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Trouble With Open Source?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 9 years ago | from the devils-advocate dept.

Software 523

George Russell writes "Stephen J Marshall, writing in the BCS online magazine, provides a cogent argument detailing the ills of Open Source Software for the software industry - namely, the lack of conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation together with the issue of ownership of OSS developed under the current Intellectual Property laws. Do these issues concern you?"

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Do these issues concern you? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590238)

Nope.

Re:Do these issues concern you? (0, Redundant)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590254)

Ditto.

Re:Do these issues concern you? (1)

thc69 (98798) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590257)

me too

(Haven't you ever read a help forum?)
(No?)
(Well, screw you, too!)

Re:Do these issues concern you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590270)

Doesn't concern me either. Why should I care if OSS stays marginalized? It's not like it will make me any money if it becomes more mainstream.

Re:Do these issues concern you? (5, Insightful)

jrockway (229604) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590278)

You took the words right out of my mouth :)

Seriously, if you don't like open source then you're free to get your software somewhere else. The fact that people even write articles like this really says something -- that the traditional industry is afraid of open source. It makes sense that an industry that sells virus-infected software for $200 a pop is afraid of a kind of software that doesn't cost any money and has most of its critical bugs fixed in a week.

But, if you don't like that, nobody's forcing you to use it. Don't like Linux? Don't use it! Whining about how it's unprofessional or unsafe or whatever isn't going to solve any of your problems. Try writing software that's better or cheaper... if you can't do that then you need a new industry. (Oh, I have an idea. Let's make OSS illegal since it hurts business. It worked for P2P and the music industry, right?)

fuck gnaa (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590239)

frost piss
fuck gnaa

answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590244)

no

Hrmph. (4, Insightful)

nurhussein (864532) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590255)

Do these issues concern you?

No.

Where do these people think up these imaginary problems? "Lack of conceptual integrity"? "Lack of innovation"? The open source community has been a source of quality software and helpful guidance for as long as I've used it (YMMV of course). But I've never had the troubles which always get paraded about in the media.

Re:Hrmph. (2)

InodoroPereyra (514794) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590339)

Where do these people think up these imaginary problems? "Lack of conceptual integrity"? "Lack of innovation"? The open source community has been a source of quality software and helpful guidance for as long as I've used it (YMMV of course).
Exactly. And let's cite a few examples:
  • Apache.
  • OpenOffice.
  • Linux Kernel, BSD Kernel.
  • KDE, GNOME.
  • Samba
  • Mozilla suite, Firefox
And I am leaving a lot of large scale, succesfull, profesional grade, conceptually integral and in many cases innovative Open Sourve / Free software. Many of them more industry specific, like JBoss.

And for God's sake, not every fscking project needs to be innovative, all right ?

Re:Hrmph. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590343)

I have always felt that Linux [redhat.com] is a nice operating system (for hobbyists and geeks), but there are some areas where it is seriously lacking, especially when compared to its main competitor, Microsoft Windows [microsoft.com] .

* File sharing. Windows has long been superior when it comes to making large amounts of files available to third parties. Even early versions of Windows automatically detected and made available all directories thanks to the built in NetBIOS-powered file sharing support. But Microsoft has realized that this technology is inherently limited and has added even better file sharing support to its Windows XP operating system [toastytech.com] . Universal Plug and Play will make it possible to literally access any file, from any device! I think universal file sharing support needs to be built into the Linux kernel soon. [esecurityplanet.com]

* Intelligent agents. With innovations like Clippy [slashdot.org] , the talking paperclip and Microsoft Bob [windowsbeta.net] , Microsoft has always tried to make life easier for its customers. With Outlook and Outlook Express [ximian.com] , Microsoft has built a framework for developers to create even smarter agents. Especially popular agents include "Sircam", which automatically asks the users' friends for advice on files he is working on and the "Hybris" agent, which is a self-replicating copy of a humorous take on "Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves" (the real story!). [compedit.com] Microsoft is working on expanding this P2P technology to its web servers [netscape.com] . This project is still in the beta stage, thus the name "Code Red". The next versions will be called "Code Yellow" and "Code Green".

* Version numbers. Linux has real naming problems. What's the difference between a 2.4.19 and a 2.2.17 kernel anyway? And what's with those odd and even numbers? Microsoft has always had clear and sophisticated naming/versioning policies. For example, Windows 95 [kde.org] was named Windows 95 because it was released in 1995. Windows 98 [kde.org] was released three years later, and so on. Windows XP [apple.com] brought a whole new "experience" to the user, therefore the name. I suggest that the next Linux kernel releases be called Linux 03, Linux 04, Linux 04.5 (OSR1),
Linux 04.7B (OSR2 SP4 OEM), Linux 2005 and Linux VD (Valentine's Day edition). Furthermore, remember how Microsoft named every upcoming version of Windows after some Egyptian city? Cairo, Chicago and so on. I think that the development kernels should be named after Spanish cities to celebrate Linux' Spanish origins. Linux Milano [alyssa.com] or Linux Rome [nero.com] anyone?

* Multi-User Support. This has always been one of Microsoft's strong sides, especially in the Windows 95/98 [kde.org] variants, where passwords were completely unnecessary. Microsoft has made the right decision by not bothering the user
with a distinction between "normal" and "root" users too much -- practice has shown that average users can be trusted to act responsibly and in full awareness of the potential consequences of their actions. After all, if your operating system doesn't trust you, why should you trust it? (To be fair, Linux is making some progress here with the Lindows distribution, where users are always running as root.)

With Windows XP, Microsoft has again improved multi-user support. Not only does Windows XP come with a large library of user pictures that are displayed on the login screen, such as a guitar and a flower, it also has "quick user change". This makes it possible to login as a different user with a simple keyboard shortcut, and the good news is: programs from the old user keep running in the background! Beat that, Linux!

* Programmability. Microsoft has always been known for making computer machine power accessible to end users. The operating system comes with many helpful tools such as VBScript, a programming language especially useful for developing intelligent agents as mentioned above, and QBASIC, a truly innovative "hacker" tool that makes it possible to develop even sophisticated applications without much foreknowledge. Scripts can even be embedded into documents such as Word files. This together with the mind-blowing Windows XP shell, which now also has amazing features like "autocompletion" (you no longer have to type all those long paths) and a scrollback buffer, makes Windows XP the "hacker's choice". Linux should stop "dumbing down" users with pretty pictures such as in KDE or GNOME. Also, I think that a BASIC interpreter should be an unremovable component of the Linux kernel.

I also find it disappointing that Linux has not embraced new technologies such as Digital Rights Management [gentoo.org] which will finally make it profitable for artists to sell their intellectual property on the web. The content industry has calculated that it loses about 450 trillion dollars per day to piracy. If this continues, the economic effects will be devastating. Richard Stallman has supported DRM for years and made it a fixed part of his GNU/Hurd operating system -- Linux should not hold back progress in this important area. DRM should be made part of the Linux Standard Base (LSB), and Linux distributors should put "DMCA-Compliant" buttons on their websites. We all know that Linux would never have been created without strong intellectual property protection as enforced by the FSF, so let's not be hypocritical.

On the plus side, I have found Linux an absolutely superior operating system for viewing pornography. Porn [manhole.com] is loading much faster than on Windows, especially with the Cox and Love kernel patches and powerful porn browsers such as Pornzilla. This is truly an operating system written by geeks, for geeks!

Re:Hrmph. (2, Funny)

AndreiK (908718) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590391)

The scary thing is, I thought you were serious until that DRM part.

Re:Hrmph. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590416)

How many open source projects can you name that don't have a better closed source equivalent? Any number of application servers are better than jboss. PHP and every product released on it are complete junk. Every major DBMS is better than mysql, postgresql, etc. Gnome and KDE are ridiculous memory hogs compared to their Windows equivalent. IDEA is better than Eclipse. Firefox is good but only because MS has totally ignored IE over the past several years. Firefox crashes on me at least once a day and leaks memory like a mofo on both Windows and Linux. SugarCRM is a joke compared to Salesforce.com. OpenOffice lacks the collaboration and data integration features of Office. The list goes on....

The only decent open source projects have major company backing or are trivial programs (like GNU ls, sort, etc., which are better than their closed-source counterparts). Also, emacs, though it is just starting to show its age without proper refactoring support and other niceties of modern editors. Without the help of Redhat, Novell, IBM, Oracle, etc., Linux and Apache would be a mass of untested code, crashing with every other module or driver. Same with Java. Though it's open source, Sun controls the process very strongly to keep the quality of the JRE up to standards.

Not really (4, Insightful)

vectorian798 (792613) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590259)

He points out things like 'conceptual integrity' and 'professionalism' and 'innovation', things that can be found in many OSS projects. What bothers me about writing open source code is simple: Where is my money.

Many say, that you should make money off support. However, that is plain stupid because the software is the hard part, the part that interests me, the part that I want to be paid for instead of something like support.

The reason I support many OSS is one thing: excellence of product, like Linus.

They concern me, but apply equally to proprietary (2, Informative)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590287)

So... is most shrinkwrap proprietary software noted for its conceptual integrity or innovation?

'Professionalism' is rather a loaded word, see Phil G.'s notes [greenspun.com] on it.

Wrong... (2, Insightful)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590312)

Sales and support are the hard part. Writing the code is easy.

Re:Not really (2, Interesting)

MrAndrews (456547) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590396)

Aha! Exactly the point I've been trying to make, and phrased perfectly! If you spend your time professionally supporting your own code, your coding time is your hobby just as much as working for Company X and programming at night.

Now, to extend that a bit further: if there were a mechanism by which you, as a programmer, could work at your code full-time, people would then naturally assume "conceptual integrity", "professionalism" and you'd have far more time (and fewer restrictions) to achieve proper "innovation".

So really, this comes down to earning money from lines written, which requires something akin to a royalty set-up, which is immensely do-able, but I'm sure will never be implemented because there's a bizarre dislike of all things monetary built into the mind of the average GPL proponent. Which is not to say ALL of them, but a great many.

So yes. Keep on supporting the code. It's your best bet.

Re:Not really (1)

tuxforever (876300) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590404)

Support does not solely consist of help desk, mind you. Often companies need a product to be tailored to their particular needs, and who better to do the tailoring than the company that originally conceived the product? You see, now companies are being paid to constantly evolve a product, instead of seeing how long they can capitalize on a stagnant one, for want of larger profit margins.

One business model (2, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590456)


Many say, that you should make money off support. However, that is plain stupid because the software is the hard part, the part that interests me, the part that I want to be paid for instead of something like support.


Define support.... Does support include charging customers an hourly rate to help companies impliment the software optimally? Does support include adding features that some customers may want and charging for your time? There is a lot more to support than support incident resolution.

So how is proprietary software less affected by... (2, Insightful)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590260)

...the lack of conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation
?

Re:So how is proprietary software less affected by (0, Redundant)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590275)

He's obviously never used Open Office or a while freaking boatload of other OSS products (The Gimp?) that are high quality.

Bittorrent is OSS and its about the most innovative thing in P2P that's happened in the last few years.

Re:So how is proprietary software less affected by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590293)

Without prompt action, my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?
i need a MBCS CITP to say this?, i've seen better trolls here.

Re:So how is proprietary software less affected by (1)

MPHellwig (847067) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590405)

Well for starters, you pay big money
When you finaly realize that you're vendor locked-in, have payed too much money for bug infested, non-working, illogical constructed program with helpdesk support that sucks.
You also realize that the only one to blame is yourself. So to keep your ass from getting fired, you write a memo to come to the conclusion that paying for not knowing how (non)functional your software is better than having the choice of supporting software-houses working on _your_ software.

wrong on three counts (or 2.5) (4, Insightful)

platypus (18156) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590264)

Professionalism: wrong - all in all most of the OSS I see is more professionally done than the closed sourced crap I have to work with.

Conceptual Integrity: Totally wrong, see above. Yes, there are damn good closed source products, but the same is true for some OSS stuff. I cannot be assed to provide examples, but it's easy for everybody taking having have a clue. Yes, there is totally rubbish OSS around, but first, it's just a function of the mass of what is out there, and second, the same is also true for closed source stuff.

Innovation: Half true, but OTOH, there are many examples where the fact that something is OSS drives innovation in a way that wouldn't be possible with closed source. Internet Explorer for example would've been forked long ago if it was open source.

Re:wrong on three counts (or 2.5) (1, Insightful)

Tyler Eaves (344284) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590426)

Professionalism: wrong - all in all most of the OSS I see is more professionally done than the closed sourced crap I have to work with. Umm, yea. That's why there are so many sites peppered with "Windoze", "M$", etc. There are certainly professional OSS sites out there, but there are also quite a few supposed "software" sites that seem to serve as nothing more than a place for the author to rant and rave.

Innovation (5, Insightful)

daniil (775990) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590265)

Innovation: The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.

There is, of course, anecdotal evidence pointing to the contrary, but I would definitely agree with this diagnosis. I would, however, argue that this is exactly where the strength of OSS lies: in producing reliable software (reliable because its strengths and weaknesses are well-known). It's like common sense -- not always the best answer, but it works.

Re:Innovation (4, Interesting)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590331)

Heh, we (programmers) are often told (by our usability groups) that the direction we need to go in is to first do what is familiar to the user. And so we must copy MS first, then innovate second. I hate it as much as anyone, but that's what people are used to. If we innovate and make it different, people then complain about the high TCO from switching and relearning.

(I'm a KDE developer. And yes we have usability groups.)

Re:Innovation (4, Insightful)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590358)

What the man said happens with any piece of software. Remember Wordstar? Wordperfect? Microsoft Word?

Again: Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel.

Once more: Harvard Graphics, Microsoft Powerpoint.

Need I go on?

Innovation, now there's an abused word (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590424)

I think the author of the FA is confusing real innovation with marketing buzzwords. Yes, it's true, FOSS software doesn't have the adversizing budget commercial software has, so it isn't as able to make as much an impression on gullible idiots who write articles.

As someone who is doing some innovative work, IMHO and maybe that of some researchers in that field, I wish innovation mattered more. But the truth is it doesn't matter all that much. Form matters much more than substance. You can be much more successful taking an old concept and putting some flashy superficial features on it than by coming up with innovative ideas. The old say about pioneers still holds true. You could tell who they were, they were the ones with the arrows in their backs.

My biggest issue with open source software (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590266)

My biggest problem with open source software is that the vast majority of open source software projects end up in some sort of limbo at an incomplete stage; there are several projects that have a lot of promise that have not been updated in 2 years (and most likely never will see another update). On top of that few people are willing to pick up where someone else has left off and complete these projects so they're somewhat useless.

Re:My biggest issue with open source software (1)

FidelCatsro (861135) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590309)

The same thing happens with many closed source projects . Though the advantage of open source corpse-ware is that it can more easily be resurrected .
Though I am not sure if its the majority of actual projects .. unless you count vapour-ware

No innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590272)

Person 1: I believe there is more innovation in open source than in commercial apps
Person 2: I disagree, I believe there is no innovation in open source and only highly paid executives can innovate. Look at clippy!
Person 3: I disagree. Only apple MACOSX has innovation. That's why I gave this shitload of money for this crap G5 CPU.

Go figure.

Article contradicts itelf (3, Insightful)

PaxTech (103481) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590274)

The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.

A continued shift towards OSS solutions at the expense of proprietary ones is likely to result in many of the companies that develop proprietary software going out of business. This might not be such a bad thing, as I'm sure that many of us would secretly welcome the collapse of the virtual monopoly that currently exists in the desktop software market. However, the first companies affected are likely to be the small but highly innovative firms, which are the lifeblood of the software industry, not the giant corporations that we all love to hate.


Open source doesn't have imagination or innovation, yet is likely to put innovators out of business? This makes no sense. OSS will tend to put non-innovators out of business IMO, while innovators will still be able to sell proprietary software because of their innovations.

Then later the author pooh-poohs OSS because "it is clearly not the panacea for all the software industry's ailments". Who ever said it was? Reading blatant strawman attacks like this make me wonder what the author's motivations are.

OSS is *good* for competition and innovation (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590439)

Open source doesn't have imagination or innovation, yet is likely to put innovators out of business? This makes no sense. OSS will tend to put non-innovators out of business IMO, while innovators will still be able to sell proprietary software because of their innovations.

So true! I'll just expand on that slightly. OSS is a force for commoditization. It is when industry leaders are allowed to rest on their laurels (American automobile industry, anyone?) that innovation disappears. When there are relentless forces pushing existing technology toward commodity status, market leaders are forced to innovate.

With that in mind, it is baffling to me that free market advocates don't embrace OSS as a non-regulatory means of avoiding anti-competitive monopoly situations. Does anyone really believe that the emergence of OSS hasn't forced Oracle, Microsoft, et. al. to provide at least some products and services that they wouldn't have otherwise offered?

Hmm (4, Interesting)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590279)

The responses to this will be predicatable. Outrage, point-by-point counterpoints etc.

So instead, lets discuss why they published such a piece. What was their motivation here?

I've read the BCS magazine on many occasions, and often found it to be factually incorrect from over-simplification. This is a magazine that is aimed middle managers.

This particular article is a Member view. Is this just someones blog piece, or a regular column writer? Does this piece matter at all?

The real story... (4, Insightful)

passthecrackpipe (598773) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590403)

...is hidden in the last paragraph:

What we really need from government is an investigation of the long-term effects of OSS on our indigenous software industry, assistance to combat the threat to the industry's livelihood that OSS might pose and the development of a strategy to build on the opportunities that OSS has created. Without prompt action, my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?
 
in other words: OSS is going to take away my gravy train!!

Only when it goes wrong (1)

varmittang (849469) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590280)

We truefully don't hear about how well the Open Source works together and how conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation in the news. You only hear about the times when Open Source has problems, such as the take over of websites and taking of money by unprofessional A-holes [slashdot.org] .

Re:Only when it goes wrong (1)

jrockway (229604) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590315)

What does the MethLabs whining have to do with OSS? Nothing.

Most people judge the OSS movement by the "big players" like Linux, Apache, MySQL, etc. Not some P2P plugin that blocks teh gubmint.

(Not that this is necessarily fair, I think there are much better OSS products, like OpenBSD/OpenSSH, GNU, Perl, etc. Apache and MySQL are bloated to the point of being nearly useless.)

Ease of Use (1)

XalNaga (910002) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590282)

Most of the Open Source software I use is pretty much in polished form, such as Firefox and OpenOffice. However, I do know of a metric ton of apps that are extremely difficult to use.

Eg. (1)

Winckle (870180) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590419)

Windows

Intellectual Property (5, Insightful)

yfkar (866011) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590285)

I found the whole IP thing completely ridiculous. Why shouldn't an employee be allowed to create software for himself on his free time without the rights going to the company? Especially if the software doesn't have anything to do with the specific company. Hooray for IP capitalism!

Re:Intellectual Property (5, Informative)

Skreems (598317) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590324)

You're completely right. In fact, not only SHOULD they be able to, they ARE able to. The employee contract for most businesses states that employee code written in free time belongs to the employing company ONLY if it derives significantly from the work the employee is doing for pay. That means that while someone working on the Vista kernel wouldn't legally be allowed to contribute code to the Linux kernel, they're more than welcome to work on Firefox, for example, or GIMP, or basically any other product that doesn't parallel kernel programming.

Before I get flamed, let me point out that I realize there's also usually a clause that states you can't compete with the employing companies products in your outside work, so Firefox would be out of bounds for a MS employee. The point remains, though.

Re:Intellectual Property (1)

kabz (770151) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590366)

This is interesting, because the author essentially says that most professionally employed programmers are essentially slaves bonded to their employers.

That's a pretty strong point which would be interesting to see tested.

What he misses however, are that the main contributors to open source software are large companies such as IBM, SUN etc., who see open source as a way to win mindshare and promote their own platforms.

As far as professionalism goes, most closed-source companies have a *lot* to learn from the best practices in open source. Just think of the NT source code as an example.

Re:Intellectual Property (1)

jrockway (229604) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590368)

I believe that M$ has a clause in their contract that says you can't even look at GPL'd software. I know a few people at my school that were suckered into working there and now they can't work on OSS for a few years, or something. M$ sucks.

Re:Intellectual Property (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590433)

I believe that M$ has a clause in their contract that says you can't even look at GPL'd software. I know a few people at my school that were suckered into working there and now they can't work on OSS for a few years, or something.

Is that legal in the US? I doubt it would stand up in the UK if it was simply a cover-all "can't touch OSS", or whatever.

Bear in mind some companies will put all sorts of garbage into contracts and so on, in the hope that some of it sticks- or more likely, that people won't want to take the effort to prove that the clause is illegal.

Of course, if a company puts a transparently non-enforcable (by the laws of one's own country) clause in a contract, you could probably sign it, ignore it when you left, and tell the company where to go.

Straw man argument (3, Interesting)

try_anything (880404) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590286)

The article asserts a variety of ludicrous ideas as common conceptions about OSS. It's impossible to take seriously.

I'll grant that the point about conceptual integrity may have merit. Distributed development makes conceptual integrity very hard to maintain. But how do I know that? Through commercial experience. It only applies to OSS because almost all OSS projects are distributed.

Frankly, the ideas attributed in this article to OSS people are so alien and fantastic that I doubt the author has even read any of the basic writings about open source or studied a single open source project.

hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590288)

Professionalism in the gaming industry- i guess thats why most games just look and act the same, as opposed to earlier games, by so called bedroom developers (like ehhh the old sierra) that made really awsome games for the time.

ok.ok so some of the arguements are well put, but still...

Of course they concern me (5, Interesting)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590295)

As someone who is directly underneath the CIO at our company, I'm frequently called upon to come up with the "execution" portion of the CIO's "big picture" strategies. This means I'm the guy that reviews all the options, compiles the case studies, and presents the final plan for approval to the board.

I consider myself to be a non-partisan technologist, meaning I'll use whatever platform or software that best fits the needs of the company, but what a lot of FOSS proponents seem incapable of grasping is that there's more to software and OS's than "power" and "technical elegance." There's user inteface design, documentation, and consistent professional support to be considered in any enterprise implementation. Saying that Bob's XYZ Library of Useful Widgets can do it all just as well as Bill & Steve's Really Expensive Library of Useful Widgets is only part of this equation. Just writing the damned software and slapping it in an RPM does not finish the project!

I can't begin to tell you my frustration at the current state of a lot of FOSS projects. I see some really good ideas, some fantastic concepts, some really bright people...but by and large their efforts are uncoordinated, poorly documented, and lacking in professionalism. It's hard enough getting stodgy company boards to accept that there's something out there besides Windows. It doesn't help when the application you're trying to sell them on is maintained by some 18-year-old geek with a ponytail and Cheetos dust all over his keyboard. I don't care if he is a genius, his product is generally unmarketable to a board because you can't convince The Powers That Be that his software is a serious contender.

Every year when I put our budget together, I cringe at the amount of dough we send to Redmond. But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice. Home users can get away with using half-baked stuff, but enterprises are far pickier.

Note that there are some shining stars of Open Source (not free, usually) that are producing quality products that beat the pants off some of the closed-source boys, and there are some FOSS projects that stand above all the rest. However, taken as a whole, so much of the FOSS we review looks more like the results of a college programming project and not like a serious business application. Perhaps it looks that way because the still-wet-behind-the-ears developers are still thinking about developing it in that way. More's the pity.

Too bad (4, Insightful)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590355)

But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice.

Maybe, just maybe, most FOSS developers treat it like a hobby because it is a hobby. If you're not willing to pay them, stop whining about how they're not doing exactly what you want.

Re:Too bad (3, Insightful)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590397)

Maybe, just maybe, most FOSS developers treat it like a hobby because it is a hobby. If you're not willing to pay them, stop whining about how they're not doing exactly what you want.

If they want to be paid, they must first come forward with a marketable product. This isn't "hey, I'll pay you and then you make something," it's "hey, if you make something good I'll pay for it."

You seem to misunderstand how business works in the real world. That is also a common failing of lots of FOSS developers who assume everyone will beat a path to their door instead of the other way around. The whole "if you build it, they will come" argument is very true, but you have to build it first. Half-baked pre-alpha code does not encourage people to pay you large sums of money for a finished product...unless, of course, you're Microsoft.

Re:Too bad (1)

Etyenne (4915) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590455)

Both RedHat and Novell would come to you with marketable products. Remember, if you want shrink-wrap solution, you need to shop for shrink-wrap solution, and Sourceforge do not sell shrink-wrap solution (where RedHat and Novell do). But don't cringe about the price tag, because all that wrapping is costing mhtem oney, and this cost is being passed to you, the customer. Not that there is anything wrong with it, if you already pay for closed-source commercial software.

In the meantime, I make a living installing and supporting the applications you snob, and it cost my clients a fraction of the price of shrink-wrap software. Go figure.

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

k-zed (92087) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590365)

As soon as FOSS starts treating writing software as a business and not a hobby, the IT world goes to hell. I have always believed the exact reason proprietary software is inferior to OSS is because the difference in attitude. What is more, true innovation cannot exist in a business atmosphere - all of today's innovation is the work of the playful genius at home. That they bring it to the office the next day is another (sad) issue.

(Oh. "Lack of documentation...." there is -no- closed source software that can match the abundance of documentation and especially the thriving user society of any open source enterprise. Of course, the source code also counts as documentation.)

Re:Of course they concern me (2, Informative)

mgkimsal2 (200677) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590375)

I've had the same issues with open source projects *AND* even closed source products that were a 'business'. I was at a company which spent 5 figures on a time tracking system which was supposed to 'integrate' with MS Project. *After* purchasing, we found it didn't do what we were told it did. Caveat emptor, etc. but what do you do? It had 'documentation', a 'support' number with people answering the phones, all the requisites of what people consider necessary for a 'business', but the product was broken for our needs. We were *lied* to, flat out, but had no recourse short of legal action. Should we have pursued that? Possibly, but that is more money and time pursuing something which has an unsure outcome.

Yes, there are more bad/unprofessional OSS projects out there than good, but it seems to be an equal problem for software in general, not something which only affects OSS.

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590386)

I'm a linux developer, and I don't get your point at all.

If you want to deal with a company, then deal with a company. Use Novell's SuSE for example, and get a support contract with them. The will insure that the apps they provide will be maintained for 5+ years (depending on your contract).

Who cares if the app is maintained by an 18 year old geek. How is this different from the proprietary world? If you want a level of guarantee, maintenance and support then get a support contract!

Re:Of course they concern me (1, Insightful)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590432)

I'm a linux developer, and I don't get your point at all. If you want to deal with a company, then deal with a company.

This is exactly what we do. But then everybody on /. whines about how FOSS it the best, FOSS rules the world, FOSS is the only real solution to any problem, and anyone who spends any money on commercial software is a fool.

You can't have it both ways, guys. You keep trying, but you can't. Either embrace the fact that enterprises demand enterprise-level services and thus most FOSS is completely innappropriate, or bring FOSS up to enterprise-level standards.

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590406)

Every year when I put our budget together, I cringe at the amount of dough we send to Redmond. But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice. Home users can get away with using half-baked stuff, but enterprises are far pickier.

I could not care less. I contribute to open source because I feel like it, and of course I work on whatever I choose to. If an enterprise want's me to do something specific that I just don't happen to be very interested in, they better pay me.

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590430)

As someone who is directly underneath the CIO at our company

You mean, you're his hot, nubile admin?

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590437)

The company that is able to forgo these burdonesome preconceptions and recognize good ideas for what they are, no matter what the source, will eventually outshine any company that doesn't. I suggest you try to get your company's culture to change for its own good.

Whu....? (1)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590440)

Home users can get away with using half-baked stuff, but enterprises are far pickier.
Hardly. I've worked for very large companies (F-10s), and if one thing they have in common is they constantly settle for 1/2-baked CARP, because the CIO happened to read some glossy ad on the plane back from Brussels, so now we have to go buy FuggaWigit 1.0, at $250/seat, spend 3/4 a mill trying to get that pig implemented with our existing systems (you ever tried to integrate ANYTHING with SAP? Whoever wrote that POS needs to die), and ignore the fact that there are cheaper/better (some are even FOSS!) products that do the same as FuggaWigit, but they don't have glossy ads on the in-flight mag from Brussels.

Oh, and Mr. CIO doesn't give a flip, because he'll get promoted to Brussels before the project is completed, so he won't have to deal with the fallout.

Re:Of course they concern me (2, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590442)

much of the FOSS we review looks more like the results of a college programming project and not like a serious business application. Perhaps it looks that way because the still-wet-behind-the-ears developers are still thinking about developing it in that way.

First, the "web behind the ears" jab is both unnecessary and highly inaccurate. Second, why would you possibly expect them to think about it any other way? People who write software for fun, or to solve their own problem have no need and no desire to polish it up so it looks like a "serious business application"! They can make it work, and work very well, and that's really all they care about. They often do derive some pleasure from the fact that others get use out of it, but not only is that not a strong enough motivation to polish and support it the way you would like, it's a motivation that gets squashed in a hurry by attitudes like yours.

If you want software that has "user inteface design, documentation, and consistent professional support" then you are going to have to buy it. That's never going to change. Just accept it. Now, there are multiple ways to buy such software. You can do it by:

  1. Paying a commercial vendor like Microsoft for closed-source software. This approach has advantages and disadvantages.
  2. Paying a commercial vendor like Red Hat for open source software and support. This approach will probably cost you quite a bit of money, though perhaps less than the previous option. Documentation, usability studies and professional support are not fun and cost money, so the community is almost never going to do them.
  3. Paying your own employees to take the high-grade raw materials available and, effectively, create the "serious business applications", by filling in the documentation and learning to support the software. Whether this will cost more or less than options 1 or 2 depends on many, many variables. Whether or not you can sell it to the board is another question that depends more on you and your board than on the software.

Just writing the damned software and slapping it in an RPM does not finish the project!

See here's where you're wrong. Writing the damned software does finish the project. Producing an RPM isn't necessary, much less any of the other stuff you'd like to see. What finished the project from the developer's point of view doesn't provide you with what you want but that, my friend, is not his problem until you choose to pay him to take it on as his problem.

If you see lots of great software out there in FOSS land that could be fantastically useful to your business if only it were "finished", perhaps you should think about starting up a company a la Red Hat to polish, package, sell and support that software, or just wait until someone else does. If you're waiting for the community to do it in their spare time because it's so much fun... you're going to be waiting a long, long time.

Re:Of course they concern me (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590453)

"But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice. "

So... What you're really saying here is that, Free and Open Source Software will be wildly successful as soon as it stops being Free and Open Source.

I have another reason it'll be (is being) wildly successful. It's a slut. It's that tiny little bit cheaper and very promiscuous. And that's pretty much all that's required. Eventually the people who don't use it will have higher costs than those who do, will be that tiny little bit less competitive and will be eaten up by the more efficient companies.

 

So what about the heavy hitters? (4, Insightful)

Spectra72 (13146) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590296)

If you limited your idea about Open Source to the stereotypical smelly hacker in his basement, sure, this article may have merit. When you come out of that delusion though, you see that IT industry heavyweights are contributing to Open Source. Sun, IBM and others brings tons of rigor and professionalism to Open Source.

Is he saying IBM and Sun aren't professional or have conceptual integrity?

It's Self-Interested FUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590300)

The BCS have long wanted to be the organisation that decides who is allowed to write software. If they ever get their way you'll need a license to code. It's no surprise that they're not keen on Open Source as it exists outside their priesthood.

Arguments about who owns open source software and how it fits into existing IP laws are just silly. The author does or the person they've assigned the rights to. It's called copyright.

I think the article boils down to "Vested interests are opposed to low barriers to entry". Wow, I'm shocked.

Ame

One author missing the point (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590303)

Most contributions to open source projects nowadays come from major companies anyway: Redhat,Novell, IBM etc. etc. Complete commercially developed packages suddenly become open sourced.

That is how OpenOffice was created, for example: It started as plain proprietary software, created by professional developers who were paid monthly salaries by their company. Sun bought the software, and Sun developers added. All IP that couldn't be open sourced got replaced, and suddenly we have an open source application. No hackers working during lunchtime and evenings involved at all.

Re:One author missing the point (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590444)

Most contributions to open source projects nowadays come from major companies anyway: Redhat,Novell, IBM etc. etc. Complete commercially developed packages suddenly become open sourced.

Quite a few open source contributers are in effect unpaid contractors as some companies sees this as nifty way to reduce costs. There is a difference to contributing to a project like OpenBSD and a open source project with an agenda/direction set by enterprises.

only RMS's view matters? (2, Insightful)

heller (4484) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590306)

I read this in the first paragraph and decided the rest isn't worth it:

At the heart of OSS is a wonderful idealistic notion that appeals to our caring, sharing side. The OSS vision is of a world in which there are no greedy corporations run by megalomaniac billionaires intent on screwing users out of their hard-earned cash in return for bloated, unstable, insecure software which only operates properly with other products from the same manufacturer and has laughable customer support.

Someone should inform this guy that Stallman's view of OSS isn't the heart of it.

** Martin

depends (2, Interesting)

nostriluu (138310) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590307)

I don't find the article to be very intelligent. There is much more to free/open source than fluffy idealism.

And there are plenty of companies, big and small, that willfully release their software as free/open source, and plenty of individuals who are consultants, contractors, or even hobbyists who are contributing, which the author just glosses over.

In the real world, most of my projects need robust components, open source provides plenty. Since they're granular (and have always historically been so) you can usually assemble something 'innovative' pretty easily.

On the desktop it is another matter. I do use a Gnome desktop, and it does have its advantages, but there are also big cracks.

In fact, the two aspects should really be treated separately since there is a vast difference between using free/open source software for servers and software development (great), and trying to use it on the desktop (inconsistent, at best).

Innovation (1)

cperciva (102828) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590326)

I find all four of the issues listed to be somewhat concerning, but I find the lack of innovation to be the greatest cause for alarm. People regularly ridicule the USPTO for awarding patents for "[something which has been done for years]... over the Internet!", yet it seems that the vast majority of open source software operates on a model of "[rewrite a piece of existing software]... and give it away for free!", which is equally uninnovative.

This isn't to say that there is a complete lack of innovation in open source software -- if nothing else, I like to think that some of my own contributions qualify as innovative -- but I can't see how (to take some well-known projects as examples) OpenOffice is better than Microsoft Office, or Mozilla is any better than Microsoft Internet Explorer in any way other than its license.

Yes and no (4, Insightful)

mgkimsal2 (200677) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590329)

I'm sometimes concerned by some of the issues that were brought up, but then go back to thinking that these problems generally aren't solely the province of 'open source' but software in general.

Conceptual integrity
We only have to look at the history of the electronic computer to see that the greatest advances in technology have been made by brilliant, strong-willed individuals, usually supported by a small team of dedicated engineers - not community-based projects.

Some of the best open source project (most, really) tend to be started and grown by a single person or a very small group of people. After a critical mass is reached, sometimes things open up to a larger community of contributors, but the projects are already fairly well established. Compare PHP and Python - perhaps not the best examples, but close to mind right now. Python was/is primarily done by one person, and PHP seems now to be more 'community' driven, and the results are that PHP tends to have more problems with moving forward (witness the recent 4.4/5.0.5 references-changed-behaviour issue). I don't see these types of problems happening in projects with one figurehead - at least not as much.

Innovation
Yes, many open source projects are copies of 'closed source' software, but many closed source offerings are copies of other closed source offerings as well, all trying to address perceived needs in a slightly different way. I would say that it frustrates me that there's many more new ideas that could be implemented in mozilla or konqueror, for example, which aren't, and probably won't be until MS or Apple does them first, then there'll be a quick copy in the open source world. File upload progress bar is the first which comes to mind, and it'll be frustrating when MS comes out with it first (whenever that is) and watch others catch up (the built in WYSIWYG HTML editor in IE was another one).

All in all, 'open source' is at heart a method of software development, and has pros and cons. Most of the things that were mentioned aren't only an issue for open source projects. I'm working at a company which has paid money for a commercial product (accounting software and ecommerce addon) and things don't work. It's been two months and things still don't work right. We've paid money, had multiple vendors out on site, been on support lines, and they can't get it to work as it's supposed to. We're one of their first customers trying to use the software this way (I think) so this is a learning curve for them, and I've seen this happen dozens of times over the years. Why people think this is 'more acceptable' than having in-house developers working with free software, simply because you've 'paid' for something, is still a mystery to me. Downtime/lost productivity is not something you can get back, even if you get a refund of your purchase price.

Re:Yes and no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590454)

You have to copy existing stuff...If I came out with a much better OS but it is not like Windows people will not use it! Company will not pay massive retraining costs. Users will say..but it's not like what I had before...I do not understand it...I do not want to use it!

my computer seems ok (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590332)

everything seems to be working just fine, so I'll have to answer in the negatory@@@
SPELLING ERROR DETECTED: DISENGAGING SENSE OF HUMOUR

A Proposal (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590333)

[Marshall] provides a cogent argument detailing... the lack of conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation

Too bad one can't mod opening comments.... "-1000 Flamebait"

These myths have already been thoroughly debunked (3, Insightful)

cjames53 (845484) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590334)

It's hard to know where to start. Every point in this article has already been so thoroughly debunked it's silly to be dredging them up again. I suspect the author, although well meaning, simply didn't do his homework. Eric Raymond's extensive writings would be a great place to begin. I would also humbly remind everyone of my own essay, THE CARE AND FEEDING OF FOSS [moonviewscientific.com] which discusses several of these myths.

Hmm, professionalism, you say? (3, Interesting)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590338)

Wow, lets consider 2 different types of jobs.

Scientists (you know, traditional chem/physics/biology professors or reseaerchers) PUBLISH their data so others (their peers) can look at it, verify it, correct it, or just plain refute it.

For a scientist to skip this step means their research is worthless.

For a scientist to hide or mangle the data means they WILL be ostracised on any other article they write/have written.

BUT!!! For a computer "scientist" (software guy), not releasing the "research" is perfectably acceptable. It's for "the profit of the bla bla bla". There's always a reason to not do this.

Take for example, nVidia.. nVidia was going to release source for their graphics drivers. They said no, when they saw that SGI had a "stake" in it. nVidia said something to the effect "SGI will sue us if we release it". SGI came back and said that there's nothing we can sue you over. Yet to this day, anybody with an nVidia card is chained to nVidia driver updates.

If anything, Open source IS becoming more like that scientist that goes through rigorous peer review to publish VALUABLE pieces of data.

(BTW, I wonder which corporation paid him to write this crap up?)

Re:Hmm, professionalism, you say? (1)

dnaumov (453672) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590438)

"Take for example, nVidia.. nVidia was going to release source for their graphics drivers. They said no, when they saw that SGI had a "stake" in it. nVidia said something to the effect "SGI will sue us if we release it". SGI came back and said that there's nothing we can sue you over. Yet to this day, anybody with an nVidia card is chained to nVidia driver updates."

Ugh, you are so full of it... Complicated software like videocard drivers from NVIDIA are using a lot of things patented by other companies. NVIDIA pays royalties and licensing fees to these companies in order to be able to use said patented technology in their driver software. They do not have the authority to release their drivers as opensource, because that surely wouldn't fly with the companies that live off licensing their tech to companies like NVIDIA.

Cogent? Hardly. (2, Informative)

btobin (906080) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590340)

I got this far: However, when it comes to software professionals, there is no such argument. Any software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer. This is just flat wrong, at least in the US. Who owns what is governed by the contract you sign with your employer, and most employers write that contract in such a way that code you write on your own time, for projects unrelated to your job, belongs to you. They do this because, as a general rule, the broader the rights they try to assert, the less enforceable the contract becomes.

I don't know about Open Source, but... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590347)

...I know for sure that the whole BCS system is flawed. Everyone would be much happier if we just went to an 8 or 16 team playoff.

IP issues? (1)

Serious Simon (701084) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590349)

From the article:

when it comes to software professionals, there is no such argument. Any software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer.

Based on what law? In any case that is not universally so, not here in the Netherlands for example. And by the way, quite a lot of programmers are hired by their employers (Sun, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, ...) to contribute to OSS in the first place.

Ridiculous (1)

formal_entity (778568) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590351)

"Any software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer." Ehm.. yeah right.

Near-destruction of the game industry? (1)

FromWithin (627720) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590353)

What the....?

"There are uncomfortable similarities between the OSS development process and the situation that arose in the computer games industry in the early 1980s, where legions of 'bedroom programmers' produced video console games of such poor quality that, despite selling in tens of thousands, they nearly destroyed the industry."

This is just completely made-up! In the US, the game industry struggled with the glut of awful console games, but there were no bedroom programmers for consoles. You needed development kit hardware, and so would have worked directly for a game company. As far as computer games were concerned, there were no problems at all. Computer games (Apple II, VIC20, C64, Spectrum, MSX, ST, Amiga, PC, etc), requiring no development kit hardware and written by bedroom programmers, went from strength to strength. Throughout the 80's they defined the game industry, especially in Europe where consoles were few and far between in comparison.

I don't see a glut of poor-quality OSS software around, so if there are "uncomfortable similarities" between OSS and early 80's computer games, then surely OSS will only go from strength to strength?

Ego (2, Insightful)

mikejz84 (771717) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590354)

The biggest issue in the OSS community is a simple one: Ego. Open-Source proponents seem to take on a sense of narcissism that to 99.9% of the population seems pointless. For most people, apps are simply a time and money equation; and are willing to make tradeoffs depending on how valuable their time is. In addition, the blatant rip-off of some apps is surely for spite, and not to advance the development of better software. Lastly, the OSS community needs to reevaluate it's hatred of Microsoft. We can all agree in the OS department Bill does not have it together; but this often leaves the OSS community developing so many wonderful apps that are not ported to windows--leaving joe user out in the cold. The best example is this: I do technology for a not-for-profit group that has volunteers throughout our state. I am seeking a open-source groupware app for the volunteers to use (I prefer an app solution, not web based) While there are plenty of them, Kontact and alike, I can not find a single one for windows. I am not going to ask volunteers to change their home computer's OS just to one program--Yet for the OSS community developing apps that focus on the needs of most people does not seem to be that much of a priority.

Score -1, Troll (1)

theCoder (23772) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590363)

"Cogent document"? More like a giant troll. And it's not helped by the fact that the miniscule font size.

His first point about intellectual property is completely orthogonal to Open Source, since a programmer could equally create a proprietary product with the same problems. But even with that, I don't think (in my non-lawyerish way) this is a not a real problem. Any problems that do come up will be decided in a case by case basis, and we'll probably eventually have some sort of case history that allows work on outside projects not related to your employment work. Much like my current agreement with my employer.

His point about conceptual integrity has some merit, but again is orthogonal to Open Source. FOSS and proprietary software both need good design. And both have pressures against good design -- time pressures, customer needs, developers coming and leaving. Frankly, I think FOSS is better off here, since most of the design discussions are public.

Professionalism is important in some areas, and proprietary has a leg up on FOSS here, since proprietary SW can usually afford some PR or MBA person to buffer the SW people from the customer. And since FOSS programmers are usually volunteers, they are understadibly less interested in kissing butts. I guess being a SW person myself, I define professional SW as SW that works, not SW that has a nice glossy brochure. And I often love the little jokes I find in FOSS software. Some people just take life too seriously.

Finally, innovation, while important, isn't nearly as important as a good, solid system. I don't care if I'm using the system that had feature X first, as long as it has a good implementation of feature X. Linux may essentially be a copy of older UNIXes, but it does so well. My car doesn't have a heck of a lot of innovation in it -- it uses well proven technology. I don't mind my OS doing the same.

Ugh, I can't believe I wasted so much time replying to this. I should have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon :)

The usual nonsense (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590372)

Sheesh -- can't they come up with something new?
  • Intellectual property: Corporate employees contributing to F/OSS generally do so as a part of their duties and their work licensed by their employers, e.g. IBM.
  • Leadership: Riiiight. Tell it to the Linux design team, or to the crew working for Miguel de Icaza. The only difference is that in F/OSS, "leadership" is earned, not assigned.
  • Professionalism: Argued strictly from stereotyped strawmen. How about some examples of "unprofessional" standards among, say, the Apache team?
  • Innovation: I especially love this, given the way that Microsoft and others have taken to imitating F/OSS projects as their "innovative solution" sources.

Just once I'd like to see a "cogent" criticism that wasn't a rehash of long-discredited FUD,.

Of Course these are valid! (1)

Jason Mark (623951) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590380)

It's good to see this so well articulated. One way of looking at it is: Until Open Source grows up, it's not going to appeal to the masses. Another way is: Open Source is software, by geeks, for geeks, and will never be anything else. Think about the most successful Open Source projects. They're all projects that are more apt to be used by programmers than anyone else. I've done quite a bit of research into Open Source Shopping carts and CMS systems over the past couple of years, and the UI on all of them is so amazingly poor. The trick is this: If a programmer who's contributing to an open source project has a choice of adding a cool geek feature, or tweaking the UI to make it easier for novice users, what are they going to choose? That means we end up with Open Source bloat (yes it does happen) and a UI that starts being poorly planned, and gets worse with every new feature. The way the industry works now, I don't see this changing a lot. The one other place that Open Source does well is when it's an EXACT copy of something commercial (i.e. Browsers), because the UI is already designed, all that has to happen is someone has to have a friend that can make pretty buttons. The UI itself doesn't have to change.

The article is inflammatory drivel (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590387)

And you can tell by reading the first two paragraphs where the author presents a complete parody of the attitudes of OSS as if it had anything more than a faint resemblence to the truth.

And I don't think OSS software developers are captivated by the idea of a free lunch. I think there is even greater awareness among such of money issues, payment for services rendered, and the value of a professional's time.

Also, deconstructing the three main sections...

This section of the WA statutes, and this section of the MN statutes [state.mn.us] (the two states I've researched) explicity limit 'work for hire' IP ownership transfer to work done during work hours, and/or using the employer's equipment or resources. So, the IP ownership issue is significantly less fuzzy than the article's author makes it out to be.

As for conceptual integrity, ESR has written an excellent essay entitled "Homesteading the Noosphere [catb.org] which talks about project maintainers and how projects move from maintainer to maintainer, thereby maintaining conceptual integrity. It's my experience, having working in several different software shops, that OSS typically has greater conceptual integrity because the maintainers feel a significantly greater sense of ownership over the software. There is no manager or marketing person with the power to tell them what must, or must not go into the software. It's their personal decision.

As for professionalism, I see no greater boost for overall code quality than for it to be seen by potentially hundreds of other programmers who have every incentive to pick it apart and find problems with it. Sure there are 100s of low quality text editors on Freshmeat, but that isn't actually very important. It quickly becomes known which ones are worth anything.

Lastly, the 'innovation' bugaboo. To anybody who's actually familiar with Open Source projects, the existence of innovative ideas is clear. Small things like Virtual Folders in evolution to big things like Bittorrent. There are valuable new ideas to be found by the hundreds in OSS. And many projects get started because someone has an interesting new idea. They have a lot of incentive to see that idea through.

Innovation isn't churning out stuff that's so brand new everybody has to learn something completely different in order to use it. It's finding some idea that creates a valuable change and integrating it with all the other stuff that already exists. Linux is a spinoff of Unix not because the process is only capable of creating copycat software. It's a spinoff because Unix was something everyone knew, and it was good enough to not bother tossing it all out.

Brand new application categories are few and far between, and OSS has had its fair share of those. Apache was the first webserver around. And Wiki's are another category that has its genesis in OSS.

So, in short, the article is complete bunk by some guy with a preconcieved notion of how things are who can't be bothered to actually look around and figure out whether or not he's right./p.

Re:The article is inflammatory drivel (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590409)

Should've previewed first... :-(

It's this section of the WA statutes [wa.gov] .

cogent argument on Marshall? (0)

goarilla (908067) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590389)

let us write a cogent argument about marshall, i dont even know what cogent mean but heeej :D 1) paid by m$ ???? 2) talks crap, looks like crap == crap ! ... no really in my opinion all the open source alternatives i use are far superior then the commercial things i used to use example audacity beats cooledit gimp beats photoshop imho and at least most opensource devs take user feedback into notice without having to pay 50 cents/minute on helpdesk line.

The real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590394)

The one thing I was really offended by - as inded I was when I lived and worked in the UK - is the assertion that anything done by an employee in the same line, whether done on his/her own time or not, belongs to the employer.

This is perilously close to fascism. UK software developers (and other employees) should be up in arms about this.

Open Versus Closed, a Comparison (1)

Arandir (19206) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590399)

Let's compare Open Source versus closed software. For our comparison we'll pick a random sample of 100 Open Source projects from Sourceforge, and pick a random sample of 100 proprietary shareware from Download.com.

  • Confusing array of choices: both
  • Appears to be unfinished: both
  • Evidence of quality control: neither
  • Availability of professional support: neither

Does this really have to do with OSS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590402)

Or does this have more to do with hobby of amatuer software development?

It's like any other free good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590407)

Let us consider air for instance.

There is no quality control on the air that we breathe. The conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation of those sharing the air with us is severely in doubt. We should not breathe free air. We can not trust it.

 

The central argument is bogus (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590408)

The argument that software you write on your own belongs to your employer is simply not true. So, right off, the guy is starting with a fairly big lie.

Clearly a biased perspective. (2, Insightful)

MonGuSE (798397) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590412)

What we really need from government is an investigation of the long-term effects of OSS on our indigenous software industry, assistance to combat the threat to the industry's livelihood that OSS might pose and the development of a strategy to build on the opportunities that OSS has created.

If you read this guys rants A. They are all opinions and B. Most of them are incorrect because he is instantly assuming that proprietary software does no suffer from the same ills.

More importantly this guy is entirely concerned with making as much money as possible. The above statement is clearly reflective upon that. Sun, Oracle, MS, IBM, etc..etc... Are all Huge companies that are faltering against the OSS competition and have realized that it isn't just going to go away. IBM and Oracle seem to accepted it and are playing nicely, Sun is trying to pigyback on its popularity but not necesarily play nice, and MS is figting it tooth and nail and is two innovations from having a full fledge heart attack those being Acceptance of a cross platform document format and a better cross platform directory solution than exists today.

Another one of his arguments that the OSS industry is just churning out replicas of software that already exists as being bad is just preposterous. We will always need word processing software and it is vital for big business so why not an OSS solution? Same thing for Databases, OS, firewall, etc etc.. What he should be complaining about is that the OSS community has to reinvent the wheel because the proprietary solution often REFUSE to interoperate in order to facilitate customer lock in.

Lastly while it is currently true that employers own the IP of employees even if it is developed off the books, I do not see that staying that way forever. There are numerous arguments against it and no employee likes it, its just a matter of time before there is a resurgence of employee rights and the need to help the shrinking middle and growing lower class. I could turn this into a huge argument and support my statements but I just want to say that I think in the future that this will change eventually and what that catalyst will most likely be.

And then there was light ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13590418)

I knew it! Linux and FreeBSD and all they are all nothing but crap.

Some good points, but... (1)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590423)

I think a certain amount of his argument comes via mischaracterising how most popular and prevalent open source software is actually developed. He ants to envision it as the collection of 1000 lonely teenage hackers all chipping away at the code in their parents basement. Admittedly OSS has promoted itself that way in the past, but that doesn't seem to be how things really work.

Conceptual Integrity

Marshall tries to make the argument that because OSS projects are a pure design by committee hodge podge effort from hundreds of developers they have no overriding conceptual design to create a solid architecture. While that is true, to some extent, of a whole OSS OS, utlities and applications (such as a Linux distribution) it isn't really true of most of the major OSS projects. Sure there are plenty of little projects that may work that way, but most of the big ones like Linux, OpenBSD, Firefox, Samba, GIMP, most anything that's actually achieved significant mindshare, tends to have an iconic leader, or a small team of gatekeepers that head up the project and concern themselves with conceptual design and conceptual integrity. It is very rare indeed to find a major open source project that is truly an open free-for-all with no small group dictating the overall design. Hell, there seem to be a lot of people bitching abotu the fact that GNOME is run by a small group of people who are hewing tightly to their particular conceptual design. This doesn't seem to be anything like the issue Marshall makes it out to be.

Professionalism

Marshall tries to argue that OSS is like the games industry of the early 80's with a plethora of basement hackers turning out a fine array of crap. Again, in some sense this is true: trawl through Freshmeat or Sourceforge and you will find no end of half-assed poorly written barely functional open source projects. That's mostly because anyone can write something and call it open source. Take a look at the world of shareware Windows applications and you'll see the same thing.

If you take a look at the major software and applications in the OSS world, from the Linux kernel to OpenOffice, a large amount of the work done is done by professionals working for major companies. You see, major companies are interested in having a good kernel, or office suite, or desktop environment, or whatever - and they are often willing to pay people to work on those things. Think of it as an opportunity for IBM, Sun and Novell to work together on an Office Suite that they can all get to use. Increasingly OSS development is professional development paid for by big companies. Sure the code then gets shared openly, but that's another matter.

Innovation

Marshall tries to argue that OSS is merely a matter of copying what has gone before and is incapable of innovation. In a lot of ways this is more to do with catching up than to do with a significant lack innovative capability. In every "Linux isn't ready for the desktop" article since the late 90's there have been people crying "well I would switch bt there isn't an equivalent of X", and so OSS developers have been endeavouring to provide said equivalent. There's a lot of ground to make up. Why are so many of the equivalent applications so similar? Because it is easier to bring users over that way - look at how many people won't use GIMP because it's interface isn't a clone of Photoshop, and other similar cases. OSS does innovate, it just tends to do so in the areas where it is strongest and is playing catchup the least: in security with SELinux, in networking with Stateless Linux, and other network services, in scripting and programming with new languages like Perl and Python and Ruby, and so on. Those aren't major desktop applications, so they tend to be less visible to the average consumer, but innovation is happening. As OSS catches up in other areas innovation will start becoming more obvious there too.

A lot of the "OSS can't innovate" sentiment stems from a belief that the only motivation is money - that without the potential of significant monetary rewards people won't innovate, and only proprietary software offers such rewards. The problem is, that just isn't true. Money is not the sole motivator. Scientific research has been breaking new ground for over a century with no significant monetary motivation. Similarly the people working in research departments for large coporates often see very little of the huge cash rewards that may come from their innovations: they get paid their salary, and might get a bonus, but money isn't the prime motivator for them either. There is still plenty of reason for an OSS developer to come up with something new and to implement it - there's no reason OSS can't be very innovative... and in practice it is, just maybe not yet in the areas many people pay attention to.

Jedidiah.

Free people in a free society. (1)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590427)

What we really need from government is an investigation of the long-term effects of OSS on our indigenous software industry, assistance to combat the threat to the industry's livelihood that OSS might pose and the development of a strategy to build on the opportunities that OSS has created. Without prompt action, my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?

I have a few issues with OSS myself, but the above paragraph is dumb on a number of counts.

First, industry and OSS are not at odds. OSS is a boon to industry (although perhaps not Microsoft in particular). This is because (1) developers benefit greatly from common standards and platforms, and (2) it makes no economic sense to keep reinventing the wheel. This is why industry has donated so much software, and supports OSS through consortiums such as OSDL http://www.osdl.org/ [osdl.org] , which pays Linus Torvalds' salary.

Second, the author seems to think that OSS hurts programmers. Wrong. It helps programmers because it makes them more productive. If individual programmers can generate more functionality for the end user, then there will be more, not less, demand for their services.

It's a bit like arguing that bulldozers are bad because they put manual diggers out of work. Well good - those diggers should be off doing something more economical worthwhile anyway. Constantly redigging the same ditch is not suitable work for human beings.

Third, how can one possibly slow down OSS without infringing on people's rights? These are the actions of free people in a free society.

The author's point of view seems to "something unusual is happening so had we better try to regulate it". I say let free people in a free society do their thing, and let the chips fall where they may (okay, call me a classic liberal). A rush to regulate will do far more harm than good, to the benefit of special interests alone.

All it takes is an honest look at sourceforge (1)

menorikey (915085) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590428)

The only real problem with open source that's actually preventing it from being competitive in the commercial (and perhaps retail) marketplace is the same issue that helps keep the OSS community "real." Essentially geeks don't want to make (for example) Linux apps as straight-forward to install as windows apps. It's the fact that you have to actually KNOW something about your operating system environment, the fact you have to know a fair amount about using a compiler, about linking, so on and so forth that makes Linux appealing, because to dumb it down to the point of double-clicking on an icon (of which even OS X is guilty of) is what turns true Linux power users off the most.

That said, I realize there are distros out there which try to accomplish just this feat of making the use of their bolt-on utilities more "luser-friendly", but that also contributes to the disparity between distros and inadvertently creates a divide between the "cares" and the "care-nots" regarding (again in this example) Linux's future on grandma's desktop.

I'd obviously have to disagree with the OP's reference to lack of professionalism, there's clearly some very well thought out distros of Linux, software suites and utilities that took more than one person to work on, that were extended with some expertise and a different perspective, compiler IDEs that rival those of anything M$ could overpay their commuter slaves to write, and simply innovative designs that Billy and Ballmer could take notes from. An honest look through sourceforge could put that argument to rest fairly quickly.

Rebuttal (2, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590429)

I Intellectual Property

A major flaw at the heart of the open source movement is the misconception that most individuals actually have the legal right to contribute their intellectual efforts to OSS projects.

Hence many projects require employer authorization for contributions.

Self-employed and contract software engineers are not usually bound by employer's IP rights but are unlikely to be strongly motivated to write OSS code unless they can earn a living from doing so, and the unpaid volunteer nature of OSS development tends to rule out this possibility.

Wow, such a misunderstanding of how the industry works. What percentage of FOSS developers do so for financial gain in some form or another? I would argue that this figure must be over 50%.

Their students, however, are not usually employees and consequently are likely to have more freedom to engage in OSS projects but the students' lack of practical software development experience will be a considerable drawback.

Look at the projects that students undertook with Samba via Google's Summer of Code.... (Also note that this is software development for financial gain...)

So, it would appear that the only people who are actually free to participate in OSS projects are self-employed or unemployed software professionals, students and enthusiastic amateurs. Anyone else contributing to OSS projects may be unwittingly engaged in illegal activity by stealing their employer's IP. This does not square well with the altruistic image of OSS.

Tell that to IBM, SGI, HP, EnterpriseDB, RedHat, Novell, Microsoft (SFU), Apple, and everyone else in the industry. Indeed, I cannot think of any major software company with the possible exception of Adobe which does not have some sort of presence in the open source world.

II: Conceptual Integrity

The process of creating software is more akin to an engineering discipline than an artistic endeavour, and this raises another point of concern with OSS. Like any engineering design project, good software needs a designer (or software architect in the current industry jargon) with a clear design concept which must be adhered to rigorously otherwise the software becomes progressively messier as it is developed in a piecemeal manner.

Ok., this is a fair criticism both of many open source projects and many closed applications. However, most badly designed applications eventually fail. Those that succeed do so because you have a small core group of developers who manage the concept design, etc.

Most of the open source contributions occur under the guidance of such individuals, as simple bugfixes, as direct contributions by such core developers, or are unlikely to be accepted into the main project codebase. Open source project management is not unlike managing the development of any other software application.

III: Professionalism

The article makes two arguments here. First they argue that becuase of bad design, all FOSS must be of bad quality. This is patently false. Secondly, they argue with slightly more credibility, that the sheer volume of badly designed open source software will destroy the industry. On this second point, I would disagree in that failed projects often encourage people to move on to other projects or products. Unlike the video game industry, we are not talking about a situatation where people have a small quantity of discretionary income to spend on low-quality games. Instead, any IT manager worth his salt will conduct reviews of possibly appropriate projects, and select software accordingly. As for open source games, many of these are pretty fun, really, and unlike the closed source counterparts are free of charge, so they don't prevent me from going out and buying Half-Life 2 if I decide that I am tired of playing Tux-Racer (yeah, they are not the same, but this is just an example of the economics)....

IV: Innovation
The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application. Linux is an excellent example. Although it contains many powerful new tools and utilities, Linux is in essence a facsimile of Unix, a proprietary operating system first developed at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1969. Ironically, the legendary robustness of Linux actually owes more to the good design of Unix and its older relative, Multics, than it does the OSS development process.

What exactly is innovation again and how does it apply to good software engineering? The article seems to reference marketing material more than substance. Furthermore, having worked both with Sys V and Linux, I would say that Linux has provided substantial innovation regarding administrative capabilities (all the cool stuff you can do via /proc, for example). And if you want something new, look at AtheOS, and other Free operating systems. Yet, these are minor primarily because of the barriers to entry in the industry.

Most successful innovation is incrimental. Most successful software consists largely of improved versions of older software. Good engineering is conservative. This is one of the serious flaws with proprietary software. People don't want innovation so much as they want something that works. Innovation can come later. And when it does, it will be incrimental.

Most of the innovation in FOSS is also customer-driven. The customer gets something that does almost everything necessary, and then they think "You know, I wish it did x" so they pay someone to make it to x. This is much more efficient at providing customers with the innovation that they want rather than the top down approach the industry usually uses.

V: Demise of the Industry
A continued shift towards OSS solutions at the expense of proprietary ones is likely to result in many of the companies that develop proprietary software going out of business. This might not be such a bad thing, as I'm sure that many of us would secretly welcome the collapse of the virtual monopoly that currently exists in the desktop software market. However, the first companies affected are likely to be the small but highly innovative firms, which are the lifeblood of the software industry, not the giant corporations that we all love to hate.

Any evidence for this? I would argue that it is the opposite because large corporations are far more top-heavy, have far more flab, and are far more tied to the economics of scale that is the tyrant of the industry.

The established business model for OSS is to give the software away for free but sell support, documentation or consultancy services, thereby providing the added value. Companies such as Red Hat make money out of Linux by selling a shrink-wrapped version complete with telephone support, glossy manual and installation software, all of which make it much easier to install and use.

Wow... I don't know of any business that has that business model.... Certainly not Red Hat, Novell, but maybe Mandrake, I guess.

They are successful because the market for Linux is huge, but this business model isn't really viable for niche market software and a scaleable model has yet to be found.

Aside from this being incorrect, I would argue that if this were true, then FOSS would not be the threat that the author argues because FOSS companies would never be able to make it into market positions to threaten proprietary apps.

Therefore, despite the growing popularity of OSS, investors remain reluctant to put money into an OSS business venture.

Heaven Forbid that investors be wrong.....

He has some valid points (1)

TheCabal (215908) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590447)

A lot of OSS software I've seen isn't very innovative- it's mostly a clone of an existing product or featureset. Yikes, someone is STILL trying to write an Exchange clone! Where is open source pushing the bounds on innovation with NEW stuff?

Professionalism? Normally I'd discount that argument but then I'm reminded of Theo de Raadt, DJB and even Eric S. Raymond little outburst "I'm your worst nightmare Microsoft! Teehee! Hell will be so cold its superconductive" (oh come the fuck on, ESR- that's the most childish and dorkish thing I've ever read). I even find Stallman grating often enough, and these are the people that are at the forefront of the OSS movement. Let us not forget the famous OSS battlecry whenever someone asks for help- "RTFM!" or "You have the code, fix it youself"

There is certainly a perception that OSS may or may not have rightfully earned, but it certainly looks like nobody is bothered about it.

BCS FUD (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590449)

It's not the first time the BCS has vomited their FUD upon us and it won't be the last.

Most software that's developed is bespoke software (e.g. Demand Forecasting system for predicting Electricity Usage) and this type of software is not threatened by Open Source, but benefits from it (i.e. Free tools).

It's only the big boys writing consumer off-the-shelf software that need to worry. Unfortunately its these people that make up all the advertising revenue for Computer magazines, so we are treated to their point of view.

A very British coup (4, Interesting)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 9 years ago | (#13590457)

Bear in mind that the writer is writing on the British Computer Society site about the British software industry. As he says in his closing paragraphs:

"The UK government's recently introduced policy on the use of OSS recommends that OSS solutions be considered alongside proprietary ones for public sector IT purchases. ... my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?"

So this needs to be seen in context - as a shot in the war for zillions of bucks' worth of new UK government software contracts over the next few years. Oh course, you could argue that the writer's "nightmare scenario" is precisely the one we've been enduring for rather a long time now.

Now, here's the kicker: The UK government has a catastrophic record with big software projects developed in alliance with large corporations. Huge installations worth hundreds of millions have had to be cancelled or redone because they didn't work properly and in some cases will probably never work properly (the UK's Child Support Agency's IT disaster is a celebrated example).

So here is this writer merrily suggesting that the best way forward is more of the same. We can't risk trying something else, still less entangling ourselves with loonies in beards and sandals, oh no siree. Run Debian? Well that must mean you are a) a tenth-rate programmer, b) dangerously idealistic and c) completely unreliable.

Oh well, I guess there is one born every minute.
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