A Correspondence on
'The Problems of Open Source'
came from an FOSS supporter. I publicise
it because it was about the only
intelligent response I received to 'The
Problems of Open Source' from the FOSS
camp and it reveals no confidential
information. I've not included the email
of the sender to respect his privacy. His
comments are italicised and my text is
not. Replies to replies etc. are
I'd like to give some belated feedback on
your open source article. I'll focus on
your main points here:
1. Good software arises when one or more
very good programmers work closely full
time together over a period of time
developing, maintaining and improving it.
and no. It doesn't require full-time
attention or very good programers.
Just good programmers and enough time
to do it. Depending on the project,
it can be done in spare time as a
hobby as well.
The problem is that in a
commercial environment, there is not
much incetive to get good programmers
to work together intensively for a
long time, because that costs too
much. Rather, they get the cheapest
possible programmer who can just
handle the job, and push that person
to do the job as quickly as possible.
In my experience, the quality of the
software I'm writing together with my
colleagues at work is normally lower
than the open source software I work
on since most employers don't want to
invest in good software. They are OK
with sofware that "just
works" with the emphasis on
"just". There's even a
perverse incentive not to make the
software too good if it's sold to a
third party, so they will buy the
next version with much needed
wouldn't altogether agree here.
It depends on the software
but generally there is a steep
investment of time in grokking
any large piece of software and
if you have a good team with
experience it is hard to replace.
I've seen software be
degraded by people arriving on a
project with ideas but lack of
knowledge. Hobbyism doesn't
really provide the degree of
financial support necessary to
produced, documented and finished
2. If you give your
software away under GPL (free as in free
speech) its very difficult to charge for
it and so it ends up being free as in
free beer. Ditto for FOSS.
and no. Usually the software itself
is free. Usually, there is some
indirect way to make money for it
involved. Often that is sufficient.
is the nub of the article; often
it is not. The point is
that most OS people start with
saying 'OS is great' and then
hunt around for some economic
model to sustain it.
Funding should not be an
3. Hence if you
want to maintain yourself and/or your
team, you need a viable economic model
and FOSS/GPL does not always supply it.
Their standard models are support and
There are other models as well, such
as corporate cooperation. The reason
Linux has taken of as the Unix
operating system of our times is that
many corporations wanted a Unix, but
before you had tons of incompatible
Unix-alikes from different vendors,
like HP-UX, AIX, Xenix, etc. It makes
more sense, even for those commercial
entities to invest in a jont venture
like Linux than to pump money in
competing non-compatible systems. In
other words, standardisation cuts
costs enough for it to be attractive
to invest in. Open source guarantees
standardization much better than
commercial software, hence investing
in open source software is attactive
for certain problem domains. Other
models for generating income from
open source not mentioned by you are
ransomware , freemium, and other
ideas yet to be discovered.
think Linux was covered and I
pointed out it was a special case
of something complex enough to
make money through services.
But this does not suit many
development projects. Ransomware
is thought of as malware.
Freemium doesn't really
work well with OS.
4. Since the
economic model for FOSS is not
generically viable it often relies on
corporate and taxpayer money to sustain
but even if it were true, why would
this be bad?
I think if OS software mostly
cannot internally generate
revenue; if it is dependent on
the public purse or takeovers of
abandoned software then really
this needs to be flagged by OS
people. What they are
saying is 'Our model is by itself
incapable of financially
sustaining development w.o.
external funding or giftware'.
That is a major weakness
and needs to be flagged.
and corporations do decide on what
projects to invest money in and which
ones not, and they invest in open
source software because it's
profitable for them in the long run.
It doesn't take much thought to
figure out why. For many domains,
it's much cheaper to finance a few
enthusiasts and get a server OS or a
speadheet package out of it than to
fork over endless big license money
to commercial entities who want to
keep you in the upgrade treadmill.
This also explains though why there
is not much progress for, say, Linux
on the desktop, since that's not a
domain that the powers that be find
very interesting to invest in.
Compare this to how Android has
exploded in popularity with millions
of activations per day... "Who
profits" indeed! :)
is a fair point; but it comes
under the 'too complex to use
easily' provision which I
mentioned in the essay. Sure if
your software is hard to fathom
or use then there may be a
percentage in being paid to
maintain or develop it. This case
was covered in the essay.
note that the OS developer's
position is precarious. If the
corporation decides to make the
software in-house or decides that
they understand it well enough or
that it is stable enough not to
need maintenance then the OS
developer is likely to be dropped
in the next round of corporate
spending cuts. BSD/MIT licenses
give you very few rights over
5. The lousy
quality of FOSS is disguised by pointing
to the few success stories. So much of it
is (badly) copying commercial ideas.
I'd say not only FOSS, but MOST of
ALL software is of a lousy quality,
and FOSS often tends to be somewhat
better where it matters, though,
admittedly, not always. This is of
course due to lack of resources in
both cases, but for different
reasons. As for copying ideas it
happens in all ways. I know just as
many instances of commercial software
copying open source as vice versa!
think there are specific reasons
why FOSS is often worse, because
there is often no financial
incentive for people to maintain
and improve it. Any
commercial software at least
begins with this incentive.
However the 'if you don't
like it too bad' attitude is
symptomatic of a lot of FOSS
work. I'm not being paid so
why bother? Also the
atrocious quality of the doc
because OS hackers do not like
writing up their work because
it's not 'fun'.
like FOSS because it allows them to
exploit ideas without recompense.
and no. Corporations are smart enough
to know that FOSS enthusiasts need to
eat too, and often will hire them or
fund them.At least in cases where it
makes sense economically to said
the minimum degree to get what
they want which may be zero if
they can get away with it.
Or they may prefer to make
the project inhouse and hire
their own having grabbed stuff
for free. Who says they
have to be nice or fair?
7. We do not need
the Open Source Movement or the FSF.
While I do think that the FSF is a
bit extreme, I think they embody a
positive spirit of giving that
ultimately is better for mankind than
the short-sighted model of maximum
profit at the expense of anything
else. While economy is important, the
current systems we have are not the
end all be all. The problem is that
the state of the economic science is
dismal, often it is not better than a
religion where everything is taken on
faith and facts are ignored (see, for
example, the Austrians). Now why
would that be so?
that begs the question as to
whether OS is a good thing. I've
argued it may not be. The message
of the FSF is that closed source
is evil. The OS site simply
refuses to engage in any
discussion on the weaknesses of
their model. This is not to
say giving is wrong, but that it
is an individual choice and not a
matter for organisations to
promote - particularly if they
are pushing something that is
flawed or which they cannot