Closed-source considered harmful (was: JavaScript considered harmful)

Cliff Wells logiplexsoftware at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 14 20:31:21 CET 2002


On Sat, 12 Jan 2002 05:22:59 -0000
Donn Cave wrote:
> Haven't been religiously following the thread, but I think this is
> coming from Oleg's assertion that open source is good because it
> allows you to see inside your software and therefore understand it
> better.  Applies to these people?  I mean, if they could see how a
> filesystem is implemented, they'd sure have a deeper appreciation
> of the difference between files and directories (or was that a joke -
> sure a directory isn't a file?)  But that's kind of a tough slog for
> someone who previously hasn't shown a lot of interest in the technical
> stuff.
> 
> To veer back off topic, my theory is that we're reluctant to invest a
> lot of time in learning software because it's so ephemeral.  If I knew
> I'd be using this stuff for the next 20 years, or even the next 2 years,
> then it would be easier to think about sitting down with the
documentation.
> "Innovation" makes experience superficial.

I don't disagree that most users will never read the source.  I've been
using Linux since kernel 1.0.9 and have never really read much of the
source (except when evaluating hardware purchases: you'd be surprised at
some of the comments made by driver writers).  To me, it seems that there
are several advantages to open-source, but they vary a bit by the type of
software being considered:

For almost all open-source software:
- Investment in software is protected: a company (or open-source developer)
discontinuing development of a product won't leave you without options (you
are free to pick up development yourself).
- The existence of open-source projects has the potential to rapidly
accelerate the state-of-the-art.  With closed source, developers are left
reinventing the wheel over and over because they are unable to see how a
piece of software does something.  Open source provides a huge reference
library that developers can draw from.  Contrast Id software's
open-sourcing of Doom (after the technology is no longer state-of-the art)
to MS's continuing to hoard the source for MS-DOS, old versions of Windows,
etc.

For OS's:
- Open source takes the competetive advantage away from a single company. 
This of course is one of the major complaints about MS.  They not only
provide the OS, but the applications for it as well.  They know the inner
workings of Windows, but no one else does, which provides them with a great
advantage over their competitors in application development.

For me, having an open source OS is far more important than having _all_
software be open-source.  However, given a choice between and open-source
product and a closed-source product, I'll choose the open-source one every
time.

-- 
Cliff Wells
Software Engineer
Logiplex Corporation (www.logiplex.net)
(503) 978-6726 x308
(800) 735-0555 x308




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