Is Open Source Really This Misunderstood?


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.