Is Open Source Really This Misunderstood?

Lora Bentley

A reader commenting on my May 29 post concerning whether open source or Google is a bigger threat to Microsoft set off quite a flurry of activity when he said, in part:

Every time I have delved into the open source network, it has been trash. Then I find an application that wasn't open source, costs $20, and it's heaven. The open source community needs to get a job.

Understandably, reader after reader whose comments followed this one took him to task, first over the sweeping generalization that "everything" open source is trash, and then over the assumption that open source coders don't have jobs.


As far as open source has come in recent years, this comment highlights the fact that it still has a long way to go -- at least from a public relations perspective. If there are still people out there who believe these things, then obviously much of what my readers told this person bears repeating.


First, using sweeping generalizations that begin with "every," "always," "never" and the like can be dangerous. More often than not there will be at least one exception to the "rule" you are stating. The same is true of the generalization stated above. Sure, there are open source applications that still need work. Analysts and open source vendors alike will attest to that. But there are also open source applications that are holding their own against proprietary competitors. The MySQL database and the Apache Web server are just two of the many such programs.


And as at least one reader noted in a comment, using such applications has enabled her organization to provide "more cost-effective" products to customers "in a more timely manner." Existing customers have spread the word, she says, such that they are overwhelmed with new inquiries. That can't be bad for business, right? If customers weren't happy, they could vote with their feet and their money, so to speak, and go somewhere else.


Plus, who's to say that $20 application the reader brags on isn't based on open source? I'd bet that's part of why it was inexpensive. Rather amusing, if you ask me.


Secondly, all the open source developers I write about and have spoken to have jobs. They are paid to do exactly what they're doing -- to develop software and to support those who use it. Anyone who believes otherwise is sadly misinformed. Red Hat pays developers. Mozilla pays developers. Last week I wrote about a former Yahoo developer who now works at Craigslist. IBM employs people who contribute to open source, and Sun Microsystems is paying people to take everything it has into the open source community.


Even Microsoft pays open sourcers. And these are just the first that come to mind.

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Jul 2, 2008 9:33 AM Tim Scheidler Tim Scheidler  says:
I regularly use opensource (I'm using firefox right now) both at home and at work. I find that there are a number of opensource software packages that work extremely well, such as:Firefox 3 (Web Browser)Openoffice 2.4.1 (Office Suite) Audacity (Audio File Recorder and Editor)Pidgin (IM Client)All of the above work exceptionally well, especially OpenOffice, which I love (I replaced all of our Microsoft Office Suites with OpenOffice at work).While I use Vista at work, my home machine has run on Ubuntu Linux 6.06 LTS for 2 years. I never have a blue screen of death and on the RARE occasion that an application hangs up (hardly ever) Linux just keeps on going! (Oh, yes. Did I mention that I haven't had a virus on my computer in 2 years as well?) Reply
Jul 4, 2008 7:56 AM Jim Love Jim Love  says:
It's funny. I'm an admitted open source bigot, not just on price/value. As many people know, there's a lot of "commercial open source" out there so it's not all "free". And as consultants who help select and implement this software, we are not free either.I was drawn to open source because of quality, innovation and the incredible breadth of some of the packages. With open source, we have applications and servers that we have rarely touched except for our constant security updates. I don't know where this one guy is getting his software, but I'd like a list. We frequently shop the market in both open and closed source. In the closed source world, I've had my machine trashed (we take precautions, thank god) by amateur installations. I frequently say that I'm looking for the "one application that works". Because in the "closed source" world, the stuff is as likely to be crap as not. And if it's not crap, it's over promised.I'm not sure that open source is that much better. There is generally one or perhaps two apps in a category that are worth having. The difference is that I can generally find out a lot before I bother with them from their community and if they don't work they are Soooooooo easy to remove. (Gotta love that "no registry" thing)But I also wonder if we don't hold open source up to a higher standard. I use Open Office and I do curse the occasional bug -- at least till I have to support my friends as they curse their "other office suite". I certainly spend more time fixing their issues than mine in my Open Office world. Hmmmmm.Just one p.o.v. Reply

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