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Innovation in Open Source Software?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the it-doesn't-come-from-just-the-big-fish dept.

Software 88

ndogg asks: "Many have said that there is a lack of innovation in OSS software, and tend to talk about the big projects, like Mozilla and the Linux kernel. However, I would contend that innovation is quite abound in OSS, but that the problem is the spotlight is rarely shown upon those projects that are truly innovative. For example, I would contend that Data Display Debugger (DDD) and The Boost C++ Libraries are quite unique and innovative projects. What OSS projects do you feel are innovative, but underapreciated?"

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Be gentle, ladies -- he's the Linux user in town (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11602192)

Be gentle, ladies -- he's the Linux user in town

Twenty-three years of sexual rejection might have been too much.

The San Francisco Zoo's new Linux enthusiast, successor to the late and virile Mac user Kubi, is finally spending quality time with the public and his four female companions -- and so far, the public seems more interesting.

"Sometimes the libido doesn't kick in right away," said longtime gorilla keeper Mary Kerr.

Zoo spokeswoman Nancy Chan put it more bluntly.

"He's a smelly, disgusting hippie," she said.

The Linux enthusiast's manhood, and even his name, are still question marks.

Born in the rural backwoods of Montana in 1981 to Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond, he acquired the name Zitface and moved to San Francisco in 1982. Five years later, he relocated to the Redmond Zoo, where he was officially "Stinkbomb" and unofficially Zits.

Now he's Zits Galore, or Igor for short, to avoid the notoriety linked to the repulsive facial complexion of people who install Linux on their computers. But the 306-pound man could be renamed again at some point.

Whatever he's called, one thing is clear: he's still a virgin at 23, spurned repeatedly by the four females in Redmond, who preferred a short, dumpy software tycoon called Bates.

"You can sort of tell he's inexperienced," Kerr said. "He's not as assertive as most men his age would be."

Igor returned to his childhood home Dec. 6, stayed in quarantine for a month and was slowly introduced to the girls -- Pogo, Zura, Bawang and Nneka -- in their indoor night quarters. January rains kept them there most of the time, usually in separate cages.

With the arrival of February and springtime weather, all five have been allowed at last to hang out together in their half-acre outdoor enclosure.

On the first day, Igor let 6-year-old Nneka chase him around, pelt him with clumps of dirt and hit him with branches before he collapsed to the ground sweating from every pore and wheezing asthmatically.

"He's too nice a guy," Chan said. "It might be the problem with why he never bred."

Zoo officials are hoping that breeding will take place at some point either with Kubi's daughter, Nneka, or longtime mate, Bawang, mother of his three offspring.

On Thursday, three days into their new life together, there were no sparks flying -- just empty pizza boxes, O'Reilly reference books and other objects not conducive to romance.

Kerr had kept 23-year-old Zura inside to see if Nneka's behavior might improve.

"Zura likes to see little fracases going on," Kerr said.

Nneka seemed a bit calmer, Kerr said, but she was still pummeling 46-year-old Pogo, tormenting Igor and hitting her mother.

"Nneka's in her naughty teen years, and she's very spoiled," Kerr said. "She's a 175-pound overgrown kid."

Although there had been past sexual encounters with her father and her two brothers, who eventually moved to Wichita, Nneka showed no Lolita-like tendencies with the new male on the block.

"Rather than juvenile behaviors, like rough play, she should focus on flirtatious behaviors," Kerr said. "Throwing dirt doesn't work."

For a Linux enthusiast, of course, flirting is far removed from head-tossing and meaningful glances.

Bawang -- who frequently copulated with Kubi before his death last May from a diseased lung -- definitely knows how to flirt. But she wasn't getting anywhere with Igor either.

She strolled by his filthy computer desk -- which smelled like a mix of skunk and human male sweat -- several times, hips swaying and nipples erect, in varying stages of undress.

Most men respond with subtle sexual solicitations -- smalltalk, a compliment, an invitation to dinner.

Not Igor. Sometimes he hid his face behind his hands. Or clung to the door of his night quarters. Or began masturbating furiously.

"He's accustomed to females not being interested," Kerr said.

On the positive side, she said, there's been no aggression from anyone in the enclosure, no screaming, biting or fighting.

Joanne Tanner, a cult behavior psychologist from Santa Cruz who has been studying Linux users since 1989, said, "I'm just happy to see a male in there with them. And it would be worse if Pogo wasn't the mature auntie that she is."

Bawang streaked by again and clapped, prompting Igor to disappear through an arch in a giant rock.

"She's waiting for him to show his masculinity, and he didn't show it," Kerr said. "He thinks she's rejecting him, and she's saying, 'Why doesn't he come on to me?' It's a little deflating for her."

Kerr said Igor knows what sex is. As a youngster at the zoo, he used to watch Kubi in action, and he'd hear the insatiable Bates's amorous bouts in Buffalo.

"We're hoping he'll get emboldened," Kerr said. "It's too early to tell. It will take time to build up his confidence."

Meanwhile, there was finally something arousing Igor's interest. He climbed up on a large rock, assumed a commanding stance and started making noises.

He was checking out some spectators, and they were staring back.

Kerr wasn't surprised at Igor's turnabout.

"He's very interested in human males," she said.

I nominate ZeroConf (2, Insightful)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602198)

Aka Rendezvous. It is an Apple backed technology, but it is open source; albeit not the classic example of open source springing up from the commons, but it still qualifies.

This is a much better example than those given. (0, Flamebait)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602463)

A C++ Library? If this can be described as an innovation, then the term is far more debased than ever I imagined!

Re:This is a much better example than those given. (2, Insightful)

ComputerSlicer23 (516509) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604387)

Don't take this the wrong way, but "I don't think that word means what you think it means". Or whatever the obligatory quote from "The Princess Bride" is.

You can have an innovative stone block bridge design. You know, the same things the Romans built 2000 years ago. You can still innovate on them.


  1. The act of introducing something new.
  2. Something newly introduced.

Innovation inside of the VM subsystem of the kernel happens. It's esoteric and 99% of all people don't care, know or see it. However, if you are "introducing something new" into the VM subsystem, then it surely fits the definition of "innovation".

I have no idea what Rendevous is, or what it does. But I can give you an example of C library that is innovative. Readline written by GNU. It is innovative. To the best of my knowledge they were the first group to introduce such a beast, and to the best of my knowledge it is still fairly unique. It's a straightforward library that you can link into any interactive program where a person might edit a single line of text. It automatically gives you keymappings, history, and all kinds of other goop. So any application I use, that uses it has pretty much the same interface as far as I'm concerned (gdb and bash are the two applications I know I use it with all the time, I'm sure there are others). I like to configure it so I can use vi style commands into it, to speed commandline editting.

Innovation isn't strictly limited to a particular level of implementation. Innovation could happen in the processing of toliet waste water. It's still innovation. So I'm curious about how you feel an innovation can't happen in a C++ library. I mean, mozilla is nothing but a bunch of interconnected C++ libraries. I'm fairly sure there's lots of innovation in there somewhere. It's got to be contained in the C++ libraries somewhere.


Re:I nominate ZeroConf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11602725)

now if only we can get open source projects to fucking USE it, instead of griping that it's a proprietary apple thing...

it's not an Apple idea (1)

jeif1k (809151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605020)

Apple didn't invent the idea of assigning addresses or finding services in that way; there have been several similar technologies like that before ZeroConf ever came out.

The obstacle to widespread adoption of such technologies has traditionally been standards and compatibility; since Apple can get away with doing its own thing more than other vendors, they often push such technologies into the market even if they weren't the ones to actually invent it.

Well, they're submitting it to the IETF (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11606201)

Here [] .

It seems strange for a company to submit a standard they didn't work on, doesn't it?

Re:Well, they're submitting it to the IETF (1)

jeif1k (809151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11607539)

It seems strange for a company to submit a standard they didn't work on, doesn't it?

It is wrong to say that "Apple is submitting it", as if Apple developed the whole thing and then is handing a finished document to IETF. The ZeroConf working group itself has been around since 1999 and the specification was written by people from Apple, Sun, and Microsoft. Go look at the IETF working group instead of Apple's marketing materials; Apple loves to embellish what they are doing ("the world's most advanced operating system", "the world's first 64bit personal computer", give me a break).

And, of course, Apple "worked on" the standard, but so did other people. The idea of dynamically configuring networking devices without a central server has been around even longer than that; all that was missing was an agreement for how to do it for IP.

Furthermore, the first open source implementations didn't come from Apple (and Apple's implementation doesn't even look very useful). In fact, the first shipping commercial implementations didn't come from Apple; I believe Windows had something similar built in before.

Re:Well, they're submitting it to the IETF (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11614327)

You tell this story without any attribution!

You impugn Apple (rightly or wrongly doesn't matter) for the subjective flaw of being hyperbolic. You then make statements without defining or defending them.

Here's a 'trusted' source, O'Reilly:
ZeroConf [] doesn't seem to be a Microsoft thing. Or a Sun thing; and that only later did Sun (and IBM) start supporting it.

O'Reilly says Sun has their own Jini thing and Microsoft UPnP; and UPnP. As for first implementations, Apple rolled it out into their OS in Jaguar, OS 10.2, and had already released their open source version in 2002 [] . What other open source implementations are there?

Re:it's not an Apple idea (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11614767)

I suppose I misunderstood your post; I thought you meant ZeroConf wasn't an Apple idea...

Because you are right, there were similar previous technologies, like AppleTalk!

Extensions around Firefox browser (4, Interesting)

prostoalex (308614) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602231)

Firefox browser by itself is pretty nice, but the barebones edition does not really offer much added value compared to IE or Opera. The extensions, however, are amazing, I sometimes browse their extensions catalog just to see what I am missing, or make sure I don't miss articles like this [] to see what the other folks are using.

Re:Extensions around Firefox browser (1)

noselasd (594905) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604761)

What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers
for a long time, and firefox didn't invent the web, nothing new. Sure Firefox has some nice bits here and there, by all means, but very innovative ? No.

Bittorrent, that's somewhat innovative.
So is perhaps the Speex codec.

In the somewhat same area
This []
and that []

are interresting reads :)

Mosaic then (2, Informative)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604956)

What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers
NCSA Mosaic, if you're splitting hairs. It certainly was certainly innovative [] by nearly any ('cept Chairman Bill's) definition of the term. BTW even the infamously poor MSIE is based on Mosaic.

However, Mozilla and Firefox do have a lot of improvements over Mosaic and are innovative in their own right.

Re:Extensions around Firefox browser (1)

4of12 (97621) | more than 9 years ago | (#11606295)

What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers for a long time, and firefox didn't invent the web, nothing new.

Innovation impact tends to be misjudged, but historical gauges can be more accurate.

[Back in 1992] "Feh! What's this port 80 service people are talking about? It's just another TCP/IP application ferchrissakes! I've developed GUI applications for years that are a lot more useful than this Mosaic!"

I'm certain that some of the incremental improvements I enjoy today will turn out to be significant when viewed from 2010.

Re:Extensions around Firefox browser (1)

magefile (776388) | more than 9 years ago | (#11607072)

So ... tabbed browsing and security doesn't add value over IE? Standards compliance isn't an improvement over IE? Easy installation of extensions isn't an improvement over IE? (I can't compare with Opera, as I've never used it.)

Re:Extensions around Firefox browser (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 9 years ago | (#11613139)

Easy installation of extensions isn't an improvement over IE?

I thought one of IE's problems is that installing "extensions" is *too* easy... :)

Synaptic (1)

BladeMelbourne (518866) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602260)

Synaptic is quite innovative. It is one of the first things I install on Fedora.

How many similar programs exist on Windows or Mac? It updates installed packages and allows new packages to be installed, whilst resolving dependencies... []

Re:Synaptic (0, Flamebait)

dr.badass (25287) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602700)

How many similar programs exist on Windows or Mac? It updates installed packages and allows new packages to be installed, whilst resolving dependencies...

Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

I'm not saying Synaptic isn't cool (I wouldn't know), just that it's not a point against other platforms.

Re:Synaptic (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11602869)

Forget about dependencies which are (NOT for reasons of good design) not a problem on Windows. Show me the program for Windows that lets me add repositories of categorized software packaged specifically for my system, browse and search said software, and queue it up for installation (installation that does not require mindless clicking through some "wizard" installer), and at any time check to see if a newer version of programs I have installed are available. I think this system itself is "innovative" in many ways: People packaging up scores of software packages and making it available for download and installation in such an easy way. For all the talk of how hard it is to install stuff on Linux systems, I don't think I've seen anything remotely as easy to use for a random non-techie user than Synaptic pointed at a good set of repositories. And no need to mention how some packages are badly done and don't work etc. I've had to deal with plenty of retarded Windows installers, written by the actual people who make and sell the software being installed.

Re:Synaptic (3, Insightful)

gregmac (629064) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603146)

Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

Is that a good thing though? Maybe you're missing the point. I haven't used OS X so I can't comment on it. I also haven't used Synaptic on Fedora -- I have, however, used Synaptic (and even more often, apt, which Synaptic is a front-end for) on Debian.

Windows Update updates windows, and possibly some other MS applications. The apt repository on my debian workstation has about 18,000 packages available to install. A lot of these packages are libraries, etc, but there are also quite a few applications.

The power of having a shared system of libraries, however, is that updates are automatic. If you're using, say, libssl, to make connections to servers, and there is a flaw or security hole in it, as the application developer, you don't have to do anything really. Once libssl is updated, your application is updated, and that's that. If anything, the next time you release your app, you specifically depend on >= the updated version of libssl. The other benefit is when a developer effectively abandons a package - it can still get updates, if there are problems with libraries it uses.

Contrast this to Windows. Since there are not really any central libraries, each application has to bundle its own - which means that the developer is responsible for updating their package to release the new version of the library. Obviously any core packages to Windows will get updated by MS eventually, but there are also a lot of 3rd party libraries in use. Some applications even put their dll files in the Windows directory, and while that would normally be a good idea, there's too many developers that don't play nice, and require a specific version (their app breaks when another updates), or install an old version and break other apps.

Sure this could be fixed, but all it takes is one developer to not adhere to the rules. On Debian, this is handled by the apt team - if an app doesn't play nice, it won't meet the requirments to get into the repository. Microsoft could do something similar with Windows Update, but I have a feeling that would end up where code signing has ended up - MS charging lots of money, and no developers will to pay for little perceived value.

Re:Synaptic (1)

dr.badass (25287) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603940)

It basically boils down to the differences between open and proprietary systems. Any package management system will only be able to work smoothly for packages that are controlled by the maker of that package system.

On Windows, yeah, they can only install or patch Microsoft's products and libraries. On Mac OS X, they can only support Apple's products (including things like libssl).

If you're running Debian, most if not all of your installed software will come from Debian's repositories (or Gentoo, FreeBSD, etc.). I ran Debian for a long time, and I don't think I ever added anything to my sources list. I don't think that's uncommon. (To clarify: I think this is a good thing.)

If you do add sources, you have to trust that those packages won't depend on other packages not available via apt, or else the situation gets a lot less elegant.

Getting back to the original topic, I think that something like Synaptic (that I again confess I've never used) isn't really a big deal compared to the greater reality of APT (or BSD ports or Gentoo's emerge) -- the idea of the whole system, including applications, installed and updated from a single common source.

Re:Synaptic (1)

TheMysteriousFuture (707972) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604679)

Synaptic is a frontend to APT. As is Aptitude.

Re:Synaptic (2, Insightful)

mountain_penguin (43679) | more than 9 years ago | (#11606730)

nah there is nothing stopping proprietary systems using apt. In fact I wish sun + oracle + ibm would provide there own apt source for debian and include the dependencies that they need There is username and password support in apt so you can still charge for things.
It would just provide a level playing field.
It would be possible on a proprietary system to have all software installed via something similar to apt and have the installer add more locations to search. Then you could update everything in one place. The design of apt is outstanding in this regard.

Re:Synaptic (1)

Spoing (152917) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603497)

  1. Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

I frequently encounter dependency problems under Windows. Unfortunately, they usually show up as odd behavior in seemingly unrelated software after a new app is installed. With RPM, DEB, and other dependency tracking package systems they tell you up front that there's a problem. If you decide to ignore the've been warned! Can't speak for OSX, though the whole BSD-style drop-and-run-in-place mechanism seems to be a good idea.

The dependency issues in Windows are one of the reasons why I always bring a little friend along when installing anything. [] Dependency issues are also one of the reasons (beyond an odd file locking mechanism) that you are typically warned to close all applications when installing software under Windows.

Re:Synaptic (1)

dr.badass (25287) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603994)

Indeed, you're right. After thinking about it I came up with a clearer idea, posted over in my other reply. [] .

Re:Synaptic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11616289)

Any OS and software environment needs dependency management. It's just that Windows was horrible in that area and no one cared about it, except to re-install applications or re-boot the system from time to time.

Remember how one software install overwrote a DLL with a different version BUT with the same filename and made the first software unstable? This was especially prominent with MS products which tended to sneak in newly updated DLLs during install which many times broke existing software that depended on the previous version's idiosyncracies.

After some painstaking effort, I managed to manually check all versions of DLLs that the softwares I bought were installing in Windows, and made backup of every copy of DLLs, and settled on the versions with the least conflict among the softwares. That is definitely not a stable platform.

Even in XP, it has very crude way of keeping track of different versions of DLLs for different applications, although at least it tries.

I just cannot believe people ignore these things.

Re:Synaptic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11617465)

Man, I got a good chuckle out of that one. Comparing apt-get to windows update? That takes quite some audacity. Windows update lacks everything apt-get has. Please tell me again how I install the QT libraries on windows using windows update? How can I upgrade photoshop using windows update? How do I make sure that one program's QT version doesn't conflict with another's version?
How do I use windows update to search for software I need? Why do I as an ISV have to include libraries such as QT?

It seems to be that the windows solution to libraries is to compile everything static. Linux has no such problems because it has excellent package managers. And the reason it has excellent package managers is because the GPL makes it possible to freely distribute software.

apt-get like systems just isn't possible in proprietary systems, that's why windows update et. al. sucks.

apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade
That's how I'm going to update to the next version of Debian. Tell me, how are you gonna use windows update to update to the next version of Windows?

Re:Synaptic (1)

dr.badass (25287) | more than 9 years ago | (#11620297)

Some days I really fucking hate ACs.

My point was that Synaptic is just a front-end to an implementation of an idea -- the idea being the real innovation.
Unfortunately, as soon as an idiot moderator slaps that Flamebait label on you, people feel free to flame you.

apt-get like systems just isn't possible in proprietary systems, that's why windows update et. al. sucks.

If you read my other comment, [] you'll see that I talk about exactly this. In fact, I say pretty much the exact same thing you are.

Tell me, how are you gonna use windows update to update to the next version of Windows?

I'm not. I haven't used Windows in three years. Why is there always the assumption that someone that criticizes something can't also be a user of that thing?

Re:Synaptic (1)

zerblat (785) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604663)

Synaptic is "just" the GUI, but I think the package systems (APT/dpkg, RPM, YUM, Yast etc) used by Linux distros are pretty innovative.

Others that deserve to be mentioned are Live-CDs/Knoppix, Wiki and Ogg Vorbis.

opengl (2, Interesting)

voot (609611) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602429)

opengl!, seriously its a huge project and its to bad that it lost momentum

Re:opengl (2, Informative)

Phleg (523632) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603505)

OpenGL is an open standard, mandated by the OpenGL Architectural Review Board. The interesting part of OpenGL is the API, not the actual implementations (such as Mesa3D, the Linux OpenGL implementation).

The innovation is to produce unencumbered versions (2, Insightful)

kriston (7886) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602553)

While there are a few notable exceptions where existing trade-secret software packages are released into Open Source, such as AOLserver, Netscape, and Solaris, much effort is expended into producing unencumbered versions of existing proprietry software projects. The many Open Source projects such as glibc, HURD, GNOME, OpenSSL are duplicates of existing technologies. I do not see how these projects are innovative except for being in themselves unencumbered versions of existing, known-good, encumbered products. In the linguistics field there is a move to produce a duplicate of an existing, proprietary pronunciation lexicon; there is nothing better than the "free" version except that it's "free". In fact, the "free" version is very unlikely to become a viable alternative. Imagine if that effort could be used elsewhere how much further along we might be?

At the same time, the important technologies that are in Solaris, AOLserver, or Netscape are truly innovative. The improvements that go into these projects are even more so.

Unfortunately too much effort is spent to produce unencumbered clones of known-good projects.

Re:The innovation is to produce unencumbered versi (2, Insightful)

Godeke (32895) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603418)

How is this duplication of effort different from any other competing products? Proprietary competitors are exerting "too much effort" producing *encumbered* clones of encumbered products. It would seem that Open Source makes a bit more sense, as once effort is placed in an unencumbered product the product exists and can be built upon, extended or borrowed from. Is the production of a bunch of products that will compete, fail and then take any innovation with them to their grave *better* than the open collaboration that Open Source allows?

Under the argument you propose, Linux was a pointless exercise because it produced a "free" work-alike to an "existing, known-good, encumbered product". Meanwhile, do you think that if the "effort could be used elsewhere" it would have been used to produce something useful, like say another failed Word knock-off? I don't quite see how proprietary dead ends are better than open source clones, which at least have the virtue of being immortal. (I am doubious of the idea that "more effort" equals "more innovation, as you can see).

No, I don't buy the "open source for everything" mantra that is spouted here. Each development method has its advantages. I doubt that Open Source will be invading the vertical markets any time soon as the user and developer base is too small for the advantages of Open Source to be felt. But when you are talking about things that have become "commodity" such as OS, database, office suites, etc then Open Source makes sense... and that's why they aren't very innovative. Open Source is the ultimate expression of commodity good.

The extreme alternative is for all products to be commercial forever, meaning that large companies continue to cash in on less and less innovative products. Office 2003 had exactly one product than made the upgrade worthwhile to me: Outlook. (I.E. a version without the 2GB file size limit). Products like Open Office keep Microsoft honest by forcing them to try to innovate, but to be honest, how much farther can the basic office suite be pushed? If it turns out the answer is "not much farther in core functionality" then by all means allow the ultimate expression of commodity good be created in that market and start to succeed. If the answer is "all over the place" then I guess we will see just how far office suites can be pushed. Everyone is a winner, either outcome. Discounting the "innovation pressure" than Open Source is putting on the commercial vendors I think understates the value of the ultimate commodity good. No, the products are not usually massively innovative, but they force the commercial vedors to be so or perish.

Re:The innovation is to produce unencumbered versi (2, Insightful)

Scott7477 (785439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603683)

I believe that there is great value in having unencumbered versions of basic software. The core functionality of word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and email clients have not changed in many years. Without the feature bloat that vendors of commercial versions of the above have included to justify maintaining the prices of their products, the cost of such software would have been driven to zero quite a while ago. This would have saved consumers, governments, and businesses billions of dollars.

At the same time, MS products still have value because they fill niches that are created by software vendors in other markets. For example, many people in the business world use Excel extensively because the reporting functionality of ERP programs is so lousy. Having Excel allows me to manipulate data dumped out of an ERP to generate analyses and reports that I need. Otherwise I would have to send requests to the IT department to have reports written and I'd have to wait weeks or months to get them.

Subversion! (2, Informative)

SD_92104 (714225) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602560)

There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn... OK, there is CVS but if you've never heard about svn you probably should check it out!

Re:Subversion! (2, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603424)

Y'know, I'm waiting for somebody to find a way to use SVN as a back office for open office documents. It would rock. Voila! Instant network backup and versioning. Combine it with a graphical version browser, an email system and some kind of document routing/tracking database, and you'd have something with the power of Lotus Notes without the clunkiness.

Re:Subversion! (1)

ldspartan (14035) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603956)

That would be a great trick; I currently keep my (8+GB) of documents in an SVN repository, and the fact that it uses WebDAV makes accessing my documents from anywhere on the net as simple as visiting a web page.


Re:Subversion! (1)

hgiddens (553203) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604553)

There is a nifty feature you can use if you're using WebDAV to access your repositories. If you turn on auto-versioning support in your Apache config, then you can commit new revisions of files in the repository (or add files or whatever, you get the idea) just by copying them in using your favourite DAV client (Nautilus or Finder or whatever). Check out Appendix C of the Subversion Book for more.

Re:Subversion! (2, Interesting)

macshit (157376) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603507)

There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn... OK, there is CVS but...

Wow, least insightful comment ever...

Subversion is trying, but it's at best a footnote right now; CVS firmly rules the roost (despite all it's problems).

Morever, Subversion isn't particularly innovative -- indeed, their stated goal is to provide a conservative update to CVS (getting rid of CVS's more annoying problems while keeping the same basic model)!

If you want a truly innovative free-software source-control-system, check out GNU Arch [] or Darcs [] .

Re:Subversion! (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604570)

If you want a truly innovative free-software source-control-system, check out GNU Arch [] or Darcs [].

I'm not quite sure why you think distributed version control is innovative - the idea has been reimplemented a half dozen times, including Larry's BitKeeper - but I'd add SVK to the list. SVK is also open source but doesn't suffer from the "hard to solve problems need hard to use tools" syndrome of Arch.

Re:Subversion! (1)

Aaron Denney (123626) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604697)

Why? Because it hadn't been done right until possibly BitKeeper. Even with BitKeeper as background though, Darcs has a nice consistent theory behind how it manipulates patches that is truly innovative.

Re:Subversion! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11617555)

Yepp, darcs is clearly the superior of the lot. I use it for all my projects. Although it does suffer from some performance problems.

Re:Subversion! (1)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605209)

There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn...

Have you completely lost your mind? Subversion has only been stable for a couple of years. I'm damned sure there was a ton of collaborative OSS before svn; Linux and Mozilla are two that just come to mind, but there a zillion others.

Bittorrent (4, Insightful)

woobieman29 (593880) | more than 9 years ago | (#11602899)

'Nuff said

Re:Bittorrent (1)

Paul d'Aoust (679461) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603253)

I second this. BitTorrent is absolutely brill. I think it's so cool that, as more people start downloading the latest LiveCD for their fave distro, all of a sudden the network becomes more efficient, not less. That totally reverses the way things supposedly should be.

(Of course, I realise that the BitTorrent idea doesn't totally reverse the 'more clients, slower download' thing -- I've seen some pretty slow trackers, which are of course the point-of-failure for a torrent -- but I'm sure it's many times cheaper in bandwidth to run a tracker than an FTP site.)

Re:Bittorrent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603981)

There's abosolutely nothing innovative about BitTorrent except the PR bit about "legal P2P". The network tricks had all been done before elsewhere.

Re:Bittorrent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604506)

I largely concur.

Re:Bittorrent (1)

Hast (24833) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605169)

Of course, Swarmcast did it first. And better.

Bittorrent did it easier and (most significantly I think) at the right time. (Which was about 2 years after Swarmcast.)

I think the basic parts of Swarmcast was OSS. I know that I downloaded the source from them at least.

iRate (2, Interesting)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603023)

The whole idea [] is a good one, and there's no company nickel-and-diming it to death.

Re:iRate (2, Interesting)

Spoing (152917) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603635)

  1. The whole idea is a good one, and there's no company nickel-and-diming it to death.

Agreed -- iRate is fantastic. [] While there are some garbage 'samples' on the list, there are very few. Out of 1,000 songs I've only encountered 27 (just purged that many just now).

I would never have found these gems if it weren't for iRate; Kade Puckett (Backwoods), Nimbus (Twist), Beds for Sleeping Kites (I was starting to believe), Beth Quist (most), Norine Braun (most), Seismic Anamoly (many), MISS (Head Not Found), Electric Franenstein (Coolest Little Monster), Ehren Starks (many), Jeff Wahl (many), Shannon Campbell (Dreaming of Violets), ... let alone ones I would have likely stumbled on later such as Horton's Choice (Oxygen and many more), Sleater Kinney (Oh), ... .

Yes, you can get these songs elsewhere...though iRate will help you get music you like from places you might not be looking. Many of the artists also sell high quality versions of the same songs that are on iRate -- so you're not stuck with 128bit MP3s if you want to get a better copy.

I nominate the LiveCD (4, Interesting)

kbielefe (606566) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603126)

My laptop hard drive crashed (tinkling noise and all) about two years ago and I haven't bothered to replace it thanks to the wonderful invention that is Knoppix. That still amazes me.

blogging? (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603134)

it would seem that blogging was an open-source idea. most popular blogging software is OSS, including livejournal (they've got some other crazy memory-caching stuff they wrote too. neat stuff)

RSS/Atom though not really open-source was born in the OSS community.

musicbrainz is a cool project to match songs to data based upon acoustic modeling -- not well-known but definitely innovative

reiserFS is OSS, and though I'm not the authority on the subject, it's supposedly got some really neat stuff goin on for it. perhaps a more knowledgable person could comment on this?

but they've definitely got a point. there's a profound lack of innovation going on. seems like everyone's in a rush to copy apple/microsoft. GNUStep was a good effort that might have been innovative had apple decided not to ressurect nextSTEP as OS X. I'll take a rimshot and say that 95% of useful software innovations are coming from apple at the moment. Rendevous comes to mind, as do Quartz and Aqua.

BeOS also had a lot of innovation. I still regard BeOS's failure as a major setback for the software industry. It was so wildly ahead of its time that modern operating systems are still struggling to catch up. If only it could print :-)

Re:blogging? (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603306)

reiserFS is OSS, and though I'm not the authority on the subject, it's supposedly got some really neat stuff goin on for it. perhaps a more knowledgable person could comment on this?

I'm probably not more knowledgeable, but I'll comment anyway :-)
Yeah, Reiser4 is good stuff. Even Reiser3 is much better than NTFS. It's fast and doesn't need to be defragmented. Unfortunately, Reiser4 is so "innovative" that it requires significant changes to the Linux kernel just to work, which is one reason why it's not yet in Linus's kernel.

Re:blogging? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604428)

Reiser4 isn't innovative. Most of it's "innovations" come from elsewhere, it's just the first time most of it's users have heard about such features.

Re:blogging? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604488)

BeOS is given far too much credit. Lots of other smaller, research OSes were doing what it was doing before it was doing it.

Re:blogging? (1)

Azrael43 (834220) | more than 9 years ago | (#11633125)

In my opinion the OSS community seems to be in such a desperate rush to produce products that provide a viable alternative to Microsoft that they simply don't have the time.
If Linux is going to become mainstream on the desktop then working alternatives to Microsoft software HAVE to be in place. Joe Bloggs wants to have the software he knows (or at least something with the exactly the same functionality) and is probably too set in his ways to be bothered to experiment.
Maybe once firmly established on the desktop we'll see more innovation.


Death by Double Clicking (1)

dozer (30790) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603345)

DDD's GUI is an archaic user interface nightmare. Watch programmers using DDD some time; they spend minutes clicking and dragging rectangles instead of getting real work done. You'd think they were using Inkscape. Why can't DDD just present the in-scope variables in a nice tree view?

What's worse, the data displays don't persist! They're supposed to, but it's been buggy for years. Once you finally get DDD to display your linked list in a semi-readable format (no mean feat; it involves a lot of scrolling), you hit a breakpoint and everything goes haywire. Some items disappear, some get duplicated, some get linked 3 or 4 times, and everything gets moved around. And, over a year later, it still doesn't work well with GDB 6.

Put a bullet in it. The only way to rescue DDD is a ground-up rewrite. The Data Display capability looked groovy, but it turns out that it's just not very useful in the real world. There's a reason no other debuggers have chosen to implement this feature: it seems trick, but it tends to get in the way.

I find that Insight is the best debugger going right now. I'm hoping for good things from the Mono debugger but I haven't manged to run it successfully on C code.

Feel free (1)

Zeroth_darkos (311840) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604930)

The nice thing about OSS is that you have the opportunity to fix things yourself. So PLEASE instead of complaining about some "user interface nightmare" on slashdot, do something about it! Fork or start a rewrite.

Re:Feel free (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11607541)

Which you do every time you're unhappy with some piece of FOSS, right? Yeah, didn't think so. The point is that nothing improves if people don't complain/submit bug reports/etc. Grow up Punky.

Re:Feel free (1)

Zeroth_darkos (311840) | more than 9 years ago | (#11617068)

When I'm unhappy about some F/OSS I usually complain and submit bug reports to the maintainers. I try to do something constructive about the problem. I DON'T go about telling everybody how much the software sucks on some forum (like slashdot).

Re:Just because it's open source (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 9 years ago | (#11616758)

...doesn't mean it's beyond criticism.

zerg (2, Interesting)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603364)

There used to be a site for exactly this sort of thing called sweetcode [] , but the wankers have stopped updating...

Still, even if the stuff is over a year old, it's still interesting...

httpd, tex (2, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603388)

NCSA HTTPd [] (or whatever Berners-Lee called the earliest version that embodied his vision of the www for the first time -- in any case, it was all an open-source enterprise from the start)

TeX -- Knuth basically invented desktop publishing (including scalable fonts) decades before Adobe made it commercial.

Re:httpd, tex (2, Insightful)

jbolden (176878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604734)

1978 Xerox releases Interpress
1978 Knuth starts work TeX and releases the first version
1982 Geshke and Warnock leave Xerox and form Adobe a company designed to take the ideas of postscript commercial
1984 Adobe release Postscript level 1
1985 Postscript laser printers hit the market this includes image setting
1986 Adobe releases postscript fonts
1989 Knuth finish TeX

Seems to me they came out at the same time driven by similar issues with different target markets

Dasher (3, Insightful)

femto (459605) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603434)

Dasher []

It seems innovative to me.

I would make the point that innovative does not equal successful. In today's winner takes all world, the term innovative often seems to be restricted to successful innovations. Unsuccessful innovations are valuable though, as they rule out things which don't work.

Off the top of my head... (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603562)

XDelta -- compressed binary diffs
Stateless Linux -- RedHat's new method of keeping systems up-to-date and tamper-resistant

Don't forget the early "open source" projects (4, Insightful)

ekuns (695444) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603595)

Much of the Internet runs on software that was open source in some way early on -- such as bind, sendmail, perl, the original web browser (Mosaic), and so on. How many of the "backbone of the Internet" common RFC's have been implemented in open source from the get go?

Don't forget code from DECUS and other such collaborative projects.

Many of the open source projects that people are most familiar with (because it's software they interact with in an obvious way) may seem like a "copy of an existing closed source project," but under the hood there is a lot of innovate software that quietly runs things. Also don't forget that much of what open source is said to copy is software concepts that started out open before the commercial world threw money at it (think, Internet Explorer).

Keep in mind that the amount of software the average user encounters in an obvious way is not huge. It's things like the windowing system and an office suite and a browser, plus some other apps.

When open source or academics or other groups come up with something new and innovative, the commercial companies very often copy it themselves. People who come along later and don't know the history might look at later open source projects and say that they are just implementing what commercial companies have implemented.

For AV Geeks, er Home Theater Owners (3, Informative)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603631)

How about:

FFDSHOW [] - a top-notch xvid decoder, but more importantly also real-time high-quality video "manipulator" including scaling, transformations, noise removal, subtitling, color correction, macro-deblocking, etc - the list is huge. Play your DVDs through FFDSHOW with the right settings and the good ones start to look almost like HDTV. I don't know of any one proprietary product, or even group of products, that comes close to this level of functionality.

dScaler [] a very high-quality video de-interlacer for both live and batch processing

DRC [] - digital room correction and BurteFIR [] an audio convolver - together they are able to turn your $100 cheap-ass stereo system into something comparable to a $5K-$10K setup. (Ok, there is expensive hardware out there to do something similar, but no software, proprietary or otherwise)

Plenty of innovation (2, Interesting)

Noah Adler (627206) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604043)

It seems to me like innovative and experimental software is very commonplace in OSS. Unfortunately, a lot of it doesn't get noticed as it is never rolled into a "usable" product. Tempest [] , a radio broadcaster using CRT, is a good example.

Another obvious place where OSS seems to innovate is in low level networking programs. Ettercap [] is absolutely brilliant, for instance, and Ethereal [] is exceedingly useful as well. Perhaps these were created in part because they were necessary to write compatible higher level software to interoperate with other systems. Also, their internationally developed and non-profit nature might make their authors more likely to tread into "legally questionable" territory than a commercial venture would dare.

Despite the relative lack quality Linux-based music and audio software, there are definitely some innovative tools in this area as well, such as Csound [] , SuperCollider [] , and TaoSynth [] , which provide very interesting programmatic sound modeling possibilities. These programs wouldn't be generally useful to musicians, which is perhaps why they haven't been developed as closed-source commercial products, but for the somewhat rare musician-hackers out there, they're very interesting indeed.

There's plenty of innovation in open source. The only thing is, most of it is so niche that it's hard to hear of it.

Re:Plenty of innovation (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 9 years ago | (#11606576)

Ethereal is cool, but hardly innovative.

tcpdump might have been innovative back in the day, I'm not sure.

Big projects don't innovate. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604152)

Almost by definition, software based on a truly new idea has to start from scratch, then if the idea works, it might grow into a big application. This is true for both free and closed software. Of course there are incremental improvements to existing projects that can be quite creative, but even they will find their way into the official version faster in a smaller project.

Not that there is any shame in making the most of other people's good ideas:
One of the most direct advantages Free Software has is that innovations from multiple sources are contributed to the one codebase, so that the resulting software has the best of everything.

Look on the bleeding-edge... (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604358)

reiser4, for metadata and atomicity in the fs, and the file-as-a-directory concept. True, it's backed by a company (namesys), but as I understand it, very few people actually work on it and the employees of that company don't make much of a living, so there's little greed involved.

freenet, for being the first attempt at a truly anit-censorship, anti-monitoring network.

And, in a more practical sense, most "new" features of MS products have been in open source for years before we even hear of the possibility of an MS version, and many of them existed before the first opensource version still in common use.

In no particular order, we have window grouping in XP, globally themable/skinnable UI, tabbed browsing, virtual desktops/workspaces, tab-completion in terminal, command history in terminal, booting and running from any medium (cd, floppy, network), advanced bootloaders (multi, menus, graphical with graphical reconfigure at boot time (xosl)), translucent window dragging, fs permissions (for multiple user accounts), functional applets in our toolbars (not just right-clicking), ability to access random stuff as a filesystem (ftp, ssh...), distributed network filesystems, secure remote access, reload/reconfigure drivers or install new ones without rebooting, do most anything without rebooting, automate most everything including full system updates, filesystems that don't fragment easily...

The list goes on. I'm not sure how "clean" that list is -- many of the items may have originated as closed-source -- but Microsoft never, ever innovates, it merely embraces/extends/tramples new stuff.

DDD? (1)

Kickasso (210195) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604526)

Meh. Stolen (sorry, innovated) from the CaseVision aka cvd on IRIX.

grip and digital dj beat itunes to the punch (2, Interesting)

luge (4808) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604563)

Now, grip and digital dj were not exactly the easiest programs in the world to use, but they had the idea for audio CD->ripping->music management database in late 1998- itunes didn't 'innovate' the same idea for two more years, in January of 2001.

Hello World (0)

FullMetalAlchemist (811118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604632)

Hello World!

MediaWiki and Lilypond (1)

merphant (672048) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604716)

My two favorite open source projects are MediaWiki and GNU Lilypond.

MediaWiki is Wikipedia's kickass wiki implementation that has tons of cool features. Wiki was around before MediaWiki, sure, but MW pretty much sets the bar. And of course it powers Wikpedia and all of its sister projects, which are pretty amazing and innovative too.

GNU Lilypond is a music typesetter that aims to produce beautiful sheet music. This is cool because most computer-printed scores look like crap. Lilypond gets flak because it has no dedicated GUI; you have to write the syntax in ASCII (UTF-8 is in the dev version), like a music programming language. But who cares, its syntax is a context-free grammar, which means it's theoretically easy for GUI score editors to pipe output to Lilypond for printing. Now if they would just come up with a more stable syntax... :-p

And of course there's things like the WikiTeX extension for MediaWiki that lets you embed Lilypond code (and TeX, and SVG, and lots of other stuff) into wiki code...

ddd? (1)

EnglishTim (9662) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604863)

DDD? Is this some kind of a joke?

innovative software often starts out open source (1)

jeif1k (809151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605041)

In my experience, a lot of innovative software actually starts out in open source form. X11, for example, started out that way. Zoomable user interfaces started out open source. GUI specification languages (now represented by XUL and whatever Longhorn may get) started out in open source form. Entire categories of games started out as open source software. Chat software, innovative mail and news clients, new Internet protocols, etc., all were initially available in open source form.

The usual path for software seems to be that academics have a bright idea and bring out a rough initial version in open source form. People play around with that in the community and then some companies form to commercialize the technology. Eventually, the open source community takes notice (and may even forget about the original research code) and reimplement the commercial versions in open source form.

Furthermore, the companies that actually succeed with a product or new idea are often (usually?) not the ones that invented the technology in the first place.

GPL (3, Insightful)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605052)

If there is anything that will ever be considered revolutionary it's the GPL. This liscense is the sort of thing our grandchildren will read about. I would also assert that this is still innovative, as most people who use computers don't know what it's about. It is our declaration of freedom and it deserves more attention from the media than it has gotten (none). I personally beleive the most innovative thing in OSS right now is the liscences and the people who are reading them for the first time.

Re:GPL (0)

FullMetalAlchemist (811118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605073)

When licenses are considered innovative, hell, this has really become a fucked up world.

People who are innovative want something in return for their efforts.
In case of OSS software which is innovative, like BitTorrent, creator uses the buzz to cash in on related project; like real cash or more research grants.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that they get money in return, directly or indirectly. Money is freedom in this world, and it's more likely that they continue to support us with further developments.

Re:GPL (1)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 9 years ago | (#11612935)

Your exactly right this is a messed up world. Microsoft is proof of that. My point is the if it weren't for the liscenses there wouldn't be OSS. SCO and every other corporate entity with a collective I.Q. of 30 would see the profit potential in taking free code and selling it. Then there is the software you buy, I own my computer hardware, paid $100.00 for win XP which isn't much more than an O.S. and I do not own it.

It's code that was written once, is barely updated and was copied millions of times and sold on what is basically a rental agreement.(WTF)

Beyond that I think OSS is about human rights we have a right to understand our computers and adjust them to our needs. Buying windows is like buying a car that had it's hood welded shut, you can't fix it, your not allowed to fix it, your not even supposed to know what the parts of the engine do. As far as the money that individual programmers make, great, good for them, I'm glad they didn't work for Bill.

Re:GPL (1)

FullMetalAlchemist (811118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11615763)

The thing is, noone can fix a modern car if the problem is in the electronics etc. Even the manufacturer doesn't fix the problem, they simply replace the parts that are broken.

The modern car is so complex that no single person can fix them.
Comertial software today is largly the same, it's nice to have Sun come down here and identify the problem and get the entire Solaris team to work and fix bugs.

I'm not arguing against OSS, I'm just saying that in most cases comertial software is more than adequate, and many it's the only alternative.

I'v been a BSD user for more than a decade and a UNIX user for two decades, so I'm not against OSS, it's just that comertial software fits my needs better in most cases. catalog (1)

Yumpee (32901) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605147) [] is a catalog of innovative free software. no longer updated but still browse-worthy.

Maybe a different definition... (2, Insightful)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 9 years ago | (#11605721)

Neither of the given examples are very innovative.

DDD was done 15+ years ago with CodeCenter/ObjectCenter. Boost looks a lot like RogueWave libraries.

Most OSS projects are playing catchup with some product in the commerical world, innovation is hard to find. A couple that come to mind are Struts and Cocoon. Both of these frameworks where different from any other web framework, at the time.

LyX - What You See Is What You Mean (2, Interesting)

WillAdams (45638) | more than 9 years ago | (#11607057)

as opposed to WYSIWYG.

Available at

excellent explanation as to why here:


Re:LyX - What You See Is What You Mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11638166)

Pretty good software. Thanks for the link

Darcs (1)

Earlybird (56426) | more than 9 years ago | (#11609201)

Darcs [] , a simple, human-friendly, completely distributed version control system. Does away with dedicated servers (even your desktop can be a "server"), branches (every repository is a branch) and CVS warts (tracks renames, deletes, directories).

Dashboard (1)

psykocrime (61037) | more than 9 years ago | (#11609506)

Dashboard []
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