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Navigating the Vast Ocean of Open Source

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat dept.

Open Source 23

Nerval's Lobster writes "Open source is no longer relegated to the discount software vendor that serves cash-strapped startups. In enterprise software development these days, open source is not only immensely valuable, but increasingly crucial to stay competitive in releasing high quality software at regular intervals in a world where technology is changing so fast and every edge matters. Today, rolling your own logging package instead of using something like log4j is as silly as trying to build your own web server instead of using Apache httpd was 10 years ago. Still, there are other components like guava that are less well known, but are currently making a name for themselves as libraries that can take the solution you are building to the next level of sophistication and quality. Just knowing they exist — and knowing where they fit — can help you design and build better software at a lower cost. In addition to conducting a traditional build versus buy analysis, it's critical to think about the maintenance and support story surrounding an open source package. This article lists some things to consider and questions to ponder."

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What's the point of the article... (3, Insightful)

QuietLagoon (813062) | about 2 years ago | (#41864523)

... other than it was written by a person who used unsupported software then complained about the lack of support.

Re:What's the point of the article... (1)

6031769 (829845) | about 2 years ago | (#41864543)

To drive traffic to SlashBi, of course.

Re:What's the point of the article... (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 2 years ago | (#41864887)

I figured Dice would jettison that part of Slashdot since it seems to overlap with their own website.

Re:What's the point of the article... (1)

Kotoku (1531373) | about 2 years ago | (#41865659)

Really? I figured Dice SUGGESTED it. ;)

Re:What's the point of the article... (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#41870025)

To drive traffic to SlashBi, of course.

Please 'scuse my ignorance. What does "SlashBi" mean? Is that some sort of "bisexool" crack? [I have no irons in this fire; just curious.]

Re:What's the point of the article... (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 2 years ago | (#41864575)

To drive traffic to the 'business intelligence' side of slashdot (or whatever their current corporate owner is).

Why should there be a company behind it? (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41864567)

Steps 7-9 are about companies working to develop the product or provide support for it. Why would that matter? Should there be a company, it doesn't actually guarantee anything. Actually it can be worse. If the company stops the development, the whole product can die.

Instead look into how many different companies are behind the product or how many main developers from the community are working for it. How often does the project get a new company/developer to join in. Everybody quits at some point, so the project will live only if new ones are joining the project.

Biggest problem: support, customization (4, Insightful)

wdef (1050680) | about 2 years ago | (#41864923)

Speaking from experience here and also as a strong believer in FOSS: the single biggest hassle with using certain FOSS code for commercial use/adaptation can be getting hold of the right person to modify/fix the code for use in a for-profit project. You'd think it'd be easy, right? Just post to the dev list and start a discussion offline about paying them for adaptations, right?

Wrong. Usually doesn't work if you go in cold and the devs don't know who you are, even if you start shaking bags of cash at them over email. Many foss developers work for other companies and aren't interested. If it's sophisticated, difficult code, hiring someone to get across and then hack the code base may just be too slow a fix commercially. This is why Google, Red Hat, Canonical etc snap up key foss developers in challenging areas such as the kernel. Even if their pool of key developers don't know how to fix something, chances are they might know how to get hold of the right person. Notice the inbuilt randomness of "chances are".

The ad hoc-ness of that situation is just not acceptable in many industries. They want to pick up a phone and get the work done now, not chase people around on an obscure development list trying to hire them. It's no wonder that Microsoft et al had the game sown up for so long and that it took a huge company with massive resources (Google) to put linux on so many devices that weren't server boxes.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (3, Informative)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#41865087)

So you are admitting that Linux had a strong showing in servers? This would be precisely the area that is supposed to be driven by being able to call a company like Microsoft. That's a bit of a contradiction.

You are also giving Microsoft far too much credit as a server support vendor when the real competition is the likes of Oracle, or Sun, or IBM. Microsoft is a lightweight by comparison.

By your own admission Linux thrived despite of this mentality where everyone assumes "you can't get fired for buying Microsoft"

"Desktop" software is pretty lightweight by comparison.

What Google has is marketing. Guerilla marketing just doesn's work with n00b consumers. It's not like professional tools where all you have to do is "build and they will come". You need to dress it up and run TV ads and all manner of flim flam.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (1)

wdef (1050680) | about 2 years ago | (#41865247)

None of that is relevant to my point. Linux only thrived on servers before Android took it to the masses. Google has huge technical capability of its own.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41866265)

So you are admitting that Linux had a strong showing in servers? This would be precisely the area that is supposed to be driven by being able to call a company like Microsoft. That's a bit of a contradiction.

Linux is used on servers because it is free.

CentOS exists because developers need stable kernel/glibc targets, and businesses like free. Have no illusions that Linux adoption in the datacenter is due to any other reasons than free as in no money, IT geek's wet dream of Linux beating Windows. There is no other business reason for 99.9% of businesses using Linux, sorry.

If it came down to features, we wouldn't be hearing so much about the latest Gnome or KDE controversy, or Android or whatever nonsense, and instead we'd be asking why the old scripted init system that NT 4.0 spanks is still in use. Or why does it still enumerate devices 0, 1, 2... or with god damned letters? A decade ago it should have enumerated devices by physical bus, PCI address, etc. Now with more complex X86 systems, hardware virtualization, blades, Cisco UCS, etc, Linux should already be making moves towards enumerating devices by unique layer 2 identifiers, such as MAC and WWPN.

The other day I found a tiny glimmer of hope, in /dev/tape/by-id/
But it was squashed when I saw it identify single LUN targets by WWPN (physical tape drives) and muti-LUN targets (VTL drives) by vendor/product name from SCSI inquiry.
Um.. consistency please? No, forget it, I will have gray hair before ISVs even touch such unstable things in Linux.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41869165)

You know, that's absolutely correct.

In some cases.

To generalise like that, the only reason Microsoft is all around the world is because it's secure, reliable, has good support, and everyone uses it.

I'm certain that anybody who has ever used a Microsoft product can tell give examples as to why every single one of those is not true.

Secure? The number of tools available for cracking Windows renders that one as nothing more than a marketing claim. Viruses? How many viruses own a Windows install every day? A million? Fifty million? More? Definitely more.

Reliable? Until the registry crashes, or the drivers turn on PIO mode and turn off DMA, or the video card drivers reset at every boot up. Ever had multiple sound cards appear every time you boot up? That's not very reliable, is it?

At my work, we use a Windows server for our primary internal web server and file sharing. It's up all the time, never gets rebooted. It's extremely reliable.

Oh, wait, sorry, my bad - we use a Linux box for that. We need reliability, and we can't reboot every week. There's just no need for a Windows box there. It just sits there, serving data and supplying our needs. On the other hand, the Windows 7 dual CPU system I use gets rebooted every 10 days or it starts fucking up the scheduler - it runs in a time-critical application. I wish the vendor actually produced software for Linux or Mac, but they don't. They claim that Windows provides a higher quality development environment.

Unfortunately, given how poor their software is, I can't take their word seriously. It's almost amusing - sometimes you can play video in their software, sometimes you can't. If you open one particular folder, the software crashes and leaves a hidden process you can't kill without rebooting. It also randomly manipulates the volume control, and the player package crashes if it opens a file that's already open elsewhere.

All this for several thousand dollars, and Windows!

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41871911)

This is probably not relevant to tape devices, but perhaps it works for them too since they are just block devices? If the devices are partitioned with GPT, you can address them by the partition UUID: PARTUUID=f3892-2983-982. If they have file systems on them, you can address them by the filesystem UUID: UUID=239f8239-23982f-239.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41865323)

Modded "funny"? Can someone explain the joke?

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (3, Interesting)

pairo (519657) | about 2 years ago | (#41865495)

What you're saying is that if you call the company behind a closed source, they'll be happy to take your money and develop your feature?

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (1)

wdef (1050680) | about 2 years ago | (#41865715)

No. What I'm saying is that companies that developed new products tended (pre-Android) to steer clear of foss precisely because of the perception that they might have to chase some hacker around his mother's basement to find and code some obscure and highly specific issue very quickly. That code issue issue might be of no relevance to anyone else. Windriver and Monta Vista improved this by hiring and building foss expertise extensively (like Google) and providing their own embedded linux platforms for ODMs with support etc. You can try going to those sorts of companies but they are usually looking for Big Work so good luck; some start-up's idiosyncratic, highly specialized issue is just not going to be very profitable for them. And you sign an NDA and very probably a non-compete agreement that will prevent you poaching their devs.

None of this lessens my belief in open source and I do think it is about market dominance. Also, I'm sure the situation must have improved by now (I hope). Whichever platform is dominant will very likely have an ecosystem of commercial development consultancies around it. Intermediaries that find the appropriate foss expertise on your behalf, and that will probably take on small projects, like http://www.igalia.com/ [igalia.com] , are a step in the right direction.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41866267)

How come this was labeled insightful?

The situation is actually much easier with FOSS. Try using ms word in a for-profit project. Then try getting hold of the right person to modify/fix it for you. You just can't - and it won't help shaking a small bag of cash at those ms programmers. They are paid already. And you can't get someone else to do it either - no source. (Ms may listen if you are really big, but lets say this for-profit project only generate a few hundred thousand sales - you're nothing to them)

A FOSS developer may not be in it for the money, and so may not be interested in your for-profit project using their code. No big deal, you simply hire ANOTHER programmer to do the work you want - because at least you have source code. There is no need to control a leading FOSS developer. All you need is some competent programmers - and those are certainly available for money.

Re:Biggest problem: support, customization (1)

wdef (1050680) | about 2 years ago | (#41870973)

Because you're not reading it properly. I said this:

If it's sophisticated, difficult code, hiring someone to get across and then hack the code base may just be too slow a fix commercially.

In which case an emergency commercial line of support is essential. Not to mention that some specialized areas of development are exotic and it's hard and slow hiring those guys. They are usually already hired. That is not to say that oss is not a far superior model if you can get hold of the resources to work on the codebase. Closed source is bad because it removes that possibility altogether if the copyright holders don't want you to do it. There is no reason smart FOSS projects should not be able to provide or foster code-level technical support (provided this is not in breach of their existing employment contracts, which it often will be), just as there is no reason they cannot commercially (dual) license out their codebase while also keeping it open source (X264 comes to mind). But it's difficult to name examples.

This is why Apple bought out key FreeBSD developers when they built OS X. If it had been otherwise, can you imagine chasing them around trying to get stuff done while Steve Jobs screamed at you?

Only point #10... (3, Insightful)

vikingpower (768921) | about 2 years ago | (#41865865)

... on this guy's list makes sense to me, for having encountered the situation in practical life, more than once. Traffic-attracting set-up or not, the article does make some sense. I would recommend it to younger guys preparing to do their first software project as a team leader, project manager or software architect.

Navigating? Beating into submission? (3, Insightful)

rueger (210566) | about 2 years ago | (#41866075)

Minor quibbles: it's friggin blog post, not an "article." And it's not about "navigating an ocean of open source" in any sense that you might imagine. It's more along the lines of an About.com "Here are ten tips for using Open Source in your business" page.

However, there's a lot of truth in it, and points well worth discussion.

When, exactly did we wind up being our own support desks? When did Google, forums, and bug lists become the primary resources for solving problems with software and hardware?

I'm staggered at the issues that I have with a Google branded Android phone running Google branded apps within Google branded operating system. At the end of the day it is IMPOSSIBLE to get any response from anyone at Google to any problem.

This, to me is everything that's wrong with Open Source, even Corporate Open Source; an attitude that goes way, way back to the days downloading Linux boot floppies by modem, then struggling to get X windows or a modem to work using only Man pages and snotty comments from geeks.

There was a time when I would spend hours or days fighting with recalcitrant software trying to make it work. I can no longer be bothered. I know I can install a Windows or Ubuntu variation and they'll just work. I know that LibreOffice will just work 90% of the time. After which I'll boot up Windows and use MS Office.

Beyond that I'll try a software package (Android apps too) once and if it doesn't work out of the box I'll toss it. And if all else fails, yeah, I'll pop the money to buy a commercial, closed source package. Life is too short.

Re:Navigating? Beating into submission? (1)

jgrahn (181062) | about 2 years ago | (#41871019)

Minor quibbles: it's friggin blog post, not an "article." And it's not about "navigating an ocean of open source" in any sense that you might imagine. It's more along the lines of an About.com "Here are ten tips for using Open Source in your business" page.

Not even that, really. It's about integrating obscure open source components in the software you're writing. The article doesn't make sense if you try to apply it to running a stock Linux server or desktop.

Speaking from a risk management perspective (2)

drolli (522659) | about 2 years ago | (#41871517)

I work in a consulting company and got a basic training in project management, including some risk management:

Assess the likeliness of the risk, and the impact on your project.

A) If you use an OS component sucessful for several years, developed on a stable background (e.g. Apache foundation etc.), then the risk that it wont be supported reasonably or that you have to support it alone.

B) If you use a newer, but fashionable component, there is a moderate risk that it wont be developed in the direction you like it to be

C) If you use something vey new, and special, then there is a high risk that you may end up maintaining it alone

Severity:

1) If you use a small library, which does an isolated task for you, the most severe thing which could happen is that you write this task yourself (which may be significant work, but far away from a failed project)

2) If the library is more complex and is more in the core of your functionality, doing the rewrite transparent to the user may be a hard task, and if reproducibility (e.g. of simulation results) in needed, very hard

3) Frameworks/programming languages. Well. If you bet your ass on the wrong framwork/language, and represent the whole appication logic in it, and something goes wrong there, then you are fucked. Consider that you may end up rewriting the project completely, and possibly (if there is a compatribility problem visible to the customer), loosing the customer.

Normally: Reject risks worse than A3, B2, or C1.

Customer ask for it: cover your ass, it must be in the requirements then. (iff customers insists in framework xyz, he can have it, on his responsibility)

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