetics.com
> : >>It provides services for various computer analysis of DNA and protein
> : >> sequences. There are dozens of programs available for various analysis.
> : >> But the service is free only for the first two weeks.
> : >Well, this looks really interesting; someone must have worked very
> : >hard to construct this web package,
> : Hum ... 
> : All these programs sources are free available and many W3 interfaces are
> : also free available : the services access is not free of charge !!!
> : I think that it is not in the scope of the biologist community ethics

It's definitely true that many programs are freely available (but not
necessarily do the exact same and programs doing the same or similar
things are not necessary the same programs) and web surfers all know that. 
But the computer resources needed to run those programs don't come free
and are not free to operate and not every one knows how to install/run
thems (probably someone would have to hire people to install them and take
paid classes to run them). We would like to advice or remind people to use
free services available if those services meet their needs. But who need
such advices? :-)  As to the ethics, I don't think it's an issue here. 
How about those who sell programs charging hundreds or even thousands of
dollars?  There are even people selling Linux! :-) 

> Bernard,
> Point taken, but I am assuming that he is using his own programs to
> perform the tasks or has signed several commercial licenses, since it
> would most likely be against many distribution licences to use them for
> profit without prior agreement (and also, it might cause people to think
> twice about allowing free access to source code if it could be
> commercially abused in this way). However, I stick by what I suggested
> in that it is a comprehensive set of interfaces/services; Personally I
> wince when I see charges attached to computing services, however it's
> not inconcievable that this could be useful to someone. I think that
> it's probably not much use to you or I (the databases are well out of
> date, for example) but I don't think that it's 'unethical', providing e
> software is legally used.  I would even go further and suggest that this
> may be a future trend, as larger companies get involved and set up their
> own central bio-computing facilities, the requirement for local
> college/university full blown facility is going to be
> difficult/impossible to financially justify in a dwindling college
> budget.
> Greg

I appreciate Greg's understanding (but disgree that the databases are well
outdated; all except Swiss-prot are up to the current; actually database
searching is not our focus because, just like Bernard said, there are
sites such as NCBI that give free services for database searching;  their
searching are actually better, at the moment :-)).  We are really trying
to supply a useful service to whoever need it and a service does not have
to be free in order to be a good service. I don't think the service fee is
that much (I paid about the same for USA Today (at discount rate)  and
more than twice for local Newsday).  I don't think this small fee will be
a financial burden to any organization.  But this is not the major reason
we charge a fee: we have to get some financial support from users to
maintain the service.  I hope people understand, and I think most do, that
to a private enterprise, the question is not "charging or not charging"
for the service, but it is "charging or not supplying" the service.  If
our service is not needed, it will despair anyway, so people don't have to
ask whether or not our service is useful.

Because Greg used words like abuse with regards to the use of free
software, I like to say a few words about this.  I would think those
people who release their programs would like as many people as possible to
use their programs (could I be wrong?).  But I don't think every person
who is interested in their programs will be able to use their programs. 
What's wrong for a service like ours to have their programs be used by
more people if they will be informed that those programs are free and
where they can get them and who are the authors?  I don't think it would
do any harm to the authors.  I actually think it does a good service to
the authors (off course the authors may not think so).  Having those words
said, I like to add that because of the concerns/views like what Greg
holds about the use of free software, we will try not to use those free
software in our service.  We simply need to have an answer ready when some
user says to us: "Hey, there is a such free software there, could you
install it in your machine so I can run it?"  We will definitely help our
users as much as we can if they like to install the program themselves or
help them to find an alternative solution.  But don't expect us to buy
programs that are freely distributed and we are well capable of writing
ourselves. If the demand is high, we surely can, and will, write a program
that can do the same, or even more or better. :-) 

BTW, if some one likes to have his/her programs installed in our machine
so more people can use the programs, we certainly can try if we think our
users will be interested in the programs.  Maybe you can join us, if you
like, when some day we need to expand our effort.

Best regards,


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