Murphy's Law: Open Source? Who cares!



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Open Source doesn't matter?

Ok, let me put it this way... if you are truly believe that then you need to forget and stop using the following:

  • Safari, Firefox, Chrome... they are all either built on open source or ARE open source
  • Linux and any Linux based devices. That includes many network switches, wireless routers, ADSL modems, Android phones, vast majority of web servers, etc.
  • Unix and Unix based software. This includes Mac OSX and iPhone, iPod... etc.
  • Anything based on Java. Including BlackBerry phones, java plugins, a number of programs built on Java
  • Stop using sites that are written using PHP, Python, Perl... they are too open source.
  • A number of content management systems (CMS), WordPress, Facebook (facebook is completely open source), Twitter. You need to stop using Google, their services use mostly open source software.
  • Apache, Postfix, MySQL, PostgreSQL
  • Open source codecs which include: x264, Xvid, VP8, FFmpeg (mpeg1, 2, 3... etc.), 

Sun Microsystems defines the criteria for open formats as follows:
- The format is based on an underlying open standard
- The format is developed through a publicly visible, community driven process
- The format is affirmed and maintained by a vendor-independent standards organization
- The format is fully documented and publicly available
- The format does not contain proprietary extensions

Open formats include: JPEG, PNG, SVG, Matroska (MKV), Ogg, ASCII, DVI, OpenDocument, PDF, PostScript, RTF, Unicode, UTF-8, gzip, 7z, tar, zip, CSV, json, XML, HTML, RSS, CSS


Do you realize I've just eliminated majority of things you regularly use? From my point of view main advantages of open source are:

  • Easier to find and fix bugs: Talk whatever you like about how many programmers know how and can help finding and fixing these. Option is there... and results are obvious. For Ubuntu team to fix a bug and release an update needs no more than 3 days... and Microsoft, some of the bugs are there for years... care to explain that? I'll try, MS hopes no one finds them, if someone finds them, they don't care (unless it's really critical and threatening to their money)... they ship another version of windows so you are forced to pay for upgrade and voila... really good business model, if all you care about is money.
  • If you know how, you CAN contribute. You all say it's hard and you have to learn many things. Well if you are a programmer I don't see how that is a problem. Did you ever tried to contribute to some open source project? I don't think so. Do you tell your boss on your new job that it's hard to learn or to start working with other people on projects within that company? I don't think so... Being a programmer means solving difficult problems and doing things most of other people wouldn't understand.
  • If project stalls, you can pick up and continue from there...
  • Open source programs are community driven. Options being implemented are the ones most in demand. 
  • It's FREE!

No one said programming is easy. If you are here just to bitch about everything, then please don't. If you don't like Open Source, then don't use it... no one is forcing you. But the facts are, Open Source is contributing to this world more than you know (or willing to accept) and open source is producing money... maybe not as much as others but some of us actually believe in doing good for all man kind. 

And yes, it should matter to end users. Because by using OSS you support it's developers. That alone is enough reason for us to make even better applications. OSS is not just some acronym, it's a point of view and belief! 



He wasn't dissing open-source, and he wasn't advocating against it. He simply pointed out that the common user couldn't care less if the product/website/service was free because it is closed-source freeware or because it is open-source - as long as the product is good it makes no different to the end user, as he'll never even see the source code.

As for "supporting" developers by using open-source: that's pure BS. Buying commercial software is what puts food on a developer's plate, and that is the definition of support.



Does open source matter to your average computer user: no.  no it doesn't.
Does open source matter to developers and businesses who write software: yes, very much so.

Consumers and non-programmers/developers usually don't care and aren't benefitted dirrectly if their software is open source.

Programmers sometimes prefer open source just because you don't have to worry about having to re-invent the wheel every time you need to start a project type that you haven't tried to tackle before.  Most likely most of the key parts of your application have been figured out by someone else in the past, in whole or part, and modifying code is much easier and in many cases much less buggy than programming something from scratch.  I'm a web programmer at a university.  I cannot count times I've used open source solutions over ones with more restrictive licenses because I knew things would need tweeking/hacking. (PERFECT example is a live help system for our schools library. It would have taken MONTHS for us to develop as good of one from scratch, but we managed to re-implement/hack a couple of it's features and reprogram it's authentication system to work with ours in only 2 days...HUGE cost reduction in development.)  It's saved us probably thousands of dollars in development and debugging time.   Do we open source any of the stuff we build, sure, although we don't really bundle any of it as products, it just sits running on a web server...but if someone asked us for source we definitely would give it to them.

I'm not saying things like browsers and stuff need to be open source, cause they don't really need to be.  People aren't going to download the source and customize firefox for example and recompile it...hardly ever.  However, I'm sure people do use parts of the browser in other projects.  XUL layout engine that firefox uses is used in other programs, for example.  Open source probably has more benefits that most people aren't aware of than ones that are noticable.  For developers the biggest one (for me anyway) is decrease in development time (not always, but very often) when I am doing something similar to another project that has already been completed.  To users/consumers/businesses a big benefit is ease of portability into future/other projects, and development cost (not aways, but very often).

Saying open source doesn't matter is kinda like saying you want, and desire, for all the programs in the world to be re-implemented from scratch every single time, or pay countless dollars in licensing fees to use components from something someone else built.  Free software would be much more rare if this was the case. It's a bottom line matters.



David, I think there is much more to open source community involvement than contributing code. While I agree that most of us don't have a clue to code development, there is still much we can do to contribute. I have written more at my network world open source fact and fiction blog in response



I take strong exception with your premise from the start.

Specifically, there is a huge difference between "it doesn't matter" and "I don't care".

I would hate to think that Maximum PC would publish any tech article by anyone who truly believes that the open source model "does not matter", yet you go to lengths to sprinkle straw man arguments throughout just to make that point.

Do I care if programs are open source?  About as much as I care if my McDonald's Chicken Nuggets are from free-range chickens.

Do I care if companies whose services I frequent are built around open source technology?

About as much as I care if McDonalds services are built around an S Corporate structure versus an LLC structure.

I agree with you that functionality is a key consideration, but it's a broad statement to contend that it's the ONLY metric of "if you care" about your software and services.  There is always a cost-benefit analysis that is appropriate.  GIMP, while full-featured and certainly much more powerful than most of the world's computer users need, is not a 100% Photoshop clone.  That said, is the cost difference justifiable to most users?

To also jump on the bandwagon (or create your own as I suspect you've done) of simple point and click GUI customizations, I ask you this - how many users do you know who utilize anywhere NEAR the full options of Microsoft Office?  Have you checked the list of additional icons/functions/features in Office 2007 lately?  There are literally dozens if not hundreds of custom add-ons all as easy as you seem to wish for - attached to a GUI button, right there in your reach.  (for what it's worth, I truly believe you can substitute nearly any program in place of "MS Office" and I would make the same argument).

The point being, lack of a GUI button attached to changing some feature does not make software invalid.

As you wrap up, you mention this feature being something "you and I" would care about a great deal.

I could not disagree more. In my experience, users don't actually pick an application based on true functionality, but instead based on a very LIMITED SUBSET of functionality.  Program X that has 400 features is worthless to me unless it does the 2 features I need.  Beyond the 2 features I use, the value of the remaining 398 is often a huge pile of diminishing returns.

In all I guess I would say that the average user doesn't care where their software comes from - open-source or otherwise.  You article seems to have left out half of the argument making it sound terribly one-sided and derisive of the open source model and products thereof.

To look at the big picture of how open source models relate to all computer users' experiences, I think you've completely glazed over or omitted any consideration for the concept, the culture, and philosophical benefits of open source, and by that have come across as uninformed or at least lacking thoroughness in your article.



 Once again, the author implies a US centric paid software developer view. That covers oh, a good 5% of the software programmers in the world. My son is doing post grad programming at a major university (while still a junior) and uses all sorts of open source algorithms and tools. Then there are the  tens of thousands of (poorly) trained programmers in India and other Asian countries who use open source because its cheap. Then add the European countries that dislike US dominance of any market and will do their best to hobble or eliminate it. Add a few thousand programmers that have invested interest in making good code available to all. THIS is open source. Do your homework before beginning typing.

Who cares where ANY code comes from or who writes it anyways, let alone open-source? And who says that open source code is not used by paid software developers? And open source does not need GUI, it has thousands of code modules that can be plugged into your code and run.

What country buys the most new cars every year? Wrong, its China.





Do you really mean it when you say that only 5% of developers are paid? Do you understand that it implies that 95% are unpaid? Do you really think 95% of developers are like your son - post grads? And do you know that the developers that work on almost all major open source projects are employed by a major corporation and get a salary? Also, do you understand that the author is not a developer, but rather a user, and so cannot possibly have a developer's point of view, of which you accuse him?



One of the huge benefits of open source philosophy not mentioned in this article is the transfer of power. In a closed environment, the company holds the power; in a 'free' application, the power lies in the hands of the users. With open source, if the user doesn't like how a program works, the user can change it, instead of just accepting the garbage that is given. This puts pressure on the company to produce good code and allows a more open market rather than forcing the user into using a product.

I would love to hear Mr Stallman's opinion on this article.



"With open source, if the user doesn't like how a program works, the user can change it"

No, he cannot. Only if the user doesn't like how a program works AND he is a developer AND he is familiar with the language and tools of that specific program AND he has the free time to spend learning the internal intricacies of the application, perform modifications and testing - only then can a user change the program. Taking that into consideration, what is the percentage of users who will benefit from the ability to change an application? A negligible, insignificant and inconsequential amount. Also, if the program is "garbage", as you describe it, no one will bother putting any amount of time into it.

Nevertheless, I do agree that open sourcing causes a slight shift of power, although I believe corporate still has the power, as it has the money required to get developers to spend time on open source projects.



Yes, I care. There are several good reasons for supporting open source actively looking for it. Admittedly, the vast majority of computer users have no interest in understanding the way things work and no desire to learn so they dismiss the concept as useless.  But -- face it -- someone has to program your toys and the better and faster they do it the happier you are. One of the best ways to learn how (again, most of you aren't interested) is to see what others have done, modify it, improve it etc.

 And here's one other very simple example of it's value: encryption algorithms and the software which uses them. There is no other way you can be certain that a given implementation is truly secure and lacking back-door master key types of access, (of which some paranoids migh suspect governments.

Of course it's also free and generally provides excellent functionality (Open Office anyone?). And while functionality is key to software selection it is not the only criterion. Cost, long term viability, security and confidentiality are all factors which are overlooked by a great many consultants, "IT Experts" and others who should know better.



<cite>Open-source matters as a concept. In its execution, however, a vast
majority of enthusiasts, average folk, and neophytes could honestly care less.</cite>


I'm an advanced computer user, and I could NOT care less.  Although I've seen the benefit, by using and following the progress of XBMC.



"Where are the convenient tools that give novices the ability to effect change in an application?  Where are the GUI-laden tools that take care of the background coding work for me?  Why isn't it easier to get in there and hack, tweak, or extend the functionality of an open application?"

Software is complex. More complex than it appears to an end-user. More complex than it appears even to the software developer. That kind of complexity simply can't be expressed via a GUI. Attempts at exposing programming via visual elements such as flow charts always fail miserably due to the very low density of information in those presentation forms (e.g. you'd get huge unwieldy flowcharts). There's just no replacing code and programming languages, just as there's no replacing written text and regular languages.

David, it isn't easier for you to "get in there" simply because software development isn't easy, and is extremely time consuming. I can't even say that it's getting easier, even though today a child can develop an application that a computer science professor couldn't possible create 30 years ago, the increasing requirements and expectations of software practically nullify the increased ease and better tools that come along. So programming never really gets easier, since it's basically an arms race between the increasing requirements and increasing capabilities of software development.

Also, as a senior software developer, I still can't take an open source project and just jump in and start hacking away. I may be unfamiliar with the language, tools and technology, I may not understand the structure and design of the application without studying it, and I may be oblivious to the work ethics and methodology of the existing development team. Software is not as easily editable as Wikipedia, it's a machine with so many moving parts, you touch one little thing and you may break everything, and if you're unfamiliar with the project, you might not even understand why.

It's not for everyone. There are those who simply don't get it, those who get it but to them it's just work, and those who love it. I am glad to be in the third group, having my profession and my hobby being one and the same.



Open source is not really something that is big if it doesn't supply a benefit. I am testing Ubuntu Server in a VM, and am now using GIMP, which works, works very good, but I would not be getting everything open source because I don't have to pay for it. Someone still have to write codes and get paid for it. Some bigger companies like Microsoft has a huge userbase to satify. They have to make a profit somewhere, and it won't just come from sponsers. I love Windows 7, I love Microsoft Office, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Electronically charged



It matters to the .00002% of people that for some reason think its cool that they can make a tiny tweak and attempt to recompile the whole program.

Or those that think all software should be free, and programmers should not be paid for their time or work.



Open-source doesn't mean free, it just means what it means... the source code is open. Doesn't mean you can just take the code either.

If customers are having a problem with their software, and this application has a source code that anyone can read... that's more potential eyes who can look at the code to figure out the problem. Such things may lead to processes like Google has employed with Chrome - "We'll pay you for bugs!" Although I don't think Google is looking for people to fix them, just find them.

 But just to reinterate:


It just means the source code is available for reading. In SOME cases, you can use it "as long as you give credit."

That's why "free" and "open-source" are BOTH listed when you read "free, and open-source." Else it would be redundant. "It's free, and free."


I see you don't necessarily mean you think it means free, but this is my contribution to the discussion anyway!



Open source means nothing to us. Does the application meet our needs and is it reliable is what counts. Even the price is not that meaningful if you measure it agross the number of usses. Of course if a specific App is much higher priced and the utility is equal then price would be a factor.

We never even consider if it is open source or not. Sorry, for some of you I know that is blasphemy but that's the way it is.

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