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Editorial GNU is Not Unix

Examining Some Open Source Myths 705

Neil Gunton writes "I wrote an article distilling some thoughts on Open Source myths. Perhaps unusually, these are not myths propogated by the anti-OSS crowd, but rather dogma that is more frequently spouted by OSS proponents. It is not intended as an anti-OSS argument, but really more as observations and reactions to specific things people say without really thinking about it, such as 'You shouldn't complain about it if you don't want to put effort into providing a fix', 'OSS lets you get under the hood to fix problems', 'All software should be free', 'Scratching the personal itch', etc."
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Examining Some Open Source Myths

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  • by etymxris ( 121288 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:05AM (#9799498)
    On "All Software Should be Free"
    Carpentry is a bad analogy. No one says that I should be able to take tables made by carpenters for free. However, the effects of idea creation are much more ephemeral. Or rather, they are much easier to duplicate than a well crafted table. This is exactly why analogies to "stealing" items in the real world do not carry over to the internet. I don't believe in copyright, any of it. But I still think things should have value. I just don't think that the government should grant monopolies on any idea. So, to go back to the analogy, I think you should be able to charge for what you make, be it software or tables. But I also think that the person you sell that item too should be able to make one of his own, and give it away or sell it or whatever. So comparing the internet to the real world we see that copyrights are just a legal entity, they are not real things, they do not exist outside of a goverment's promise to enforce them. So you can tables, CDs, and even bandwidth, but you can't steal information.

    So, let's take this point and compare it with the previous point made concerning "scratching an itch". People in many professions get paid for their expertise. A plumber comes in, does his job, gets paid, and goes home. He doesn't make royalties on his work. He enjoys no monopoly on information, but of course, his job makes this unnecessary. But what we see from the case of the plumber is that people will still need software written, even if there are no monopolistic copyright protections when it is written. People will have "itches", and they will need to be scratched. And maybe they won't have the time to do it themselves. And so, others will be paid to scratch that itch. All of this takes place without any mention of copyright. It's not needed.
    • I agree with you that his point here is off. He's complaining because he can't make money doing what he loves. Yeah, well, welcome to LIFE! :)

      Seriously, programmers are a commodity, because a lot of people like to program as a hobby. Don't expect to spend time working on an "interesting" or "general" application and expect to be compensated. If you found it interesting, so did another programmer.

      He bemoans the 1980's, when you could expect to sell your work. I wonder, though, how much money all those share

      • I didn't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Allen Zadr ( 767458 ) * <Allen,Zadr&gmail,com> on Monday July 26, 2004 @10:10AM (#9801042) Journal
        I didn't get the idea that he is complaining. I think there is a valid point there. Why is it that every successful Open Source project, that is also targeted to the End-User market (and not the server/developer market) is backed directly by a company with money to spare?

        OpenOffice (Sun), Mozilla (Netscape/AOL). As the author pointed out... The Gnu Image Manipulation Project doesn't have the end-user market share (yet I would also point out that this "End-User" project is the result of 'developer', not end-user, tools).

        Programmers are a commodity, good developers are not. For every 100 programmers, you'll find 1 developer that has a good idea. After hearing the idea, 95 of those programmers will say, oh, yeah - that sounds obvious (yet, they had not thought of it). That's the crux. You have 95 commodity programmers who are willing to give away 1 developers good idea, because - in hind sight - it seems obvious. Maybe a general or interesting application is actually a new idea. I'll admit that this isn't always the case, but this does happen. THAT is why copyright exists, the idea has value. ...There are underlying social reasons for this as well that I'll be happy to get into.

        Further, I don't think it's bemoaning to point out that in the 80s (and much of the early 90s) the software industry was still open to the single developer, and also not hobbled by open source efforts. This was also before massive consolidation of the software industry. Seems to me, just a simple statement of fact.

        • Even more deeply into the issue, programers do not get royalties generally it is the marketing companies who do. While there are no royalties for those who actually produced the software, the marketeers get a lot. Until the proposal (with results) is made to allow programmers proper royalties (Similar to ASCAP etc) I would argue that any copyrights of the companies are about as honestly stolen as any other goods fenced by sneek thieves and pirates.

          The other problem is what Bill Gates told his "friends" a

        • Processes are patentable but not copyrightable. The expression of a process is copyrightable but not patentable. The idea of getting from point A to point B in the development of a product for which the process is developed is often not copyrightable or patentable either one (although sometimes point B itself is patentable).

          In short, the idea having value is in no way related to copyright. Copyright is about the expression of the idea having merit.
        • Re:I didn't think so (Score:3, Informative)

          by jc42 ( 318812 )
          Why is it that every successful Open Source project, that is also targeted to the End-User market (and not the server/developer market) is backed directly by a company with money to spare?

          This isn't quite true; there are a number of significant open-source projects that have no corporate backing.

          One very successful such effort that I've been involved in can be found by googling for "ABC music notation". Only musicians would find this useful, but it's a good counter-example here. All the prime movers are
    • by Tony-A ( 29931 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:33AM (#9799599)
      1. "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"

      There is a confusion between free and cheap.
      It is cheap and easy to have an opinion on cheap software. Not that it will do much good.
      It can be very expensive to have an opinion (that anybody will listen to) on free software.

      Assuming that much of the future of IT is in supply chain:
      A chain with only two links is kinda silly.
      A chain is as strong as its weakest link, which has the uncomfortable consequence that the most important links are the weakest links.
      This forces some strange-looking economics. Old Red Hat is now expensive and new Fedora can't be bought.
      • No it's a confusion between a product you buy and a gift you receive. It's OK to complain about a product you buy, it's even OK to complain about a gift you get to your friends or familiy.

        What is not OK is to publicly and loudly insult the gift giver in an attempt to humiliate him/her into giving you a better gift next time.
    • I don't believe in copyright, any of it. But I still think things should have value. I just don't think that the government should grant monopolies on any idea.

      What's your opinion on karma-whoring trolls, who copy/paste someone else's posts hoping to get modded-up? Is it OK to you? After all, "you don't believe in copyright, any of it".

      While noone denies that MPAA/RIAA goes too far these days, it's foolish to overreact the other way. If you abolish copyright, you also abolish Free Software (if there's
      • What's your opinion on karma-whoring trolls, who copy/paste someone else's posts hoping to get modded-up?

        I think they should be mass-sued for copyright infringement, found guilty and thrown in jail.

        Oh, or maybe they should simply be down-modded and hailed with derisive laughter?

        Hm. A self-regulating, dynamic and free post market economy or a government-imposed regulatory system that's impossible to enforce? Decisions, decisions...

        • self-regulating
          Pah! People cant self regulate everything. I HATE McDonalds. I want to be sure that when I walk past a McDonalds to go into a restaurant that I'm not missing out on some nice food. If copyright and its sublings werent respected I'd never know a genuine 'turd in a bun' McDonalds from what could be a very tasty emporium of quality nosh.

          I could be in an airport book shop, pick up a copy of 'collected robot stories by the man azimov' and find its a pile of autotranslated japanese gay porn.

          Copy
      • What's your opinion on karma-whoring trolls, who copy/paste someone else's posts hoping to get modded-up? Is it OK to you? After all, "you don't believe in copyright, any of it".
        I don't believe in taking credit for other's work. But that's not a copyright issue. That's an issue of simple fraud.
      • If you abolish copyright, you also abolish Free Software (if there's no copyright, there's no GPL).

        While it's true that eliminating copyright would also eliminate the GPL, the original idea behind copyleft was to create an environment that emulated a world without copyright. Kind of fighting copyright with copyright. Of course, the GPL has the added benifit that it requires the source code to be open.

        I believe that an author should have right to his creation - I don't want to see my stuff signed by someo

        • The problem of course is that moral rights are an astoundingly stupid idea and should be abolished immediately. Copyrights ARE solely utilitarian, and moral rights interfere greatly with that.
        • there are two aspects to copyright: The economic rights (the right to make money off your work, and preventing others from doing the same) and the moral rights -- attribution and the right to control how your work is use, in what context etc.

          With software in the USA, there is only economic rights. The US grants moral rights only for visual works (see the 1997 VARA bill.)

          The Anglosaxon style copyright has mostly been concerned with the economical aspects of copyright.

          Ehrm, I think you mean the America
      • "What's your opinion on karma-whoring trolls, who copy/paste someone else's posts hoping to get modded-up? Is it OK to you? After all, "you don't believe in copyright, any of it".

        You are also overreacting the other way. There's a significant difference between copying and plagiarism. Plagiarism requires lying/untruthfulness and intent.

        If someone reuses your words, but cites the original author, or even only says "someone else said this", that is not plagiarism, that is quoting. Whereas if someone intentio
      • If you abolish copyright, you also abolish Free Software (if there's no copyright, there's no GPL).

        Nonsense. If there's no copyright, then there's no need for the GPL in the first place.

    • 1. "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"
      This is not exactly how I see it. If someone contributes to any OSS project or supports open source, then they are part of the whole movement as far as Im concerned, and they have every right to complain..
      If, however, they are ignorant of OSS, and complain about a program they were given that is OSS, then they should be paying for stuff..until they are no longer in ignorance...
      • I disagree with this, and it comes right down to the misconception (is it?) of Open source as software by geeks FOR geeks, and damn the 'ignorant' masses (ie, those who fall under the 95th percentile for intelligence. You know, MOST of the population).

        Feedback from non-OSS, non-programming individuals is the feedback you should be looking for MOST. These are the people who are going to tell you how you should evolve and develop your applications to maximize the user experience, and get your software recogn
    • by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:39AM (#9799624)
      I don't believe in copyright, any of it. But I still think things should have value. I just don't think that the government should grant monopolies on any idea.
      I could be misunderstanding you, but it seems that you misunderstand copyright. Copyright protects not an idea but an expression of an idea. Taking the kind of area where copyright originated: the idea of a series which tracks a wizard boy through school as he fights baddies has no doubt been expressed many times, but the particular expression which is the Harry Potter series is protected.

      So, to go back to the analogy, I think you should be able to charge for what you make, be it software or tables. But I also think that the person you sell that item too should be able to make one of his own, and give it away or sell it or whatever.
      To continue with the HP example, would Rowling have spent years writing and polishing the HP books if the first publisher she approached with the manuscript could rip it off and make all the profit? Maybe she would have written the first one or two, but seeing others getting fat on her work while she got nothing would have been a strong disincentive against finishing the series.

      Application to software, then: if a company spends thousands or millions of $CURRENCY developing a product, and then the first person they sell it to can make as many copies as they want and sell them on for half the price, that person will make more profit per copy, because they didn't have the overheads, and will sell more copies to boot. The only way to avoid this is to sell it to that person for the price of developing, which means that there will only be incentive for a company to write software if it's in-house or built-to-order. There goes company innovation.

      If when you say

      the person you sell that item too should be able to make one of his own
      you mean that they should be able to make a clean-room implementation and sell it, then that's fair. However, copyright protection doesn't prevent that, so it's not an argument against copyright.
      • I typed out a long reply to this just now, but the browser crashed, so this reply will be a bit more brief.

        Anyway, you see the need for people to sell software as a product. I do not. I only see it being sold as a service. Take an accountant. His abilities have value. Companies will pay him to tap into his abilities, because they need his financial skills. But what he produces is not a product, it is a service. The demand comes from the consumer. He does not wrap together a package of accounting and try to
      • . ..it seems that you misunderstand copyright. Copyright protects not an idea but an expression of an idea...

        ...they should be able to make a clean-room implementation and sell it, then that's fair. However, copyright protection doesn't prevent that, so it's not an argument against copyright.

        Using Rowling and Harry Potter as an example is interesting. While they may not be strictly "clean room" parallels, the works which have been attacked by Rowling's publisher [msn.com] are nonetheless original writing. They are

      • To continue with the HP example, would Rowling have spent years writing and polishing the HP books if the first publisher she approached with the manuscript could rip it off and make all the profit? Maybe she would have written the first one or two, but seeing others getting fat on her work while she got nothing would have been a strong disincentive against finishing the series.

        Rowling received a grant from the Scottish Arts Council in 1997, and wrote part of the Harry Potter series while on the dole. Per

      • but the particular expression which is the Harry Potter series is protected.

        This is not true: try to make a piece of fan art than builds on the characters established in that series and will will be found in violation of copyright.

        The definition of "derivitive work" is vague and allows copyright to be very stifling.


        Application to software, then: if a company spends thousands or millions of $CURRENCY developing a product, and then the first person they sell it to can make as many copies as they wan

      • Most of the anti-copyright posters here always roll out the candard that they don't "believe" that people should be granted a monopoly of ideas. By presenting this issue as one of personal belief, they try to transform any discussion of it into an attack on their own personal beliefs (as if we are not allowed to do that.)

        Ideas are noncorporeal things that cannot be possessed. If something cannot be possessed, it obviously cannot be monopolized. To use a very simplistic example: "2 + 2 = 4" is an idea. Eve
    • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @08:16AM (#9800111)
      I'll takle an EASY target: "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems"

      He claims that it's hard and that nobody does it "in the real world." If that was really the case, the open source world we have today would not exist. Linux would not exist. BSD would not exist. Apache would not exist. PHP would not exist. MySQL would not exist. But they do. They are all thriving projects with thousands of contributors. Does EVERYONE contribute? No, but they don't need to. Not everyone HAS the skills, but not everyone needs to have the skills. That's why (if you were a corporation) you hire people with those skills to support the systems you use.

      I know that I personally have fixed bugs in dozens of FOSS applications, and greatly exteneded functionality in dozens as well. It's not that you MUST get "under the hood and fix problems," it's that you CAN. This is not a myth. It's an indisputable fact. Any competent programmer can work with FOSS software. Not all programmers are competent. Not all people are programmers. These facts don't change the base fact.
      • under the hood (Score:5, Insightful)

        by M. Baranczak ( 726671 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @09:50AM (#9800870)
        He claims that it's hard and that nobody does it "in the real world."

        No, he doesn't. Direct quote from the article: "But how many people actually do this? Hardly anybody in real life." There's a BIG difference between "nobody" and "hardly anybody".
        • Re:under the hood (Score:3, Interesting)

          by walt-sjc ( 145127 )
          That's a nit and you know it. I was not using nobody in an absolute but rather in the near absolute which matches the authors intent. Kinda like when your hear "nobody pays attention to the speed limit" when in reality that's not a true statement.

          His term "hardly anybody" implies near zero when we all know by the software we use everyday that it is much, much more than that. The evidence is all around but statistics are virtually impossible to gather due to the nature of OpenSource development. One indicat
        • Re:under the hood (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @11:49AM (#9802066) Homepage Journal
          ." There's a BIG difference between "nobody" and "hardly anybody".

          Heh; yeah, and it's often the difference between proprietary and open source.

          I've also contributed code to a number of open-source projects. And in many cases, my work was triggered by reading a complaint from a user. I'd have the response "Hey, that's bothered me, too, and it looks like I'm not the only one. I wonder how hard it would be to fix? ..."

          Then, usually far too many hours later, I announce that I've got a patch that fixes the problem, and people should try it out. Or if it's simple enough, I just send in the patch in, it gets included in the next alpha/beta release, and I can reply to the original users complain saying that there's a fix in the archive for them to try.

          With closed software, I couldn't have done this. If the code maintainers aren't following the same lists and groups as I am, they probably never notice the complaints. Or they are under pressure from their management to implement only the changes requested by Sales.

          It isn't important that everyone hack the source code. What's important is that open source allows a significantly-larger crowd of programmers to hack the code. And it usually turns out that those programmers are users of the code themselves. This often makes them more responsive to user complaints than commercial developers, who usually only answer to their superiors (and are often intentionally kept out of direct contact with users).

          And if the code's maintainers aren't responsive enough, open source allows you to do a fork. I've been involved in this, too. With closed source, it's only possible with permission of the original group. With open source, you sometimes (though rarely) get a fork that's more useful than the original. Or, more often, it's useful to a set of users that wouldn't have ever become users of the original.

    • on "All Software Should be Free" neil gets it wrong because he confuses Open Source with Free Software. Only Free Software, as embodied in the GPL and the goals of the FSF, have a political goal of insisting that all software should be free for the common good. a majority of the other open source licenses do not make this assertion. Free Software is a subset of Open Source Software.
    • "I don't believe in copyright, any of it."

      Really?

      So someone who spends two or three years writing a novel or creating a great screenplay should simply sit back and say "Oh, well" when the first copy of the book/movie hits the streets and it is ripped-off with no further profits going to the author?

      Bullshit. Copyright isn't only applicable to software.

      Myopia at it's worst.
      • Why do copyright supporters always make the assumption that in a copyright-ridden world, people will somehow be unaware that there are no copyrights, and say "damn, they ripped off my latest work again!" every time?

        In a copyright-ridden world, people will simply create books for the love of creating books, and nobody will "rip it off" because by definition, copying it will not be ripping anyone off.

        You are akin to the person who says: I hate pickles! I am glad I hate pickles because if I liked pickles, I
  • Free Software (Score:3, Insightful)

    by byolinux ( 535260 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:10AM (#9799510) Journal
    You seem to be making the misconception that "free software" means "gratis software" - this is incorrect.

    "Free Software" refers to freedom, not price. I can sell my piece of free software at any price I like, whether you choose to buy it of course, is your own freedom.

    For example; a business selling a database product may choose to release it as free software, and offer a gratis download, but offer a support/maintainance license for a fee. The software is still free, and the money from support /maintainance licenses can pay for things like offices, developers, food, water, bills, etc :)
    • For clarity... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by byolinux ( 535260 ) *
      s/a business selling/a business producing

      It's also worth noting that 'kicking the ass' of Windows is not the goal. The goal is freedom. If users have freedom, it doesn't matter whether their system is better or worse. That's not the issue.
    • Re:Free Software (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:28AM (#9799581)
      You seem to be making the misconception that "free software" means "gratis software" - this is incorrect.

      "Free Software" refers to freedom, not price. I can sell my piece of free software at any price I like, whether you choose to buy it of course, is your own freedom.


      I think he hit th enail on the head - how many times do you see someone looking for an OSS aka "free" counterpart to a CSS aka "cost money" product? They're looking for free as in no cost, not as in I can mod it. That perception will limit entry and ultimately stifle innovation. How many innovative, vs "let's copy the functionality of product X" OSs programs are out there?

      For example; a business selling a database product may choose to release it as free software, and offer a gratis download, but offer a support/maintainance license for a fee. The software is still free, and the money from support /maintainance licenses can pay for things like offices, developers, food, water, bills, etc :)

      Well, beyond the hurdle that someone has to develop OSS programs so you can sell maintenance is the cost of support issue.

      If your selling support, It'll be cheaper to hire a bunch of cheap offshore techies to answer phones and provide support. Keep a few US based staff to do installs (supplement them with off shore progarmers on a limited entry basis) and you have a model for making money on maintenance.

      Just don't plan on being a high paid US programmer when equally good talent is cheaper elsewhere.

      It's not theat OSS is a bad model, but it is a bit self limiting.
      • Re:Free Software (Score:3, Insightful)

        by antiMStroll ( 664213 )
        "How many innovative, vs "let's copy the functionality of product X" OSs programs are out there?"

        That's not what you hear in this forum when the discussion turns to desktops, then OSS has too many which are too different. What software does Emacs copy? VIM, Apache, PHP, Webmin, etc, etc? I think you mistake the popularity of packages such as Gnome and KDE, which try to win Windows converts, for a general trend.

    • by chegosaurus ( 98703 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:28AM (#9799583) Homepage
      > whether you choose to buy it of course, is your own freedom.

      You'll never get a job at Microsoft with that attitude.
  • Uh Oh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zorilla ( 791636 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:12AM (#9799516)
    A discussion where bashing the soft points of OSS doesn't get modded -1 Troll.

    I can see the next article: "Understanding the GNAA"
    • I can see the next article: "Understanding the GNAA"

      A well written article on slashdot (and others) trollkore is always worth read. There is one on Wiki [wikipedia.org] and it's pretty good, but I'd really like to read something more psychologically insightful on that. What is the goatse man really trying to communicate? ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This guy clearly doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'free.' He goes off about price and payments... that's not the kind of free we're talking about. Perhaps he should try to learn a little about a subject before presuming to lecture others on it.
    • If that guy has found difficult to "look under the hood", than he cannot understand other meaning of "free" - ability to fix, to improve etc. He is already deprived of this ability.

      What bothers me most in recent trends of OSS software is that software tends to grow bloated and overcomplicated.

      In the days where Stallman started project GNU, toolbox model worked well. One can find that 90% of his problem can be solved by existing tools and concentrate on remaining 10%, which should be easy enough.

      Now we

  • My thoughts. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:14AM (#9799529) Homepage

    Many of this guy's comments are very good. In many ways, the programing industry is being hit by a much more general sweep of what I call 'copyright depreciation'. The really huge piracy with games, music and movies at the moment is a symptom of copyright depreciation and so is programing. I think a key cultural change in this century will be the rise in the difficulty of the ability to make money off copyrighted works.

    In the past, a company could assemble a team of programmers and pay them to write a program for you. Really, the only way you could assemble such a team was under this structure. With the invention of the internet such teams can be assembled on-line and can work in their spare time. Couple this with the ability to be able to duplicate en mass for effectively zero cost makes this form of development very effective.

    In the end, the programmer has to get paid or they can't make a living off it. What we're seeing is the destruction of huge profit margins and the market force establishing the 'true' value of a programmer.

    Simon

    • Re:My thoughts. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hyphz ( 179185 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:42AM (#9799640)
      I don't think you can compare programming with music and movies. Music and movies are both entertainment products and people's demand for them is generally fairly constant.

      Programming, on the other hand, can be divided into two categories: games, and just about everything else. Games are entertainment products, and thus follow a similar pattern to music and movies, with the exception that they sell less because, being interactive, they offer a greater range of entertainment experience per product.

      But applications are the really nasty area. Because there, almost all of the standard applications are already written, and even if the written ones aren't ideal, the network effect is so strong that they can't be toppled. Original applications are generally frozen out of the market to begin with.

      So yes, he's right to say "software can't make money". Applications software indeed can't make money anymore - because 90% of the time, it's either competing against a rock-crushing market leader, or (worse) competing against something the consumer already got for free because it was bundled with their PC. In that situation, no price higher than zero can possibly survive.

  • by nordicfrost ( 118437 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:15AM (#9799530)
    Windows kicks Linux's ass in terms of usability and GUI refinements.


    That's news to me. I always regarded Windows to be ahead until w2k, and then the Linux apps quickly got their shit together. Since, they are more or less equal. Now, there's another system that kicks both their asses, MacOS X. That is to say, it kicks Linux' ass, but afterwards, it comforts Linux and give gentle hints on how to improve (Safari -> KHTML (or whatever)).

    • Windows kicks Linux's ass in terms of usability and GUI refinements.

      That's news to me. I always regarded Windows to be ahead until w2k, and then the Linux apps quickly got their shit together. Since, they are more or less equal.

      Occasionally, I like to try to understand how average user thinks and interacts with software, in order to better understand the users' needs and thus write better software.

      During these tests, I attempted to interact with the system using average joe tools - mouse (as we all k

    • by LordKaT ( 619540 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @09:21AM (#9800586) Homepage Journal
      I think the problem is that you, me, and most other tech savvy people want Linux on the Desktop; but, not just ours - everyones.

      In order to do this, Linux distributions need to be dumbed down. I'm sorry, but if we want Desktop supremacy too, we need to make a distro that assumes the end-user is a complete moron when it comes to computers. Why? Because the average user thinks of the computer as an appliance. This is never going to change, no matter how hard you will it.

      As much as you or I love to tinker with the technology behind it, the average Joe doesn't have the time, the will, or sometimes the brains to sit down and figure out what damned conf file needs to be edited in /etc/, or what obscure net driver he needs for his internal VIA network adapter. He also doesn't want to worry about his IP address, subnet mask, DNS servers and his gateway ("Gateway? Isn't that a computer brand?"). And, he sure as hell doesn't want to put up with attempting to install Linux drivers for his cool graphics card, only to have to find the X config file and change something.

      Speaking of the X-conf and dumbing things down: Windows automatically detects, and uses, the scroll wheel. To this day, I have a difficult time setting up my damn window manager to recognize the scroll wheel. A small thing, yes, but I have to admit, Windows does a wonderful job of just "making it work."

      As far as out of the box useability, I have yet to see a distro that hands down beats Windows.

      So, I guess what I'm saying is: I agree with the article on this one, because the article is, from my perspective, not geared twards you, or me - the tech savvy system administrators - it's geared twards arguments from the average user - the guy who isn't going to run Apache, or MySQLd, or write bash scripts, or setup his computer as a firewall, or buy a new computer to run MacOS X.

      For the average user, Windows still kicks Linuxs (Linux's? Linuxii?) ass, because it does the hand holding that the Distros treat worse than the devil.

  • Now if I complain I don't have an OSS option for somethig, people won't shout at me "Well, why don't you contribute to it then?"..

    That is, if they read this article...
  • Why is it this gets posted on slashdot? This sounds a hell of a lot more like his opinion to me. And look, I'm not getting posted on slashdot for saying Apache is cool.
  • by gorim ( 700913 )
    Then why do these form the backbone of the philosophy of nearly all FOSS hippy I have met ? Sorry, but these so-called myths *DO* represent the FOSS movement. You can't have the good without the bad. There is tons of good in FOSS, but these so-called myths are the baggage that comes with it. Or is the author trying to portray the FOSS movement as all good, and trying to sweep dirty laundry under the rug ?
  • "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"

    This is not a problem. Not only is it not a problem, but it is at the core of getting great software out.

    I'm sure many have heard how many photoshop users have complained about the GIMP, about its problems from their point of view, and often it's the same little dramas. the GUI, CMYK, whatever.

    How long have we been hearing this argument now? 3 years? 4 years?.

    Now imagine what a phenomenal product GIMP would be in the eyes of gra
    • You also have to be ABLE to fix it. The average Photoshop user certainly does not have the skills, time or inclination.
      • Able, my arse. (Score:2, Informative)

        by Gordonjcp ( 186804 )
        To fix it, you need to be able to give a clear description of the problem to the developers. "It doesn't work" is not a clear description; "It doesn't correctly read 192-bit-per-pixel multilayer tiff files, because it loses the last 8 bits of each channel" is.
    • Problem is that the bulk of photoshop users are griphics professionals, not programmers. So even if they had the desire, most don't have the skill to fix such things.

      Do you have any idea of how much work it would take for reliable and accurate CMYK separations in GIMP?

      I use GIMP sometimes, and Photoshop sometimes. It all depends on what I'm doing. If it's a quick image rotation and I don't feel the need to open photoshop, I'll GIMP it. If it's something more in depth, I'll use Photoshop.

      To each his own.
    • by steeviant ( 677315 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:26AM (#9799829)
      "Now imagine what a phenomenal product GIMP would be in the eyes of graphic artists who now use photoshop if only the people who had complained about it could be bothered to FIX what they see as problems. A few small years worth of effort in total, very little from each person who has seen something wrong, and the free tool would have surpassed the proprietary one years ago. Instead, all we get are more complaints."

      This is of course exactly the kind of idiocy the author of the article was complaining about. Imagine if, on the other hand the GIMP programmers weren't just working to scratch their own itch.

      They'd accept user's complaints as a legitimate roadmap to the areas in which they are failing to satisfy their user base, and do something about it, and respond positively by addressing the complaint personally, or as a team by attempting to entice someone with the neccessary skills to do the fixing.

      Imagine what a phenomenal product GIMP would be if the authors were prepared to attempt to resolve all complaints by managing users complaints as they would a technical issue.

      Just a few years of attempting to address all complaints, not just scratching the itch of the core programming team, and the free tool would surpass the proprietary one, by being responsive to the user rather than bound by cost/benefit analysis like commercial software vendors.

      Of course, this assumes that the users complaints are actually legitimate and substantive complaints and not just assinine and meaningless twaddle, which to me is no better or worse than you seemingly assuming that all users are coders whose work is of a suitable standard that it would be accepted by a mature open source project. :)
  • The idea that OSS is easy to get under the hood does not mean that every single user should (or even could) fix it - that's just a total strawman argument. There are enough programmers out there that the moderately popular projects will get input from outside and they *are* better as a result. 95% of project development comes from 'internal' development, but that extra 5% is sometimes crucial.

    Plus, it opens the opportunity for a business to hire someone to fix it/make it work as you want. There is no su
  • Windows kicks Linux's ass in terms of usability and GUI refinements.

    Sorry, I don't agree. To me the Windows GUI of XP is a cludge. Call me crazy but I personally find that the Gnome (Metacity) MUCH better suited to me. Also, I think it's idiotic to have a web browser built into the OS. I mean, who the hell needs a web browser in your file browser? Is that the "usability" he's writing about?

    Of course, everyone is different. But I find Linux much easier to get around and work in than Windows. Your taste ma
    • And yes, I know that you can surf the web in Gnome's file browser...but the difference is that you don't HAVE to build that into it.
    • Re:From the article (Score:3, Informative)

      by mabinogi ( 74033 )
      Hmm, to me IE feels far _less_ integrated than Konqueror does.

      sure, you can type file addresses in IE, and web addresses in explorer - but the web addresses in explorer will pop open a new iexplore.exe instance (which is different to explorer.exe).

      Personally, I have no problem with a central browsing application for web and file and any other type of information. But as usual, Windows doesn't actually pull it off.
      Microsoft seem to be completely unable to provide consistent integrated UIs.
      Take their "Web
  • Yeah whatever. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ikekrull ( 59661 )
    You can keep saying it's unrealistic to expect users to help fix problems with OSS software, but the fact is that only people who do put in the effort make any difference.

    The only people who can effect changes are people who do code, who don't accept this defeatist version of 'reality'. If everyone simply accepted it was unrealistic to be able to personally contribute to anything, well, this world would be a much worse place.

    What is 'realistic' to this guy is just not relevant to OSS development. Thats wh
  • by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:22AM (#9799561)
    I think one problem with discussing open source software is we often pretend everyone involved has the same objectives. The scratching a personal itch comment is a case in point. Sure, for some developers, that is all it is. For others, the motivation might be quite different. Some projects are receiving donations with the understanding that the key developers will produce specific features; some developers want to showcase their skills; and so on.

    Rather than talking about OSS as a whole, we need to try (as far as possible) to discuss the motives of individuals or the objectives of specific projects.

  • I was betting from the excerpt, that the article was not well done, even very poorly done.
    It's worse than that, it is pretty stupid too.
    Well, taking the myths one by one :
    1 : Red Herring. People who receive this treatment are generally whining or complaining. That's a way to shrug them off, because developers have no time to waste with such people. People who want to help post on bugzilla, explain to the author, tell him about the problem, without feeling compelled to say that the product "sucks".

    2 : Never
    • by Cereal Box ( 4286 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:53AM (#9799685)
      2 : Never in the explanation did he explain why Open Source doesn't allow you to go under the hood. YOU CAN. That's a fact. If you don't, that's no fault of Open Source (or Free Software)

      Er, no. The point he was making was that just because you "can" get under the hood of free software doesn't mean that you can really do anything worthwhile.

      For instance, if I find a bug in some massive application like Eclipse, sure I can get the source and "get under the hood", but for all intents and purposes I really can't because the source tree is so huge and complicated that I have about as good an understanding how the program works with the source as I do without it.

      So realistically, unless the source code is very simple and the problem to fix is a trivial one, just having the source doesn't really help you very much unless you intend on devoting a large amount of time to fixing the program.

      Having more choice doesn't prevent you from having a choice pre selected for you.

      You sure wouldn't know it reading Slashdot! It seems like the prevailing attitude among the free software zealots here is that the worst possible thing that could happen is to get a Linux CD with only one of every kind of application on it.
      • Give me any source code, no matter how big, no matter how ugly, no matter how many languages it is written in and a list of bugs and I'll knock em down one faster than the other. How is it so? I have made software maintenance skills baby and if the universities and IT schools recognised that this is where 99% of software development is spent there would be more like me.

        Now consider the opposite. As I sit in front of MKS Source Integrity which has the same bug that pisses me off every single time I use i

    • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:10AM (#9799740) Homepage
      1. If developers have no time to waste, they should simply ignore them, instead of starting flamewars or simply honestly state that they lack the time to implement this or that feature. Beside that, many people who are 'whining' are often criticising important failures of a project, sure they may have not used the perfectly gentle right words, but that doesn't make them less right.

      2. He is arguing from a practical point of view, not from a theoretical. For most people going under the hood of Open Source software is as realistic as climbing the Mount Everest, sure they could do it, but they neigher have the knowledge or the time to actually do it.

      3. Again he is talking from a practical point of view, not a theoretical one. Sure you can sell Open Source software, but how many people are actually doing it, especially if you leave the 'just boundle up a bunch of OSS written by other people' aka distros people? Actually very very few compared to the ones writing them. And even of those who make a bit of money with it, how many make actually enough money to make a living from it?

      4. Well, people are often overestimating the quality of a OSS product, but well, that happens more out of the fan boy camp, than out of the developer camp. Just count how many times you have heard that Gimp is a Photoshop killer, while in reality its far far behind Photoshop.

      5. Well, maybe no myth there, it just states that 'scratch an itch' doesn't really lead to any software that end-users are interested in.

      6. More choice is NOT always good. Are you happy that there are so many fileformats and everything is incompatible with each other? Wouldn't a bit less choice and more standards actually be a good thing? How about one good and polished configuration tool for linux that works, instead of dozens of hacks from the distro makers that all more or less don't work?

      A bit choice isn't bad, sure, but in the linux world it quite often turns out that instead of one working tool, you get half a dozens of unfinished not much working once. Just having 'More' isn't better, quality of the software itself matters.

      7. Far from it, it states pretty well how Open Source looks from a practical point of view, not from a theoretical one.

    • No offense and in the nicest possible way but you seem the classic open source bigot who this guy was addressing; you display an intensely self-obsessed whining and an inability to view the world from anything but your own tiny perspective.

      "People who receive this treatment are generally whining or complaining. That's a way to shrug them off, because developers have no time to waste with such people. ".

      In a nutshell, you gave an example of the very point the author was making. When developers don't care

    • by ctr2sprt ( 574731 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:20AM (#9799798)

      1 : Red Herring. People who receive this treatment are generally whining or complaining. That's a way to shrug them off, because developers have no time to waste with such people. People who want to help post on bugzilla, explain to the author, tell him about the problem, without feeling compelled to say that the product "sucks".

      That's certainly the case sometimes, but not always. Several times I've gotten the "You want it, you write it" reply when requesting new features, like supporting a database other than MySQL. If the developers would reply "I just don't have time to add this feature, I have to focus on supporting the stuff most people have or prefer," that's fine. I understand that many people are doing these projects in their free time. But many developers, in my experience, get extremely huffy when you suggest that something could be done better a different way. They take it as a personal attack. Then usually they get on their high horses about "You wouldn't have anything if not for me, and you'll get what features I want and you'll damn well like it."

      It's hardly unique to the OSS world, as it's a human failing. I think it's mainly that, in the OSS world, you have more direct access to the actual developers, and because they write their programs for free they tend to identify more with them. So any complaint about the program is interpreted, by the developer in this case, as an attack on the developer himself. Probably Bill Gates feels the same way when we talk shit about Windows (or Microsoft), believe it or not. I don't think anyone doubts he has a big emotional attachment to his company and its flagship products.

      2 : Never in the explanation did he explain why Open Source doesn't allow you to go under the hood. YOU CAN. That's a fact. If you don't, that's no fault of Open Source (or Free Software)

      He doesn't say that it doesn't allow you. He says that, in practice, most projects are sufficiently complex that most people are unable to. There's always a big startup cost involved in learning a new program. The bigger the program, the biggest the cost. While compartmentalization using libraries in such will help reduce this, if you don't know the libraries either, you're still looking at a big expenditure of time. And most of us have jobs and other priorities.

      So it's not that you can't dig in and modify the code. It's that 99.995% of Linux users lack either the ability or time to do so. The "You can modify the source, so it's better" argument isn't wrong; it's just misleading.

      3 : classic misunderstandig. We're talking about freedom here, not gratis. Stupid really, as all he says is then offtopic.

      No, the misunderstanding is on your end. He explicitly mentions the classic example of how to make money off free (as in speech) software: services. He also points out, quite correctly, that there's no way for an individual or small group to make any money off this. If you and a buddy write some great app, how on earth are you going to make money off it? A tiny company hasn't got the resources to provide "services" the way IBM or RedHat can.

      I mean, think of all those shareware games that the Mac people keep trotting out as examples that gaming on their platform doesn't suck. Those people wouldn't be able to make those games if they were open source. The market for services is too small, and even if there were one, the developers wouldn't have the manpower to provide it.

      4 : I've never heard this one. Clearly, nobody sane would state that. Perhaps he forgot the word "often" in the sentence.

      He's discussing myths, after all. If he said "often," then it wouldn't be a myth.

      On #5, we agree.

      6 : Even if people choose for you, more choice is always better (think monopoly). Even more stupid. Having more choice doesn't preven

  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:28AM (#9799582)
    The OSS methodology does not need such rigid definition or clarification.

    The only reason to run OSS software is because you care about the software that you run and are expected to use on a day-to-day basis. This is for the following reasons:

    1. You don't want to be locked into a particular vendor's proprietary protocols, data formats, etc.

    2. You want full control of your system. Why should you waste system overhead running a GUI, for example, on a system you just need to be a web server? You get that level of choice with OSS.

    3. You want to feel part of a community. Unlike commercial software, you cannot expect the software programmer to bring what you want straight to you in a format you want - it just doesn't work that way because there is no marketing of OSS software. You have to be prepared to feed likes and dislikes back to the programmer or team who created the software.

    4. You don't want to / can't pay for software. This is different to saying "All software should be free" and I'm all for voluntary donations to OSS projects. But it does mean that you can turn old hardware into a working usable system and in poorer countries, where people do not have the income to pay for software, this allows them to have exposure to the Internet, programming and gaining computer skills.

    5. You don't support piracy. This follows on from 4. above but surely it's better for everyone to have people paying for commercial software and not using illegal copies while those that won't pay for software just use free software instead.

  • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:29AM (#9799585)
    I find this assertion interesting:
    But you know as well as I do that if I am successful then inevitably some kid in his parents' basement will write his own Open Source version of the thing, for free.
    For a long time it was hard to get backing for software development on the PC because of the "Microsoft version" - the idea that if your idea was successful, MS would include it in the next version of Windows, undermining your market. Now, are we going to see that it's hard to get funding because someone will write a free version?

    Whether or not they will, or whether it will be any good, isn't really relevant. I doubt that GIMP has hurt Photoshop's sales much, or MySQL is making a dent in Oracle. It's the perception in the mind of VCs and investors that matters.
    • But you know as well as I do that if I am successful then inevitably some kid in his parents' basement will write his own Open Source version of the thing, for free.

      Here's the problem I have with this statement. From a market standpoint, if your work can so readily be replicated by a kid in his parents' basement, by definition it doesn't have very much economic value.
      I think people need to realize that software as a product, a general application useful to a large number of people, has a relatively low

  • And I think it has many interesting points that are worth thinking about and/or taking to heart.

    But, I have a critique of point 3 (All software should be free) and an observation about point 5 (Scratching the personal itch).

    First, there is profitable Open Source software out there. The biggest example I can think of is LiveJournal [livejournal.com]. Sure, what LJ sells is premium features for their site, but they wouldn't have a thing to sell without their software, which they've wisely chosen to Open Source. LJ makes enough money to afford some pretty hefty server farms in back of it. There are many clone sites out there that use their software, and are free to make money in the same way, but none of them have come even close to putting LJ out of business yet. In fact, I think they've just strengthened LJs business.

    So, software can be free, and still make money.

    In point 5, Neil Gunton cogently observes in the last sentence "A commercial company, on the other hand, can afford to scratch the personal itches of its end-users, because the end-users are the ones paying the bills.". This very true, and I think it provides a useful illustration of a means by which an Open Source company can make money by directly selling software.

    I think I ought to be able to go into a store and bu a copy of gimp. In fact, I think there are several Open Source packages which would lend themselves well to being sold seperately from distributions. This would do a lot to raise the visibility of these packages from a consumer perspective.

    I just answered a question by someone where they were wondering about Open Source packages for doing various things. I gave them a list of them. But every single one of those packages usually comes with a distribution. This person was totally unaware of this.

    These packages need marketing and distribution seperately from the OS. That marketing and distribution would raise their profiles, and provide a valuable way for end-users to get involved in how a package is produced. Their money would pay for support. They could be introduced to the concept of Open Source and how to effectively contribute constructive criticism and development money for their pet features to Open Source projects. The distribution company could provide a focal point for this, and a project could put things up on its homepage about how well it was being served by various distribution companies.

    This would both generate revenue for Open Source projects, adressing point 1. And it would provide direct consumer involvement that could drive feature development, addressing point 5.

    If I ever make consumer oriented Open Source software, I intend to sell it on my webpage, and not provide it for free download. I will tell them that if they can't afford the download, they should get a copy from their friends. I will provide source with the download. If someone wants to grab my source and try to compete with me in selling it under a different name, they're welcome to try, but I'm fairly confident that I can continue to add value to this software that I originally wrote better than anybody else, and they will eventually decide to rejoin my project anyway.

  • by mmurphy000 ( 556983 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:37AM (#9799616)

    I'm assuming the author posted his essay and pointed Slashdot to it in the interests of getting comments. Well, here are mine:

    "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"

    IMPE (In My Personal Experience), this statement is rarely the first thing out of the developers' mouths. It's mostly used when firing back at those who try demanding certain features be put into the projects. Anybody has the right to comment and criticize, and the open source developer community probably handles that as well as any audience does for that type of comment. However, nobody can demand things be done unless they're paying for it or they're doing it themselves.

    "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems"

    Does a casual user do this? Probably not. Does this mean that no user does this? Of course not. It's mostly a matter of how much import you put on the fix and getting it soon. And in terms of the complexity...that depends on the project. Like the essay author, I am "an experienced developer" and I've already helped fix bugs in rsnapshot (small Perl script) and as an experiment rewrote part of the TightVNC Java client to use as a Swing component instead of an applet (not huge, but not exactly simple, either.)

    "All software should be free"

    or more specifically:

    One of the central tenets of the Open Source philosophy (as it seems to be understood by the average person, at any rate) is that all software should be free.

    No, that's one of the central tenets of the Free Software movement, which is approximately a subset of the Open Source movement. And their concern is "free as in speech" more so than "free as in beer", which is more of a side effect. Yes, this philosophy, if carried to its practical conclusion, means no more shrinkwrapped commercial software. Just like the existence of Habitat for Humanity, if carried to its extreme, means no more business for home builders ("free as in siding"? ;-). But it doesn't eliminate the market for home improvement stores (e.g., Home Depot), as homeowners still have to "scratch their own itch" and fix things around the house. It therefore similarly does not get rid of the markets for lumber, bricks, shingles, nails, power tools, etc.

    "Open Source software is always better than closed, proprietary software"

    Actually, I agree here -- anyone who says that literally is nuts. If you put "All else being equal" on the front, then the statement is fairly decent, but rarely is all else equal, meaning a project's open source nature is one of many features, each with their own weight in the eyes of the decision-maker.

    "Scratching the personal itch"

    The author admits that this is true in the first sentence of his argument. If it ain't a myth, don't list it as a myth -- it hurts the essay overall.

    "More choice is always better"

    Like with the proprietary "myth" above, as a literal statement, this probably isn't a great statement. With "all else being equal" on the front, it is. Certainly, the inverse -- less choice is always better -- or the contrapositive -- more choice is never better -- are even worse statements, so the "myth" ain't so bad in comparison. (and forgive me if I got my inverse and contrapositive mixed up, as it's been a long time since I covered that in middle school).

  • by ewe2 ( 47163 ) <ewetoo@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:43AM (#9799644) Homepage Journal

    "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems"
    How is this a myth? Nothing prevents me from doing it, whether I want to is my choice. And those that do are always going to be in the minority.

    "All software should be free"
    Aaaagh. How many times do we have to reiterate it, not as in beer? Another "software is manufacture" argument.

    "Scratching the personal itch"
    So the desire to rule out leeching wasn't a valid itch in the case of bittorrent. Or the wish for a fast uncomplicated window manager made blackbox the choice of only programmers. My particular itch [sourceforge.net] has nothing to do with programming. This might have made sense maybe five years ago, now it's laughably easy to shoot down.

    "More choice is always better"
    This is a bad way to put it. "A bunch of bad choices is worse than a few good ones" is a better argument, and has much better application to software.

    This was lazily written and needed more thought before /. got hold of it. Bad move :)

  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @06:54AM (#9799687) Journal
    Most of the time, a list of myths provides little more than an opportunity to trot out a consignment of straw men-- willful distortions of the opponent's arguments, to be hacked, burnt, and slashed at for the the audience's amusement.

  • Author is confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:01AM (#9799709) Homepage Journal
    Responses to the points:

    "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"

    Agree. (i.e, agree with the author's disagreement to this statement). However, the statement is generally only aimed at someone who simply flames developers without offering anything constructive, in which case its valid.

    "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems".

    That statement is aimed at companies, not home users. Know why gimp is popular in hollywood, despite competing proprietary software having a lot more features? That's right, studios can (and do) pay dozens of programmers, and with gimp they get the source.

    "All software should be free"

    Hello? That's RMS's philosophy, and maybe the philosophy of the Free Software movement. The "open source" movement differs from RMS on precisely this point. Author's long rant about this is completely wasted, because it is a minority of FS/OSS proponents who believe that all software should be free.

    "Open Source software is always better than closed, proprietary software"

    Find me 5 people who believe that.

    "Scratching the personal itch"

    Well, that's the explanation of how unpaid OSS gets written. Commercial OSS is a whole different thing. I don't think anyone confuses the two. The author assumes that people do, and then goes on to explain why they shouldn't. Duh.

    "More choice is always better"

    Yes and no. That's why we have distros. If you are a linux vendor, more choice is always better. The vendors pick and choose and put together a coherent product so that the end user needs to make one choice (which distro to use) and nothing more. They get a usable system right away. If the end user wants to choose, they can, that's why you have debian, gentoo etc.

    Conclusion: these statements aren't myths at all, except in the author's mind, or have important caveats which the author ignores.

  • Freedom to Fix (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brian Blessed ( 258910 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:02AM (#9799712)
    The article is biased because it, seemingly deliberately, omits crucial parts of the discussion. For instance:
    2. "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems"

    The author says that the idea that OSS allows you to tinker with the source code is a "myth". He is totally missing the point; The freedom to fix the software is important, not because every user will be able to do so, but because they will all ultimately benefit from this access being available to the programmers that will submit patches.

    - Brian.
  • by Oddly_Drac ( 625066 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:08AM (#9799730)
    "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"

    Personally I've never heard this one, although I've fixed quite a few things, then submitted the necessary as it kills that one dead.

    "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems" - Maybe you'll poke around a bit in the code, and if it's trivial then you can fix it - but again, this really isn't something your average user is going to do.

    Look! Over there, other side of the road, travelling in the other direction...it's the point...

    The point of this 'myth' is you have the ability to. That's it. Whether you submit the patches or not, you can make any modifications that your little heart desires.

    "All software should be free" - I write something independently, then there is basically not a chance in hell of being able to sell it or make money directly from it.

    There is money being made, but I think the point is that all software should be free in terms of usage rather than monetary cost. Frequent mistake, but a schoolboy error for someone with 20 years experience.

    "As a developer myself, this prospect is profoundly depressing"

    Why the hell should it? I'm currently developing like there's no tomorrow; people pay for my ability to make things work how they want them to, they don't care about which tools I use. You don't stand over your plumber's shoulder and demand he uses branded Stilsons; you'd get one in the mouth after a short amount of time.

    "Yeah, I know, some will say "Go ahead and try, it's a free world". But you know as well as I do that if I am successful then inevitably some kid in his parents' basement will write his own Open Source version of the thing, for free."

    Unlike the corporation that could also do the same thing and just slightly undercut you? Grow up. Competition means going out there and seeing if your product/service will fly, and the capitalist ideal means that you could find yourself competing against an eight-year old wunderkind. On a long enough timescale kids will always kick your ass.

    "the Linux desktop"

    'The'?

    "Some of these benefits include having a more focused direction for the team, given the fact that there is (usually) just one manager and team leader, firmer schedules and deadlines, tighter management, profit incentives, salaries and bonus motivations. While this can also be true for open source projects, the "design by committee" that goes on with community projects often results in a more bloated and less focused product that tries to be all things to all people."

    Have you worked in a closed source environment? For one thing the manager generally doesn't code, the bonus motivations are usually in place to sweeten the complete lack of innovation and flair that are endemic to a heavily specified job and the deadlines usually slide for whatever reason. OTOH, you'll find that most of the _successful_ OSS projects actively try to cut down on the 'committee' element to the extent where someone usually throws their toys on the floor. Same shit, just slightly more transparent and vocal when it happens.

    "A commercial company, on the other hand, can afford to scratch the personal itches of its end-users"

    If it listens. Experience has shown that frequently features are thought of as more important than fixing problems, which has led to the current bloat cycle that usually results in the various companies talking about thin-clients...until they bloat the client again.

    "Some people will inevitably condemn me for putting down Open Source"

    Personally I'm disappointed that you appear to have such a narrow viewpoint. Your major concerns appear to be your own inertia, a couchlock attitude when faced with the idea that you can no longer simply code a product and leave it, that you may be faced with competition and that convienience should be paramount
  • by fuzzybunny ( 112938 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:20AM (#9799796) Homepage Journal
    I like his points, but I'm not sure I agree with point #3. I'm not a programmer, but a lot of my fellow consultants make pretty good money off bespoke software for clients. It _is_ related to the point the author makes, regarding "I have some cool ideas, how do I make money off it?" insofar as a lot of people focus on a particular area for development (web services, smart card interfaces, mobile applications, whatever.)

    Customers, especially large firms, don't buy that software, but they will hire a consultant to help them by writing an application that plugs a certain gap, period. The "sale" is the money they pay you for your time.

    No, you probably won't get to release that application to the public under the GPL, but you may very well obtain future business based on reference projects, business which involves writing similar applications for different projects.

    What I don't see nearly enough for my tastes is a "middle of the road", use-whatever-works-best approach in choosing or writing software. We live in the real world and gotta solve problems; if you have the time and energy to devote to writing programs idealistically, I salute you, honestly. If you don't, considering for example that you have to make things work for a client, or simply don't have the resources for it, nobody should give you s*** for it.
  • by infolib ( 618234 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:22AM (#9799809)
    I have no problem with people using copyright to charge for their software - it seems to me both parties get something from the deal. But it has to happen in a free market, and in the free market the price of information has fallen and can't get up. [shirky.com]

    As Shirky says: The price of information has not only gone into free fall in the last few years, it is still in free fall now, it will continue to fall long before it hits bottom, and when it does whole categories of currently lucrative businesses will be either transfigured unrecognizably or completely wiped out, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

    Nor should we. Industrialization wiped out the weavers' guilds, most of the farming population and the horse-cart manufacturers - and we're better off for it. The winds of change are blowing again. Let's tear down the windbreaks and build windmills instead.
  • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:26AM (#9799830) Homepage Journal
    1. This one understates the real problem. SOME open source developers may just as well be writing shareware. Naming no names, but I know at least one mail package that's completely closed to third party modifications... and I've run into other programs where the developers are nearly as hostile to patches.

    2. This one, however, is no myth. The vast majority of open source software is very approachable, easy to get into and fix things. I'm no "super programmer" but I've submitted patches that have gone into programs from AMANDA to THTTPD... hmmm, I guess I better see what I can do about Zeroconf, I'm a few letters from the end of the alphabet.

    Anyway, not "getting under the hood" is a choice. It's not hard and lets you scratch *your* itch.

    3. There are many many people in the OSS movement who have no objection to closed source software. I was at Usenix when someone asked McKusick what he thought about someone "stealing" the TCP code from BSD to put it in closed source software. His response... he welcomed it. It meant better software all round.

    4. You're assuming, again, that there's some basic conflict between the two approaches. Combine them, you get better software than either... there's hardly any significant proprietary system out there that isn't using OSS components. Apple is the obvious example, but Microsoft uses a lot of OSS in NT... they're even shipping a package containing GCC these days.

    5. "Scratching the personal itch". Proprietary software publishers do that too. They talk about being "technically led" or "market led", but the result is the same... if their "personal itch" makes their software less usable or less secure, the user loses. Integrate browser and the desktop? User loses! Abandon GUI guidelines in favor of the New Metal Look? User loses!

    What keeps them in check is competition, not any "market driven vision". And the same thing keeps OSS authors honest... PLUS with OSS you have a chance of getting into the source and scratching your itch as well in a way proprietary software can't equal.

    6. "More choice is always better". You don't want to choose? That's a choice as well... and one you get to make. There's lots of prepackaged OSS-based systems that have someone's idea of what the "best choice" is.

    7. Conclusion: it's not so simple. There isn't any one "Open Source" world, like there isn't any one "Proprietary world". Some OSS models are better than others. Some proprietary systems are better than others. Some OSS advocates have not-so-hidden agendas that you can learn to avoid... but most of those "myths" are simply a matter of your choosing *not* to take advantage of what OSS can offer you.
  • by levell ( 538346 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @07:36AM (#9799878) Homepage

    I thought the article was well thought out and the numerous people who are accusing him of confusing free as in beer and free as in libre are being unfair. The guy clear understands OSS, but if your software is libre then those you distribute it to can redistribute - meaning that you can't charge very much if anything for the code itself.

    Of course you can charge for support etc. but the article explicitly discussed that. It annoys me (as someone who is considering a career as a developer) that people seem to be deliberately misconstruing what the man wrote.

  • by iiioxx ( 610652 ) <iiioxx@gmail.com> on Monday July 26, 2004 @08:02AM (#9800008)
    I've seen that idea recited for years now. Make Free Software, give it away, and make money by selling support. Well, this sounds great if you are developing software for the corporate enterprise, which is the predominant purchaser of support services. Most corporate IT groups won't even consider a particular software package UNLESS they can buy a support contract for it.

    But what if you are a developer of desktop software, designed for home users or small business? By and large, those users don't buy support services. More importantly, if you are developing desktop software such as an organizer or an email program, it should be designed well enough that it doesn't require support.

    How many home users would use a particular program that was free to download, but required paid support services because it was such a bitch to use and maintain?

    The "Free Software, Paid Support" model simply breaks down at the desktop level. And as long as there is no profit incentive for developing Free desktop software, you will see that software continue to be developed by hobbyists in their spare time. And this certainly won't further the cause of Desktop Linux.

    • I've seen that idea recited for years now. Make Free Software, give it away, and make money by selling support. Well, this sounds great if you are developing software for the corporate enterprise, which is the predominant purchaser of support services. Most corporate IT groups won't even consider a particular software package UNLESS they can buy a support contract for it.

      But what if you are a developer of desktop software, designed for home users or small business? By and large, those users don't buy su

  • by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @11:08AM (#9801650) Homepage
    The very title of the article shows that the author doesn't understand Open Source Software. Very few blanket statements will apply to all open source projects or developers. His blanket statements are no different.

    "If you're not willing to help fix it then you shouldn't complain about it"
    I've heard this, but it has been rare & is becoming more rare. In fact, I most often see it in conversations between two end users (and often on F/OSS for Windows). This can usually be seen as noise--in many cases the developers are quick to offer a much better reply, saying it is on the TODO, or offering short suggestions of how one might start to make a patch if they are so inclined. In other cases, complaints aren't expressed in the right forum--if this was the "last word," as the article's author states, it is often because no developers are able to read it. End users should be better educated how to voice their gripes & have something happen--search bugzilla (or a developer's mailing list) & if you seem to be the first one with the complaint, make it politely in what appears to be the correct forum for bug reports/feature requests!

    "Open Source software allows you to get under the hood and fix problems"
    Well-written ("maintainable" or, as ESR says, transparent and discoverable) and highly used Open Source Software almost always receive patches or plugins not written by the development team. The Linux Kernel Team might keep tight reigns on what they maintain, but there are plenty of kernel patches that find their way all the way into the vanilla kernel, or are at least popular enough to be found in non-vanilla kernels. Many, many, more can be applied by end users.

    Diff/patch are proof to me that this really isn't a myth. You might not choose to fix or even look at someone else's code, but you usually can (and, importantly, others are likely to).

    All software should be free
    There's still a not-insignificant amount of contention on making more libre software & what that exactly means. See numerous licensing arguments of BSD vs. GPL, etc. As for making all software gratis, as the article implies, I don't really hear this too often. Most people in F/OSS are quick to point out that "Free" doesn't refer to "free beer" & will offer numerous F/OSS projects which are sold (a boxed linux distro, for example).

    He doesn't really seem to understand the "Commoditization of Software." There are a few different types of applications & F/OSS has pursued most of them & certainly all of the popular ones. Sometimes development is unpaid. In other cases, commercial companies "who get it" or national labs/universities which receive public funding have done the authoring. The thing is that once that F/OSS alternative is out there, it will often develop into something people want to use & want to make better so that others will use it too.

    Open Source software is always better than closed, proprietary software
    Better in what way? No one really claims that GNU-CAD is yet at the level of commercial counterparts, but it is foolish to say it is impossible for them to get to that level. (I also disagree that Windows has a better GUI than *nix.) For popular projects, the development is usually always better--code gets fixed faster & the number of users often indicates that the "Return on Investment" is better enough that losing some things (compatibility with proprietary binaries often being the biggie) to be worth it.

    Scratching the personal itch
    The thing is that many developers are end-users as well. Evolution and Firefox are fine examples. It is also very likely that F/OSS will try to satisfy the end user needs--anyone can voice gripes about it. The thing is that many end users also happen to be developers. The other thing is that those who don't want to adopt F/OSS want a 1:1 replacement of the commercial software they've become locked-in to. Patents and some restrictive licenses ma
  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @11:28AM (#9801861)
    Kinda frustrating to see people ripping these commonsense points apart one by one. Really, these are all obvious and valid points. If you're all bent out of shape about them, even to the point where you need to rip the author on Slashdot, then you might just be part of the problem. Open Source is a simple and clean concept, but it is very secondary to good application design. "OSS" is not any kind of magic pill, and it certainly isn't an end unto itself.

    (And personally, while I'm here, the number one most important tenet of open source should be SIMPLICITY. No one can safely modify code that isn't beautifully clean and understandable.)
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @11:49AM (#9802064) Homepage
      1. Discover bug.
      2. Document bug.
      3. Report bug on bug reporting system on SourceForge.
      4. Wait a few days.
      5. Explore messages on project message board. Discover that the developers don't read the bug reporting system. Find appropriate Yahoo group they actually do read. Repost bug.
      6. Wait a few days.
      7. Get reply on message board: "Have you tried this in the beta release?"
      8. Set up CVS to talk to SourceForge. Get sources. Try to build program. Discover dependencies on specific versions of other projects. Get them.
      9. Wash, rinse, repeat.
      10. Try original problem in latest source. Verify problem.
      11. Reply to "Have you tried this in the beta release" with "yes".
      12. Wait a few days.
      13. Nothing happens.
      14. Wait some more.
      15. Nothing happens.
      16. Dig into code. Find defect. Fix defect. Verify that bug is gone.
      17. Run regression tests. Discover that regression tests show regression test errors. Run regression tests on released version. See same regression test errors. Read CVS comments to discover that regression tests haven't been updated to match source.
      18. Report fix on message board.
      19. Wait a few days.
      20. Nothing happens.
      21. Write on message board asking for source check-in permission.
      22. Get message that a major rewrite of that section is underway and the developers don't want changes to the old code in that area right now.
      23. Point out that developers haven't done a check-in on that section of code in three years.
      24. Get check-in permission.
      25. Check in fix. Rebuild. Rerun regression tests. Update README. Put message on message board about fix.
      26. Receive bug report from other user who was relying on the broken behavior.

      This is why you don't fix bugs in the programs of others.

  • The profit motive. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Godeke ( 32895 ) * on Monday July 26, 2004 @11:59AM (#9802141)
    I think that there are inaccuracies on most of the statements made (not to the point that completely reverse the analysis, but the issues are more complex than they are being made) but point #3 is obviously the impetus behind Neil's questioning "Open Source Myths".

    I have seen similar to this quite a bit: "I grew up in the 1980's assuming that I would one day be able to write some really cool software, then *SELL IT*, and make some real money for my trouble." I think that this is *not* a valid argument. While stating a personal opinion and emotional state quite clearly, one could say the same about the farmers who "expected to make a living on the farm" or factory workers who "expected to continue to make a living in the industry".

    Efficiencies continue to increase in the world, displacing people from jobs, many times leaving them few good alternatives. Is this good? Surely it seems not to be for those displaced. Yet, few people today would want to be contrained by the living conditions of the early 1900's, or earlier. We live lives that the kings of old would have killed for, by standing on the broken backs of those displaced by efficiencies that were created by new technologies and methodologies. I myself would find it difficult to give up modern amenities while simultaneously understanding the concerns of outsourcing and open source. Hypocrite is one word for it, I guess. At the end of the day, I have decided that luxury trumps a living wage for my fellow man.

    So how does this apply to OSS? Simply: we are outsourcing the development of potentially commercial work to *ourselves* and creating the infrastructure for software to be "worth less in dollars spent". If I build operating systems, web servers or databases, I'm pretty sure I would be feeling just like the farmers and factory workers of old: there is a pressure building that is not going to go away, which will sap the monetary reward for what I do.

    Does this mean I am against OSS then? Surely not, for I realize that the end result of this change is software development is not the destruction of an industry, but the creation of a bedrock of new technologies and methodologies which will allow me to produce better and better solutions for my customers at lower and lower costs. I can't dream of writing the next "big word processor", but frankly that is an empty dream anyway with the established commercial vendors in place today. The only difference here with OSS is when a type of software reaches a certain threshold of maturity, commercial exploitation of that type of software becomes harder and harder as the OSS packages catch up.

    The main difference with our industry is the *speed* at which the effects are felt: it took a generation to destroy the factory worker's job, it took several generations for the farms to be destroyed. We are seeing an industry created and destroyed in one lifetime. Myself, I'm glad I didn't get the opprotunity to get comfortable with the old model and had the chance to learn how to produce viable solutions for my customers using the new model. You see, for every dollar my clients don't spend on commercial operating systems, SQL servers, etc, there is a dollar available for me to apply honest work to solving the problems they are interested in having solved. Where OSS won't work, I'm more than willing to pay the commercial vendors for the parts and pieces I need: because in *those* cases they provided real value for my dollar.
  • by Taurine ( 15678 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @03:13PM (#9804487)
    The idea that "all software should be free" is clearly ridiculous in a world where most everything else has to be paid for, but this guy's argument against it is pretty poor. He says:
    Some argue that there will always be a market for vertical market software (customized, very specific to a particular business), and this is true, but why can't I write a wonderful new *general* tool and make money from it? Yeah, I know, some will say "Go ahead and try, it's a free world". But you know as well as I do that if I am successful then inevitably some kid in his parents' basement will write his own Open Source version of the thing, for free.

    If this guy wants to be an ISV because he has a really novel and profitable piece of software in mind, he's going to get considerably stiffer competition than "some kid in his parents' basement". If his software turns a decent profit he's going to be up against other businesses that will be happy to invest serious resources to build a product that makes people want to pay them instead. The kid in the basement can try to build something better, and if he's got the resources to do that on his own, he'll be tempted to go commercial too.

    People release things open source because they know that they don't have the resources to produce something complex on their own and to an agressive timescale needed to get to market while the money is still there. The super-successful open source projects draw their resources from a large number of contributors and take a while to get going. If these projects could reach new and lucrative markets while there was still big money to be made in them, the temptation to go commercial would be too much for many.
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Monday July 26, 2004 @09:52PM (#9807805)

    Useability is not the same as learnability, except for the case of a kiosk where nobody uses it twice.

    True useability goes beyond grandma using the machine the first time, to grandma emailing the grandkids daily (weekly or however often). True useability may even go so far as to time how long it takes to press each key, and re-arranging the keyboard to save 1/10th of a second. (AT&T did this once for their operators, a case where spending a couple days in training saves money in the long run once they know the new layout the saves the thousands of seconds per person per month)

    Linux is very useable if you are a programmer. KDE is very useable if you use your computer daily. And if you have never used a computer before KDE/gnome is just as useable as windows. (each has its own quirks though) If you are an expert at windows linux and the desktops are not as useable at first, if you take the effort to learn them they are at least as useable, perhaps more so depending on what you want to do with them.

    As an example: I ran spell check on this post and corrected 7 errors. (there may be more, but speelcheck didn't find them) This is much easier to do in KDE than in any other desktop I've used. However there is something else that you can do easily that I can't easily do in KDE.

Dynamically binding, you realize the magic. Statically binding, you see only the hierarchy.

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