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Trouble With Open Source? 523

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the devils-advocate dept.
George Russell writes "Stephen J Marshall, writing in the BCS online magazine, provides a cogent argument detailing the ills of Open Source Software for the software industry - namely, the lack of conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation together with the issue of ownership of OSS developed under the current Intellectual Property laws. Do these issues concern you?"
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Trouble With Open Source?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:07PM (#13590238)
    Nope.
    • me too

      (Haven't you ever read a help forum?)
      (No?)
      (Well, screw you, too!)
    • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:13PM (#13590278) Homepage Journal
      You took the words right out of my mouth :)

      Seriously, if you don't like open source then you're free to get your software somewhere else. The fact that people even write articles like this really says something -- that the traditional industry is afraid of open source. It makes sense that an industry that sells virus-infected software for $200 a pop is afraid of a kind of software that doesn't cost any money and has most of its critical bugs fixed in a week.

      But, if you don't like that, nobody's forcing you to use it. Don't like Linux? Don't use it! Whining about how it's unprofessional or unsafe or whatever isn't going to solve any of your problems. Try writing software that's better or cheaper... if you can't do that then you need a new industry. (Oh, I have an idea. Let's make OSS illegal since it hurts business. It worked for P2P and the music industry, right?)
      • by quarkzone (133513) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:26PM (#13591095)
        "Oh, I have an idea. Lets make OSS illegal since it hurts business".

        You have given the best summary of what this author is really selling.

        Leads off with IP laws (written before there was such a thing as software) and ends with:

        "What we really need from government is an investigation of the long-term effects of OSS on our indigenous software industry, assistance to combat the threat to the industry's livelihood that OSS might pose"

        No! What we need is for government to pay less attention to the "threat to the industry's livelihood" and more attention to removing obstacles to the rise of the public domain's interests, as is fostered by FOSS methods of product value development and delivery.

        Pretty cute, too, use of "the industry" - as if processes and methods matter more than the public value of, and accessibility to, the product. And as if the 'proprietary' world's processes and methods are "the industry" while FOSS is not.

        As pointed out in at least one other post, I think that - for example - IBM, Sun and HP would be surprised to discover that they are not in "the industry".
  • Hrmph. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurhussein (864532) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:10PM (#13590255) Homepage
    Do these issues concern you?

    No.

    Where do these people think up these imaginary problems? "Lack of conceptual integrity"? "Lack of innovation"? The open source community has been a source of quality software and helpful guidance for as long as I've used it (YMMV of course). But I've never had the troubles which always get paraded about in the media.

    • Where do these people think up these imaginary problems? "Lack of conceptual integrity"? "Lack of innovation"? The open source community has been a source of quality software and helpful guidance for as long as I've used it (YMMV of course).

      Exactly. And let's cite a few examples:

      • Apache.
      • OpenOffice.
      • Linux Kernel, BSD Kernel.
      • KDE, GNOME.
      • Samba
      • Mozilla suite, Firefox

      And I am leaving a lot of large scale, succesfull, profesional grade, conceptually integral and in many cases innovative Open Sourve /

      • mod up! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Billly Gates (198444)
        Most FOSS is not that innovative and just clones existing applications. Keep in mind closed source apps mainly do this as well.

        However Apache and Firefox are the few innovative apps that closed source software is playing catchup in. Gnome and KDE are also not just cloning MacOSX and Windows but are now begining to come out with their own features.

        This alone dispells the FOSS only copies myth going around by the software industry.

      • Re:Hrmph. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MerlinTheWizard (824941) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:29PM (#13590716)

        Your examples are good, obvious ones. You could have cited GCC too, which is one of the best compiler suites that I know of.

        The guy has a point, though. Not all OSS is high quality, far from it. And last but not least, not all of it is maintained on a decently regular basis. I know a lot of OSS projects, some of which quite good, which have gone unmaintained, or are maintained once in a blue moon - that is unprofessional. And that's the very nature of OSS: you can't blame the developers for not maintaining their projects as much as they should, because, well, they have a life to lead and money to make to sustain it! As someone pointed out, a developer, at the end of the day, wants to be able to make money from his work... I'm in that place too: as much as I love OSS, and use a lot of it, I am not in a place in my life right now where I can afford to contribute and not get any money in return... maybe when I'm retired? (And I think a lot of us can relate.)

        Actually, the examples you mentioned have more or less all something in common: they are backed by either a foundation or a commercial company! That's actually how they can survive and keep their level of quality. Again, a lot of project are poorly maintained or just plain disappear... of course, you might say, since it's OSS, someone else can pick up where it was left off. But in reality, does it happen a lot? It does sometimes, but I'd venture that it's not the destiny of most small to medium-sized OSS projects...

        All in all, we're always back to the same issue: how do we work for free and still make money? Obviously the "making money off support" is not always workable, especially for the smaller companies. Besides, that would essentially mean, for a small company, providing custom solutions; something that is very demanding (all of us fellow independant engineers should relate...) Also, some software solutions do not need extensive support compared to some others. Then, imagine you have a great software package that pretty much works "off the box" for everyone. How do you make money?

        As great as OSS is, there is a point where just "sharing" stuff with others is not enough. Actually, if you're not paid for your creative work (software), but for the additional support, doesn't that imply, in the end, that creative work has no value in itself? One of the key problems, in my opinion, and not just with software. Nowadays, more and more people find it perfectly normal not to pay for music and movies - and pay for solutions to access it. I'm afraid we would run as much risk to eventually see only the biggest companies (or foundations, or whatever) survive, than we do with sofware patents. Two different approaches... but are the consequences all that different? Not necessarily.

        Again in my opinion, open standards are much more important than open source software. They guarantee our freedom. OSS is not the only way to promote them, although it has taken a big part in it so far.

        • Re:Hrmph. (Score:3, Informative)

          by bitingduck (810730)
          Not all OSS is high quality, far from it. And last but not least, not all of it is maintained on a decently regular basis.

          I'm a relative newcomer to OSS, but I think that neither of these statements is a real problem with OSS.

          first: Not all OSS is high quality.

          That's certainly true, but not all closed source software is high quality either. A lot of fairly specialized stuff that's closed source is junk, too. (actually some pretty major stuff is junk, too, but I'll use a relatively specialized example) A f
    • Re:Hrmph. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:25PM (#13590343)
      I have always felt that Linux [redhat.com] is a nice operating system (for hobbyists and geeks), but there are some areas where it is seriously lacking, especially when compared to its main competitor, Microsoft Windows [microsoft.com].

      * File sharing. Windows has long been superior when it comes to making large amounts of files available to third parties. Even early versions of Windows automatically detected and made available all directories thanks to the built in NetBIOS-powered file sharing support. But Microsoft has realized that this technology is inherently limited and has added even better file sharing support to its Windows XP operating system [toastytech.com]. Universal Plug and Play will make it possible to literally access any file, from any device! I think universal file sharing support needs to be built into the Linux kernel soon. [esecurityplanet.com]

      * Intelligent agents. With innovations like Clippy [slashdot.org], the talking paperclip and Microsoft Bob [windowsbeta.net], Microsoft has always tried to make life easier for its customers. With Outlook and Outlook Express [ximian.com], Microsoft has built a framework for developers to create even smarter agents. Especially popular agents include "Sircam", which automatically asks the users' friends for advice on files he is working on and the "Hybris" agent, which is a self-replicating copy of a humorous take on "Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves" (the real story!). [compedit.com] Microsoft is working on expanding this P2P technology to its web servers [netscape.com]. This project is still in the beta stage, thus the name "Code Red". The next versions will be called "Code Yellow" and "Code Green".

      * Version numbers. Linux has real naming problems. What's the difference between a 2.4.19 and a 2.2.17 kernel anyway? And what's with those odd and even numbers? Microsoft has always had clear and sophisticated naming/versioning policies. For example, Windows 95 [kde.org] was named Windows 95 because it was released in 1995. Windows 98 [kde.org] was released three years later, and so on. Windows XP [apple.com] brought a whole new "experience" to the user, therefore the name. I suggest that the next Linux kernel releases be called Linux 03, Linux 04, Linux 04.5 (OSR1),
      Linux 04.7B (OSR2 SP4 OEM), Linux 2005 and Linux VD (Valentine's Day edition). Furthermore, remember how Microsoft named every upcoming version of Windows after some Egyptian city? Cairo, Chicago and so on. I think that the development kernels should be named after Spanish cities to celebrate Linux' Spanish origins. Linux Milano [alyssa.com] or Linux Rome [nero.com] anyone?

      * Multi-User Support. This has always been one of Microsoft's strong sides, especially in the Windows 95/98 [kde.org] variants, where passwords were completely unnecessary. Microsoft has made the right decision by not bothering the user
      with a distinction between "normal" and "root" users too much -- practice has shown that average users can be trusted to act responsibly and in full awareness of the potential consequences of their actions. After all, if your operating system doesn't trust you, why should you trust it? (To be fair, Linux is making some progress here with the Lindows distribution, where users are always running as root.)

      With Windows XP, Microsoft has again improved multi-user support. Not only does Windows XP come with a large library of user pictures that are displayed on the login screen, such as a guitar and a flower, i
      • Re:Hrmph. (Score:2, Funny)

        by AndreiK (908718)
        The scary thing is, I thought you were serious until that DRM part.
    • Not Imaginary. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hackwrench (573697)
      They plague every human endeavor. The article falls victim, however, to the idea that every human endeavor is monolithic. There is no one OSS vision, not all commerce is sordid, and I doubt that many hold the opinion that they be separate. The article falls apart under the delusions of its writer. Somebody give him and those close to him a wake up call!
  • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vectorian798 (792613) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:10PM (#13590259)
    He points out things like 'conceptual integrity' and 'professionalism' and 'innovation', things that can be found in many OSS projects. What bothers me about writing open source code is simple: Where is my money.

    Many say, that you should make money off support. However, that is plain stupid because the software is the hard part, the part that interests me, the part that I want to be paid for instead of something like support.

    The reason I support many OSS is one thing: excellence of product, like Linus.
    • So... is most shrinkwrap proprietary software noted for its conceptual integrity or innovation?

      'Professionalism' is rather a loaded word, see Phil G.'s notes [greenspun.com] on it.
    • Wrong... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HermanAB (661181)
      Sales and support are the hard part. Writing the code is easy.
    • Re:Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrAndrews (456547)
      Aha! Exactly the point I've been trying to make, and phrased perfectly! If you spend your time professionally supporting your own code, your coding time is your hobby just as much as working for Company X and programming at night.

      Now, to extend that a bit further: if there were a mechanism by which you, as a programmer, could work at your code full-time, people would then naturally assume "conceptual integrity", "professionalism" and you'd have far more time (and fewer restrictions) to achieve proper "inn
    • One business model (Score:3, Insightful)

      by einhverfr (238914)

      Many say, that you should make money off support. However, that is plain stupid because the software is the hard part, the part that interests me, the part that I want to be paid for instead of something like support.


      Define support.... Does support include charging customers an hourly rate to help companies impliment the software optimally? Does support include adding features that some customers may want and charging for your time? There is a lot more to support than support incident resolution.
    • Re:Not really (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Billly Gates (198444)
      Quite easy.

      I view FOSS as a resume builder for a dream software engineering job. I have no experience developing software so would you hire me? Of course not

      However if I can show what I do and what I have done I have a chance.

      If you were hiring someone would you hire them on their word on what projects that did at job X? Or would you hire someone who contributed %25 of the html rendering code in Konqueror and developed a nice tcp/ip sniffing application? I would chose the later. His or her code could also b
    • Re:Not really (Score:4, Informative)

      by Arker (91948) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:29PM (#13590721) Homepage

      You want to make money coding?

      So what you do is customise software. This is probably where MOST coders make their money, and always has been. The availability of standardised Free Software packages to build on has only expanded this market.

    • Re:Not really (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bob_Robertson (454888) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:58PM (#13590916) Homepage
      What bothers me about writing open source code is simple: Where is my money[?]

      In a demand economy, such as a capitalist one, you are paid by those to whom you trade your labor/skills/time.

      As a programmer, I think you will find most paid programming is done not to build general applications that are then shrink-wrapped, what companies pay for is something that directly benefits themselves. Tools, software customization, the generic "Database Analist" and "Systems Administrator".

      So if you want to be paid to write F/OSS, find an organization which will pay you for your time doing what they need, and help them to realize that putting the resultant code under GPL, for example, helps everyone, including them.

      In other words, don't sell air. You cannot make money selling air where it is freely available, so don't complain about that.

      Find where "air" is scarce, sell it there. Find what people do with "air" and help them do it, that's selling services.

      Bob-

    • Re:Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DavidTC (10147)
      People will try to convince you that people can make money with OSS.

      This is completely moot. OSS exists, period. People write it, period. This will continue to be true barring laws to the contrary, and I suspect even then.

      Talking about where people can make money at it or not is like a world where gold suddenly falls from the sky, and people sit around talking about if the 'free gold' is going to succeed or not, because damned if they can see any way that people will make money at it.

      Just because somethi

  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:11PM (#13590260)
    ...the lack of conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation
    ?
    • Well for starters, you pay big money
      When you finaly realize that you're vendor locked-in, have payed too much money for bug infested, non-working, illogical constructed program with helpdesk support that sucks.
      You also realize that the only one to blame is yourself. So to keep your ass from getting fired, you write a memo to come to the conclusion that paying for not knowing how (non)functional your software is better than having the choice of supporting software-houses working on _your_ software.
  • by platypus (18156) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:11PM (#13590264) Homepage
    Professionalism: wrong - all in all most of the OSS I see is more professionally done than the closed sourced crap I have to work with.

    Conceptual Integrity: Totally wrong, see above. Yes, there are damn good closed source products, but the same is true for some OSS stuff. I cannot be assed to provide examples, but it's easy for everybody taking having have a clue. Yes, there is totally rubbish OSS around, but first, it's just a function of the mass of what is out there, and second, the same is also true for closed source stuff.

    Innovation: Half true, but OTOH, there are many examples where the fact that something is OSS drives innovation in a way that wouldn't be possible with closed source. Internet Explorer for example would've been forked long ago if it was open source.

    • by maomoondog (198438) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:24PM (#13591079)
      Right on. Closed-source software often carries the *impression* of professionalism: there's a lot of pressure to look polished at demo-time. But there's no pressure for the underlying architecture to be done to a professional standard, meaning that many products reveal their flaws months after release in the form of security problems and deeper, more frustrating bugs.

      Similar forces affect conceptual integrity. Engineers in a closed shop can work around design inconsistencies with janky adaptive measures, because they can talk to each other. Open source projects fail pathetically if they don't keep design integrity, because programmers dispersed over many continents are extremely dependent on design decisions to communicate with one another.

      Any by the way, what was the poster smoking when suggesting this article was cogently argued? A decent vocabulary and grammatical precision do not cogency make. This guy recycled ancient fears about "hacker culture", mixing in a few plattitudes about the "legendary robustness of Linux" and taking digs at MS to semi-appease the OSS community he's attacking. The most interesting concept in his paper -- exploring OSS's indirect effects on the "software ecosystem" -- is something he doesn't even go into, instead focusing on problems with OSS which are independent of the rest of the world.

      Bullocks.
    • Internet Explorer for example would've been forked long ago if it was open source.

      Some would say it's pretty forked up right now...

  • Innovation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daniil (775990) <evilbj8rn@hotmail.com> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:11PM (#13590265) Journal
    Innovation: The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.

    There is, of course, anecdotal evidence pointing to the contrary, but I would definitely agree with this diagnosis. I would, however, argue that this is exactly where the strength of OSS lies: in producing reliable software (reliable because its strengths and weaknesses are well-known). It's like common sense -- not always the best answer, but it works.

    • Re:Innovation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JohnFluxx (413620) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:23PM (#13590331)
      Heh, we (programmers) are often told (by our usability groups) that the direction we need to go in is to first do what is familiar to the user. And so we must copy MS first, then innovate second. I hate it as much as anyone, but that's what people are used to. If we innovate and make it different, people then complain about the high TCO from switching and relearning.

      (I'm a KDE developer. And yes we have usability groups.)
      • Re:Innovation (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Arker (91948) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:40PM (#13590808) Homepage

        Listening to those usability groups is exactly why I don't find your software very usable, personally. Of course there's another unnamed project that's notably worse, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a huge difference between good interface design, and copying MS (which has always had a very tenuous grasp on the notion of UI design, beyond copying Apple, badly.)

        In another post in this article you advised 'looking at the bigger picture' even when it means doing something that seems suboptimal in the short run. Yes, if you don't mimic windows, in the short run some (definately not ALL) users are going to think you're less usable because you're not what they're accustomed to. But if you look at the long run, the benefits of doing things right are more than worth the small inconvenience to a subset of potential users, in my opinion. Particularly when balanced against the other subsets of potential and actual users, who find this crap annoying beyond belief.

        Possibly that's because I'm NOT used to windows, of course.

    • Re:Innovation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cheesybagel (670288) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:29PM (#13590358)
      What the man said happens with any piece of software. Remember Wordstar? Wordperfect? Microsoft Word?

      Again: Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel.

      Once more: Harvard Graphics, Microsoft Powerpoint.

      Need I go on?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:12PM (#13590266)
    My biggest problem with open source software is that the vast majority of open source software projects end up in some sort of limbo at an incomplete stage; there are several projects that have a lot of promise that have not been updated in 2 years (and most likely never will see another update). On top of that few people are willing to pick up where someone else has left off and complete these projects so they're somewhat useless.
    • The same thing happens with many closed source projects . Though the advantage of open source corpse-ware is that it can more easily be resurrected .
      Though I am not sure if its the majority of actual projects .. unless you count vapour-ware
    • My biggest problem with open source software is that the vast majority of open source software projects end up in some sort of limbo

      My biggest gripe is that some of the relly good programs have names like this. [sourceforge.net]

      (Try selling that one to a manager just on your force of argument without using the acronym DCL instead of the full name!)

    • Or you base your code on a really useful library at the time, but then that library atrophies and doesn't get updated with support for 'foo' or 'bar', or serious bugs X, Y and Z don't get fixed. You may now be screwed and either have to take over an external project (that you may well not have the skills/resources to handle) or redo your code to replace that libary with something else (which hopefully is available and not TOO much of a modification to use).
  • by PaxTech (103481) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:13PM (#13590274) Homepage
    The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.

    A continued shift towards OSS solutions at the expense of proprietary ones is likely to result in many of the companies that develop proprietary software going out of business. This might not be such a bad thing, as I'm sure that many of us would secretly welcome the collapse of the virtual monopoly that currently exists in the desktop software market. However, the first companies affected are likely to be the small but highly innovative firms, which are the lifeblood of the software industry, not the giant corporations that we all love to hate.


    Open source doesn't have imagination or innovation, yet is likely to put innovators out of business? This makes no sense. OSS will tend to put non-innovators out of business IMO, while innovators will still be able to sell proprietary software because of their innovations.

    Then later the author pooh-poohs OSS because "it is clearly not the panacea for all the software industry's ailments". Who ever said it was? Reading blatant strawman attacks like this make me wonder what the author's motivations are.
    • Worse is better (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:19PM (#13591050) Homepage
      Open source doesn't have imagination or innovation, yet is likely to put innovators out of business?

      Yes. Consider worse is better [dreamsongs.com] to be a sort of Gresham's law [wikipedia.org] for software: bad software that is given away for $0 (whether it is open source or not, actually) drives out more-innovative commercial software. People say that they value innovation, but in the end nothing beats the allure of free.
  • Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnFluxx (413620) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:13PM (#13590279)
    The responses to this will be predicatable. Outrage, point-by-point counterpoints etc.

    So instead, lets discuss why they published such a piece. What was their motivation here?

    I've read the BCS magazine on many occasions, and often found it to be factually incorrect from over-simplification. This is a magazine that is aimed middle managers.

    This particular article is a Member view. Is this just someones blog piece, or a regular column writer? Does this piece matter at all?

    • The real story... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by passthecrackpipe (598773) * <passthecrackpipe ... m minus caffeine> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:36PM (#13590403)
      ...is hidden in the last paragraph:

      What we really need from government is an investigation of the long-term effects of OSS on our indigenous software industry, assistance to combat the threat to the industry's livelihood that OSS might pose and the development of a strategy to build on the opportunities that OSS has created. Without prompt action, my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?
       
      in other words: OSS is going to take away my gravy train!!
  • We truefully don't hear about how well the Open Source works together and how conceptual integrity, professionalism, and innovation in the news. You only hear about the times when Open Source has problems, such as the take over of websites and taking of money by unprofessional A-holes [slashdot.org].
    • What does the MethLabs whining have to do with OSS? Nothing.

      Most people judge the OSS movement by the "big players" like Linux, Apache, MySQL, etc. Not some P2P plugin that blocks teh gubmint.

      (Not that this is necessarily fair, I think there are much better OSS products, like OpenBSD/OpenSSH, GNU, Perl, etc. Apache and MySQL are bloated to the point of being nearly useless.)
  • by yfkar (866011) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:15PM (#13590285)
    I found the whole IP thing completely ridiculous. Why shouldn't an employee be allowed to create software for himself on his free time without the rights going to the company? Especially if the software doesn't have anything to do with the specific company. Hooray for IP capitalism!
    • by Skreems (598317) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:21PM (#13590324) Homepage
      You're completely right. In fact, not only SHOULD they be able to, they ARE able to. The employee contract for most businesses states that employee code written in free time belongs to the employing company ONLY if it derives significantly from the work the employee is doing for pay. That means that while someone working on the Vista kernel wouldn't legally be allowed to contribute code to the Linux kernel, they're more than welcome to work on Firefox, for example, or GIMP, or basically any other product that doesn't parallel kernel programming.

      Before I get flamed, let me point out that I realize there's also usually a clause that states you can't compete with the employing companies products in your outside work, so Firefox would be out of bounds for a MS employee. The point remains, though.
      • This is interesting, because the author essentially says that most professionally employed programmers are essentially slaves bonded to their employers.

        That's a pretty strong point which would be interesting to see tested.

        What he misses however, are that the main contributors to open source software are large companies such as IBM, SUN etc., who see open source as a way to win mindshare and promote their own platforms.

        As far as professionalism goes, most closed-source companies have a *lot* to learn from th
      • I believe that M$ has a clause in their contract that says you can't even look at GPL'd software. I know a few people at my school that were suckered into working there and now they can't work on OSS for a few years, or something. M$ sucks.
      • Ha! I work at the University of Texas. Any software I create during my employment is the property of the UT System. There is no concept of "my" time in my employement contract, as I am an FLSA-exempt employee. And it doesn't matter if it's on my own equipment or theirs.

        And since the UT System is part of the Government of the State of Texas, everything I produce is owned by the State.

        Welcome to Amerika
    • by UncleFluffy (164860) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:54PM (#13590496)

      I found the whole IP thing completely ridiculous.

      From my memory of waving the legislation he mentions (Patents Act 1977) in front of an employer during contract negotiation time, it's not only ridiculous, it's wrong. As far as I can remember, the employer only owns the rights if the IP: (a) is produced on the employer's time, or (b) is produced using the employer's equipments, or (c) relates to the employer's business activities. If none of these are true, UK law says that the ownership of the IP is the employee's.

      (Though it's seven years since I left the UK - UK-based folks should double check this yourselves).

      • by Haeleth (414428)
        Pretty much, yes.

        Incidentally, I just scanned through the other legislation he mentions (the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988), and what it says is this:

        (1) The author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in it, subject to the following provisions.

        (2) Where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work subject to any agreement to the contrary.

        This is the only m

    • I hope that janitor doesnt go home and using his employer taught skills clean his bathroom at home on his time.
  • Straw man argument (Score:3, Interesting)

    by try_anything (880404) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:15PM (#13590286)
    The article asserts a variety of ludicrous ideas as common conceptions about OSS. It's impossible to take seriously.

    I'll grant that the point about conceptual integrity may have merit. Distributed development makes conceptual integrity very hard to maintain. But how do I know that? Through commercial experience. It only applies to OSS because almost all OSS projects are distributed.

    Frankly, the ideas attributed in this article to OSS people are so alien and fantastic that I doubt the author has even read any of the basic writings about open source or studied a single open source project.
  • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:16PM (#13590295) Homepage
    As someone who is directly underneath the CIO at our company, I'm frequently called upon to come up with the "execution" portion of the CIO's "big picture" strategies. This means I'm the guy that reviews all the options, compiles the case studies, and presents the final plan for approval to the board.

    I consider myself to be a non-partisan technologist, meaning I'll use whatever platform or software that best fits the needs of the company, but what a lot of FOSS proponents seem incapable of grasping is that there's more to software and OS's than "power" and "technical elegance." There's user inteface design, documentation, and consistent professional support to be considered in any enterprise implementation. Saying that Bob's XYZ Library of Useful Widgets can do it all just as well as Bill & Steve's Really Expensive Library of Useful Widgets is only part of this equation. Just writing the damned software and slapping it in an RPM does not finish the project!

    I can't begin to tell you my frustration at the current state of a lot of FOSS projects. I see some really good ideas, some fantastic concepts, some really bright people...but by and large their efforts are uncoordinated, poorly documented, and lacking in professionalism. It's hard enough getting stodgy company boards to accept that there's something out there besides Windows. It doesn't help when the application you're trying to sell them on is maintained by some 18-year-old geek with a ponytail and Cheetos dust all over his keyboard. I don't care if he is a genius, his product is generally unmarketable to a board because you can't convince The Powers That Be that his software is a serious contender.

    Every year when I put our budget together, I cringe at the amount of dough we send to Redmond. But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice. Home users can get away with using half-baked stuff, but enterprises are far pickier.

    Note that there are some shining stars of Open Source (not free, usually) that are producing quality products that beat the pants off some of the closed-source boys, and there are some FOSS projects that stand above all the rest. However, taken as a whole, so much of the FOSS we review looks more like the results of a college programming project and not like a serious business application. Perhaps it looks that way because the still-wet-behind-the-ears developers are still thinking about developing it in that way. More's the pity.
    • Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nasarius (593729) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:28PM (#13590355)
      But until FOSS gets its act together and treats the software business like a business instead of a hobby, we have little choice.

      Maybe, just maybe, most FOSS developers treat it like a hobby because it is a hobby. If you're not willing to pay them, stop whining about how they're not doing exactly what you want.

      • Re:Too bad (Score:4, Insightful)

        by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:35PM (#13590397) Homepage
        Maybe, just maybe, most FOSS developers treat it like a hobby because it is a hobby. If you're not willing to pay them, stop whining about how they're not doing exactly what you want.

        If they want to be paid, they must first come forward with a marketable product. This isn't "hey, I'll pay you and then you make something," it's "hey, if you make something good I'll pay for it."

        You seem to misunderstand how business works in the real world. That is also a common failing of lots of FOSS developers who assume everyone will beat a path to their door instead of the other way around. The whole "if you build it, they will come" argument is very true, but you have to build it first. Half-baked pre-alpha code does not encourage people to pay you large sums of money for a finished product...unless, of course, you're Microsoft.
        • Re:Too bad (Score:3, Insightful)

          by swillden (191260) *

          If they want to be paid, they must first come forward with a marketable product.

          What makes you think they want to be paid?

          • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

            by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:50PM (#13590862) Homepage
            What makes you think they want to be paid?

            Gee, maybe it's comments like "If you're not willing to pay them, stop whining about how they're not doing exactly what you want" in the prior postings? Try reading the entire thread for better comprehension of responses.

            But to address the point you're attempting to put forward, hey, if a hobbyist developer doesn't want to put forth the unpaid effort to polish an app to enterprise class, he or she should not bitch and moan when Company XYZ spends $200 million on a closed-source commercial competitor that does similar things as the hobbyist's application.

            What you and many other are arguing here is that you want to have your cake and eat it, too. You want to proclaim the superiority of FOSS over anything closed and/or commercial, yet when pressed about a lack of quality or support, you always fall back on the "hey, it's free, so quit griping."

            I've got a news flash for you: 99% of the computing public are not developers and have no idea how to develop nor an inclination to do so. Therefore the old "if you don't like it, write your own app!" argument is also short-sighted. When you use that argument as a crutch, you're just pushing people towards closed, commercial software. So when this happens, you don't have to look far to figure out who to blame.

            And FOSS proponents wonder why Microsoft is so successful and profitable making mediocre software. You can't see the forest for the trees.
        • Re:Too bad (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rm69990 (885744)
          You say OSS developers and we don't understand how the business world works, yet maybe it is you that doesn't understand how the OSS world works. Most OSS programmers do it because they enjoy it, or else they do it to scratch an itch. Someone doesn't wake up one day and say "Hey, prisoner-of-enigma on Slashdot needs a new CRM database to run his business on, let's start a Sourceforge project to help him out!!!". In other words, they don't give a shit whether or not their application is suitable for your bus
      • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

        by darkmeridian (119044) <`william.chuang' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:02PM (#13590544) Homepage
        You can't have your cake and eat it, too. If OSS wants to play with the big boys at Redmond, they cannot dismiss any criticism as "it's just a hobby!" How seriously can anyone take software that's just a hobby?
        • Re:Too bad (Score:3, Insightful)

          by l3v1 (787564)
          How seriously can anyone take software that's just a hobby?

          Ignorance won't help you here. Oh wait, this is /. Whatever. The point is, it's "hobby" because most developers do FOSS development in their free time, and if most of them wouldn't do it because they like it, they wouldn't do it at all. And since this is something they like doing, and they do it in their free time, it's naturally called a hobby. "Professional" is what most people call what you do for a company for a paycheck.
    • I've had the same issues with open source projects *AND* even closed source products that were a 'business'. I was at a company which spent 5 figures on a time tracking system which was supposed to 'integrate' with MS Project. *After* purchasing, we found it didn't do what we were told it did. Caveat emptor, etc. but what do you do? It had 'documentation', a 'support' number with people answering the phones, all the requisites of what people consider necessary for a 'business', but the product was broke
    • I'm a linux developer, and I don't get your point at all.

      If you want to deal with a company, then deal with a company. Use Novell's SuSE for example, and get a support contract with them. The will insure that the apps they provide will be maintained for 5+ years (depending on your contract).

      Who cares if the app is maintained by an 18 year old geek. How is this different from the proprietary world? If you want a level of guarantee, maintenance and support then get a support contract!
    • much of the FOSS we review looks more like the results of a college programming project and not like a serious business application. Perhaps it looks that way because the still-wet-behind-the-ears developers are still thinking about developing it in that way.

      First, the "web behind the ears" jab is both unnecessary and highly inaccurate. Second, why would you possibly expect them to think about it any other way? People who write software for fun, or to solve their own problem have no need and no desire

    • There's user inteface design, documentation, and consistent professional support to be considered in any enterprise implementation.

      and

      Home users can get away with using half-baked stuff, but enterprises are far pickier.

      To generalize in the opposite direction, enterprises seem to think that everyone is an enterprise. Guess what? Most businesses are small businesses. Most employees work for small businesses, and many of those that don't work for smaller public sector agencies (e.g., municipal governments)

    • Yeah right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elteck (874753)
      (Please don't bother my poor spelling, I'm no native speaker)

      I'm working for a large international company (about 9000 employees world wide) which is phasing out Redmond, because it lacks proffesionalism, and they constantly change their own standards.
      We use open source, because of it's better (also not perfect) consistancy and much lower maintenance cost. We don't develop software ourselves, we're just users. I must admit, not standard users, all employees are engineers. We are not interested in a shiny g
    • It doesn't help when the application you're trying to sell them on is maintained by some 18-year-old geek with a ponytail and Cheetos dust all over his keyboard.

      But this isn't an issue with F/OSS, it's a issue with small or unprofessional development teams. You only have to look at the shareware industry to find examples of poorly thought-out and unsupported hobby software. You, and the original article, have a genuine concern about such unprofessional developers, but in identifying such developers prim

  • by Spectra72 (13146) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:16PM (#13590296)
    If you limited your idea about Open Source to the stereotypical smelly hacker in his basement, sure, this article may have merit. When you come out of that delusion though, you see that IT industry heavyweights are contributing to Open Source. Sun, IBM and others brings tons of rigor and professionalism to Open Source.

    Is he saying IBM and Sun aren't professional or have conceptual integrity?
  • by heller (4484) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:18PM (#13590306) Homepage
    I read this in the first paragraph and decided the rest isn't worth it:

    At the heart of OSS is a wonderful idealistic notion that appeals to our caring, sharing side. The OSS vision is of a world in which there are no greedy corporations run by megalomaniac billionaires intent on screwing users out of their hard-earned cash in return for bloated, unstable, insecure software which only operates properly with other products from the same manufacturer and has laughable customer support.

    Someone should inform this guy that Stallman's view of OSS isn't the heart of it.

    ** Martin

  • depends (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nostriluu (138310) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:18PM (#13590307) Homepage
    I don't find the article to be very intelligent. There is much more to free/open source than fluffy idealism.

    And there are plenty of companies, big and small, that willfully release their software as free/open source, and plenty of individuals who are consultants, contractors, or even hobbyists who are contributing, which the author just glosses over.

    In the real world, most of my projects need robust components, open source provides plenty. Since they're granular (and have always historically been so) you can usually assemble something 'innovative' pretty easily.

    On the desktop it is another matter. I do use a Gnome desktop, and it does have its advantages, but there are also big cracks.

    In fact, the two aspects should really be treated separately since there is a vast difference between using free/open source software for servers and software development (great), and trying to use it on the desktop (inconsistent, at best).
  • I find all four of the issues listed to be somewhat concerning, but I find the lack of innovation to be the greatest cause for alarm. People regularly ridicule the USPTO for awarding patents for "[something which has been done for years]... over the Internet!", yet it seems that the vast majority of open source software operates on a model of "[rewrite a piece of existing software]... and give it away for free!", which is equally uninnovative.

    This isn't to say that there is a complete lack of innovation in
  • Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mgkimsal2 (200677) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:22PM (#13590329) Homepage
    I'm sometimes concerned by some of the issues that were brought up, but then go back to thinking that these problems generally aren't solely the province of 'open source' but software in general.

    Conceptual integrity
    We only have to look at the history of the electronic computer to see that the greatest advances in technology have been made by brilliant, strong-willed individuals, usually supported by a small team of dedicated engineers - not community-based projects.

    Some of the best open source project (most, really) tend to be started and grown by a single person or a very small group of people. After a critical mass is reached, sometimes things open up to a larger community of contributors, but the projects are already fairly well established. Compare PHP and Python - perhaps not the best examples, but close to mind right now. Python was/is primarily done by one person, and PHP seems now to be more 'community' driven, and the results are that PHP tends to have more problems with moving forward (witness the recent 4.4/5.0.5 references-changed-behaviour issue). I don't see these types of problems happening in projects with one figurehead - at least not as much.

    Innovation
    Yes, many open source projects are copies of 'closed source' software, but many closed source offerings are copies of other closed source offerings as well, all trying to address perceived needs in a slightly different way. I would say that it frustrates me that there's many more new ideas that could be implemented in mozilla or konqueror, for example, which aren't, and probably won't be until MS or Apple does them first, then there'll be a quick copy in the open source world. File upload progress bar is the first which comes to mind, and it'll be frustrating when MS comes out with it first (whenever that is) and watch others catch up (the built in WYSIWYG HTML editor in IE was another one).

    All in all, 'open source' is at heart a method of software development, and has pros and cons. Most of the things that were mentioned aren't only an issue for open source projects. I'm working at a company which has paid money for a commercial product (accounting software and ecommerce addon) and things don't work. It's been two months and things still don't work right. We've paid money, had multiple vendors out on site, been on support lines, and they can't get it to work as it's supposed to. We're one of their first customers trying to use the software this way (I think) so this is a learning curve for them, and I've seen this happen dozens of times over the years. Why people think this is 'more acceptable' than having in-house developers working with free software, simply because you've 'paid' for something, is still a mystery to me. Downtime/lost productivity is not something you can get back, even if you get a refund of your purchase price.
  • by cjames53 (845484) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:23PM (#13590334)
    It's hard to know where to start. Every point in this article has already been so thoroughly debunked it's silly to be dredging them up again. I suspect the author, although well meaning, simply didn't do his homework. Eric Raymond's extensive writings would be a great place to begin. I would also humbly remind everyone of my own essay, THE CARE AND FEEDING OF FOSS [moonviewscientific.com] which discusses several of these myths.
  • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:24PM (#13590338)
    Wow, lets consider 2 different types of jobs.

    Scientists (you know, traditional chem/physics/biology professors or reseaerchers) PUBLISH their data so others (their peers) can look at it, verify it, correct it, or just plain refute it.

    For a scientist to skip this step means their research is worthless.

    For a scientist to hide or mangle the data means they WILL be ostracised on any other article they write/have written.

    BUT!!! For a computer "scientist" (software guy), not releasing the "research" is perfectably acceptable. It's for "the profit of the bla bla bla". There's always a reason to not do this.

    Take for example, nVidia.. nVidia was going to release source for their graphics drivers. They said no, when they saw that SGI had a "stake" in it. nVidia said something to the effect "SGI will sue us if we release it". SGI came back and said that there's nothing we can sue you over. Yet to this day, anybody with an nVidia card is chained to nVidia driver updates.

    If anything, Open source IS becoming more like that scientist that goes through rigorous peer review to publish VALUABLE pieces of data.

    (BTW, I wonder which corporation paid him to write this crap up?)
    • I'm sorry, but most computer code is NOT research. It is more akin to engineering and not all engineering projects are something which is open and peer reviewed.

      Open source is just open engineering projects. Not all of these actually do get proper peer review, although sometimes they do.

      Besides almost all researchers does things to keep people from catching up to them by reading their papers.

      If you routinely read lots of research papers you will find that it is not straightforward to follow their work. The
  • Cogent? Hardly. (Score:2, Informative)

    by btobin (906080)
    I got this far: However, when it comes to software professionals, there is no such argument. Any software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer. This is just flat wrong, at least in the US. Who owns what is governed by the contract you sign with your employer, and most employers write that contract in such a way that code you write on your own time, for projects unrelated to your job, belongs to you. They do this because,
  • From the article:

    when it comes to software professionals, there is no such argument. Any software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer.

    Based on what law? In any case that is not universally so, not here in the Netherlands for example. And by the way, quite a lot of programmers are hired by their employers (Sun, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, ...) to contribute to OSS in the first place.

  • What the....?

    "There are uncomfortable similarities between the OSS development process and the situation that arose in the computer games industry in the early 1980s, where legions of 'bedroom programmers' produced video console games of such poor quality that, despite selling in tens of thousands, they nearly destroyed the industry."

    This is just completely made-up! In the US, the game industry struggled with the glut of awful console games, but there were no bedroom programmers for consoles.

  • Ego (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikejz84 (771717) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:28PM (#13590354)
    The biggest issue in the OSS community is a simple one: Ego. Open-Source proponents seem to take on a sense of narcissism that to 99.9% of the population seems pointless. For most people, apps are simply a time and money equation; and are willing to make tradeoffs depending on how valuable their time is. In addition, the blatant rip-off of some apps is surely for spite, and not to advance the development of better software. Lastly, the OSS community needs to reevaluate it's hatred of Microsoft. We can all agree in the OS department Bill does not have it together; but this often leaves the OSS community developing so many wonderful apps that are not ported to windows--leaving joe user out in the cold. The best example is this: I do technology for a not-for-profit group that has volunteers throughout our state. I am seeking a open-source groupware app for the volunteers to use (I prefer an app solution, not web based) While there are plenty of them, Kontact and alike, I can not find a single one for windows. I am not going to ask volunteers to change their home computer's OS just to one program--Yet for the OSS community developing apps that focus on the needs of most people does not seem to be that much of a priority.
  • "Cogent document"? More like a giant troll. And it's not helped by the fact that the miniscule font size.

    His first point about intellectual property is completely orthogonal to Open Source, since a programmer could equally create a proprietary product with the same problems. But even with that, I don't think (in my non-lawyerish way) this is a not a real problem. Any problems that do come up will be decided in a case by case basis, and we'll probably eventually have some sort of case history that allows
  • Sheesh -- can't they come up with something new?
    • Intellectual property: Corporate employees contributing to F/OSS generally do so as a part of their duties and their work licensed by their employers, e.g. IBM.
    • Leadership: Riiiight. Tell it to the Linux design team, or to the crew working for Miguel de Icaza. The only difference is that in F/OSS, "leadership" is earned, not assigned.
    • Professionalism: Argued strictly from stereotyped strawmen. How about some examples of "unprofessional" standards among, s
  • And you can tell by reading the first two paragraphs where the author presents a complete parody of the attitudes of OSS as if it had anything more than a faint resemblence to the truth.

    And I don't think OSS software developers are captivated by the idea of a free lunch. I think there is even greater awareness among such of money issues, payment for services rendered, and the value of a professional's time.

    Also, deconstructing the three main sections...

    This section of the WA statutes, and this section o [state.mn.us]

  • Let's compare Open Source versus closed software. For our comparison we'll pick a random sample of 100 Open Source projects from Sourceforge, and pick a random sample of 100 proprietary shareware from Download.com.

    • Confusing array of choices: both
    • Appears to be unfinished: both
    • Evidence of quality control: neither
    • Availability of professional support: neither
  • Rebuttal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by einhverfr (238914) <chris...travers@@@gmail...com> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:41PM (#13590429) Homepage Journal
    I Intellectual Property

    A major flaw at the heart of the open source movement is the misconception that most individuals actually have the legal right to contribute their intellectual efforts to OSS projects.

    Hence many projects require employer authorization for contributions.

    Self-employed and contract software engineers are not usually bound by employer's IP rights but are unlikely to be strongly motivated to write OSS code unless they can earn a living from doing so, and the unpaid volunteer nature of OSS development tends to rule out this possibility.

    Wow, such a misunderstanding of how the industry works. What percentage of FOSS developers do so for financial gain in some form or another? I would argue that this figure must be over 50%.

    Their students, however, are not usually employees and consequently are likely to have more freedom to engage in OSS projects but the students' lack of practical software development experience will be a considerable drawback.

    Look at the projects that students undertook with Samba via Google's Summer of Code.... (Also note that this is software development for financial gain...)

    So, it would appear that the only people who are actually free to participate in OSS projects are self-employed or unemployed software professionals, students and enthusiastic amateurs. Anyone else contributing to OSS projects may be unwittingly engaged in illegal activity by stealing their employer's IP. This does not square well with the altruistic image of OSS.

    Tell that to IBM, SGI, HP, EnterpriseDB, RedHat, Novell, Microsoft (SFU), Apple, and everyone else in the industry. Indeed, I cannot think of any major software company with the possible exception of Adobe which does not have some sort of presence in the open source world.

    II: Conceptual Integrity

    The process of creating software is more akin to an engineering discipline than an artistic endeavour, and this raises another point of concern with OSS. Like any engineering design project, good software needs a designer (or software architect in the current industry jargon) with a clear design concept which must be adhered to rigorously otherwise the software becomes progressively messier as it is developed in a piecemeal manner.

    Ok., this is a fair criticism both of many open source projects and many closed applications. However, most badly designed applications eventually fail. Those that succeed do so because you have a small core group of developers who manage the concept design, etc.

    Most of the open source contributions occur under the guidance of such individuals, as simple bugfixes, as direct contributions by such core developers, or are unlikely to be accepted into the main project codebase. Open source project management is not unlike managing the development of any other software application.

    III: Professionalism

    The article makes two arguments here. First they argue that becuase of bad design, all FOSS must be of bad quality. This is patently false. Secondly, they argue with slightly more credibility, that the sheer volume of badly designed open source software will destroy the industry. On this second point, I would disagree in that failed projects often encourage people to move on to other projects or products. Unlike the video game industry, we are not talking about a situatation where people have a small quantity of discretionary income to spend on low-quality games. Instead, any IT manager worth his salt will conduct reviews of possibly appropriate projects, and select software accordingly. As for open source games, many of these are pretty fun, really, and unlike the closed source counterparts are free of charge, so they don't prevent me from going out and buying Half-Life 2 if I decide that I am tired of playing Tux-Racer (yeah, they are not the same, but this is just an example of the economics)....

    IV: Innovation
    The absence of design leadership
  • A very British coup (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FishandChips (695645) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:46PM (#13590457) Journal
    Bear in mind that the writer is writing on the British Computer Society site about the British software industry. As he says in his closing paragraphs:

    "The UK government's recently introduced policy on the use of OSS recommends that OSS solutions be considered alongside proprietary ones for public sector IT purchases. ... my fear is that a further move towards OSS could result in the nightmare scenario of OSS at one extreme and Microsoft at the other with nothing else in between. Where would our freedom of choice be then?"

    So this needs to be seen in context - as a shot in the war for zillions of bucks' worth of new UK government software contracts over the next few years. Oh course, you could argue that the writer's "nightmare scenario" is precisely the one we've been enduring for rather a long time now.

    Now, here's the kicker: The UK government has a catastrophic record with big software projects developed in alliance with large corporations. Huge installations worth hundreds of millions have had to be cancelled or redone because they didn't work properly and in some cases will probably never work properly (the UK's Child Support Agency's IT disaster is a celebrated example).

    So here is this writer merrily suggesting that the best way forward is more of the same. We can't risk trying something else, still less entangling ourselves with loonies in beards and sandals, oh no siree. Run Debian? Well that must mean you are a) a tenth-rate programmer, b) dangerously idealistic and c) completely unreliable.

    Oh well, I guess there is one born every minute.
  • Point by point... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:53PM (#13590489) Homepage
    Intellectual Property: A major flaw at the heart of the open source movement is the misconception that most individuals actually have the legal right to contribute their intellectual efforts to OSS projects. In most industrialized nations, intellectual property (IP) generated by an employee through the course of his or her employment legally belongs to the employer.

    If an employee is working on software on company time, I'd hope it was because the company was using that software; and that means the company itself is subject to whatever open-source license that entails. I'm hoping the company would see the benefit in contributing those improvements back to the source pool.

    Conceptual Integrity: The process of creating software is more akin to an engineering discipline than an artistic endeavour, and this raises another point of concern with OSS. Like any engineering design project, good software needs a designer (or software architect in the current industry jargon) with a clear design concept which must be adhered to rigorously otherwise the software becomes progressively messier as it is developed in a piecemeal manner.

    That's why OS projects have maintainers who manage the integration of contributed code back into the project.

    Professionalism: There are uncomfortable similarities between the OSS development process and the situation that arose in the computer games industry in the early 1980s, where legions of 'bedroom programmers' produced video console games of such poor quality that, despite selling in tens of thousands, they nearly destroyed the industry.

    I thought they BUILT the industry. I fail to see how, for instance, someone writing a crappy HTTP daemon would affect the stability or popularity of Apache.

    Innovation: The absence of design leadership in the OSS development process and a motivation for OSS developers to create free versions of their favourite proprietary software may also explain why there would appear to be a distinct lack of imagination in OSS projects. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.

    Actually, to a large extent the reverse is true. Linux may ape more proprietary systems, but Linux and practically all the other commercial OSes being sold are descendants of SysV and BSD. Windows itself uses portions of BSD internally.

    Further, as someone who works on an open-source BitTorrent client, would you call BitTorrent uninnovative?
  • by geoff lane (93738) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:02PM (#13590546)
    The BCS is The British Computer Society. For a fee and proof that you spent years toiling in a Cobol foundary, you can become a member of the BCS.

    The problem is, almost nobody involved in computing does join as the BCS has been irrelevant for many years.

    Now all these upstart home programmers have the gall to create products with the quality of Linux and Apache.

    In short, the BCS is a club for people who want to talk about programming rather than actually crank code.

  • cogent? ha! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by belmolis (702863) <billposer@alum. m i t .edu> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @03:31PM (#13590744) Homepage

    If I had written such a poorly argued piece I wouldn't want to put my name to it, much less give my professional credentials. Take the argument about innovation. It's based on a single example! Yes, Linux is not particularly innovative. It originated as a clone, so of course it wasn't innovative. Insofar as open source attempts to replace proprietary software, there has to be a good deal of cloning. That doesn't mean that open source software is intrinsically non-innovative, just that there has been a lot of catching up to do.

    Even so, software intended in the first instance to clone proprietary software has often been innovative. Many examples are to be found in the GNU project. GNU "clones" of standard Unix tools are often considered to be superior to the originals. Not only is the implementation superior (typically in having fewer bugs and fewer arbitrary limitations), but they often extend the capabilities of the original tool.

    The other place in which innovation is readily seen is in areas in which there is little or no cloning activity because there is little or no proprietary software to catch up to. In my own field of linguistics, for example, there isn't a lot of proprietary software because there isn't much of a market for it. Linguists can't afford expensive software. The more interesting linguistic software that has been coming along is mostly free software. For example, the most advanced database for annotated text is emdros [emdros.org]. It isn't a clone of anything. In phonetics the acoustic analysis program of choice currently is probably Praat [hum.uva.nl]. It compares favorably to commercial products. (Phonetics software is a bit different from linguistics in general in that it overlaps to a considerable extent with software for use in areas like speech pathology, where there is money to be made.) As a third example, I'll cite my own program redet [billposer.org], which is a regular expression search tool. It has a few features of particular interest to linguists, such as widgets for entering the International Phonetic Alphabet and the ability to intersect user-defined named character classes (which enables matching over feature matrices), but in most respects it is a regular expression tool of the same sort that programmers and various other non-linguists use. There are a number of similar free tools and at least one proprietary commercial product. However you may judge it in comparison to the others, it is unquestionably not a clone. Among its innovative features is the fact that it determines the properties of the regular expression engine that it uses empirically, by running a set of tests.

    Basing a sweeping generalization on a single example is a poor practice in general, but in this case it is especially bad because Linux is an atypical example. Much open source software is innovative, and much proprietary software is not.

  • by PaulusMagnus (797138) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:08PM (#13590970)
    I think all this article demonstrates is how out of touch the BCS is with the modern IT world. As I don't have a degree I've only just become eligible for membership this year as I've reached the minimum age of 35. If I'm a really good boy, they may let me become a member. However, they have no credibility in the British computing arena as it's simply a gentleman's club that achieves very little, other than patting each other on the back and saying "Jolly good show old bean" to one another.

    I've been around computers since I was 10, writing Z80 assembly at 14, contract game programming at 17 and working in the industry professionally from 19. I was an IT Manager at 22 and I've been a freelance consultant for the last 9 years. I'm a web developer (PHP, MySQL), a software developer (VB), a networking specialist (CNE, MCSE, CCNA, CCDA) but mostly a technical architect (VCP) and have project management qualifications too (PRINCE2 and Project+). But the BCS hasn't represented me or other colleagues I've worked with during the past 16 years. Therefore, how do you represent an industry that you actively discourage from being a part of your organisation.

    I think this article just flies further in the face of the real world. OSS is here to stay, it's too quick and too powerful to ignore. If OSS is so unattractive, why has it become so prominent, why are mainstream players looking at using this community approach more and more? Why are OSS solutions becoming more commonplace within organisations?

    We live in a capitalist world, where demand exists, supply exists. People want OSS so IT managers need to exploit this area of our world, not try and ignore it. It's this short-sighted approach that has always damaged corporations, I just find it amazing that people that work in IT can be so averse to change. We work in the fastest changing business sector, if people can't stand the heat I hope they're not stupid enough to hit their head on the way out of the kitchen.
  • by Proudrooster (580120) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:16PM (#13591030) Homepage
    Intellectual Property: A major flaw at the heart of the open source movement is the misconception that most individuals actually have the legal right to contribute their intellectual efforts to OSS projects. In most industrialized nations, intellectual property (IP) generated by an employee through the course of his or her employment legally belongs to the employer. In the UK, this is embodied in the Patents Act 1977 and the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

    He almost got it correct. Intellectual Property is a major flaw in this day and time. Could someone give me a legal definition of IP please? I believe there are patents, copyrights, and trade secrets but I am unfamiliar with Intellectual Property. Furthermore as an employess of Megacorp, being forced to agree that your employer owns any though that pops into your head 24 hours a day is unethical and wrong.

    Intellectual Property needs a legal definition and employees need rights and protection against thought slavery. The problem is not OSS, the problem is that corporate greed and control of its employees know no bounds. I thought we abolished slavery in the "civilized" world long ago, but it appears to be coming back in different forms. Instead of "physical slavery" we now have "mental slavery".

    All your Intellectual Property are belong to us...
  • by borgheron (172546) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @04:19PM (#13591049) Homepage Journal
    The author of the article drastically simplifies the "Intellectual Property" section of his article.

    So long as you are careful about terms and conditions you can rest assured that nothing is wrong. A good book to read to tell you all about this kind of problem is called "Who Owns What Is In Your Head" by Stanley H. Lieberstein.

    The author of the article at the BCS is spreading FUD.

    GJC
  • Cogent?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dskoll (99328) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @05:34PM (#13591440)

    The article is hardly cogent. Look at his main points:

    A major flaw at the heart of the open source movement is the misconception that most individuals actually have the legal right to contribute their intellectual efforts to OSS projects

    The GPL is quite clear on the process you have to go through in order to be able to contribute to a Free Software project. If you're seeking employment, then get an agreement in writing that you can contribute to OSS projects that don't compete with whatever your employer does. Simple.

    The process of creating software is more akin to an engineering discipline than an artistic endeavour, and this raises another point of concern with OSS.

    Actually, he's wrong. The process of creating good software is more akin to an artistic endeavour. He even shoots down his own argument a bit later:

    We only have to look at the history of the electronic computer to see that the greatest advances in technology have been made by brilliant, strong-willed individuals, usually supported by a small team of dedicated engineers - not community-based projects.

    Yes, like such open-source individuals as Larry Wall, John Ousterhout, Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman and others. There are lots of terrific OSS projects that are basically lead by one very bright person.

    Professionalism

    I am am professional software developer, and so are all of the developers I employ. We all contribute to OSS projects. It's a myth that FOSS contributors are students or the unemployed; by and large, they're professional developers.

    Innovation

    OSS is not about innovation. It's about utility and usefulness. However, innovation is often a side-effect: Witness the amazing innovations of Perl, Tcl/Tk, Bit Torrent, SpamAssassin, and many others.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @05:39PM (#13591471) Homepage Journal
    Have you ever tried to 'implement' any of the following:

    Tivoli
    Oracle financials
    Any help desk
    Peoplesoft
    Websphere

    NONE of them have purported architectural purity and ALL of them are basically toolkits strapped together by whatever scripting code the consultants you last hired were able to cobble together.

    Open source, closed source, it makes little difference.
  • by rfc1394 (155777) <Paul@paul-robinson.us> on Sunday September 18, 2005 @06:34PM (#13591772) Homepage Journal

    In most industrialized nations, intellectual property (IP) generated by an employee through the course of his or her employment legally belongs to the employer. In the UK, this is embodied in the Patents Act 1977 and the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

    He's got it right, there, through the course of his or her employment. However, unless you have a contract saying so, whatever you do when you're not being paid by your employer, not using your employer's equipment, belongs to you (with limited exceptions generally not applicable here such as if you create a software product to compete with what your employer is paying you to do, and maybe not even then.) Your employer is not your owner and you are not an indentured servant owned by them 24/7. If he's got statutory or case law to the contrary to prove the claim he's making, I'd like to see it. Copyright law on status of ownership of works for hire and labor law are two different things. Interrelated, but they cover different areas.

    Self-employed and contract software engineers are not usually bound by employer's IP rights but are unlikely to be strongly motivated to write OSS code unless they can earn a living from doing so, and the unpaid volunteer nature of OSS development tends to rule out this possibility.

    I do sometimes write software which I am not paid for, and have made that available for others at no charge. I also am not paid to do so, but I write articles (and make edits to articles) like this one [wikipedia.org] on Wikipedia, mainly because its fun and I like to export my own knowledge so others can see it, and to improve existing articles. Now, granted, I'm not a professional writer but I do believe the quality of what I write is close to or equivalent to that of someone who is one. People do a lot of things for rewards that are not necessarily monetary.

    So, it would appear that the only people who are actually free to participate in OSS projects are self-employed or unemployed software professionals

    Yes, but appearances (as he sees them) are extremely deceiving. He uses the original false premise (that your employer owns everything you could possibly create 24/7) to reach the false conclusion

    Anyone else contributing to OSS projects may be unwittingly engaged in illegal activity by stealing their employer's IP

    (that professional programmers cannot work on anything because their employer owns everything they might conceivably create).

    Where he says "stealing their employer's IP," I hope he's referring to people who intentionally make copies of software developed while on the paid time of their employer and developed at their employer's behest, and is not trying to claim the employee is an owned possession of the employer because what he's then claiming is that they are not employees, but slaves of the employer. I hope he's not making that claim, but it sure sounds an awful lot like he is doing exactly that.

    He also ignores - or may be ignorant of the concept - that there are a number of professional programmers who directly work as part of their paid employment in the improvement of open-source applications whose improvements become part of the public corpus (as opposed to private, unreleased modifications) of the work in question.

    The process of creating software is more akin to an engineering discipline than an artistic endeavour

    No kidding.

    the much-lauded OSS process of peer review...is an unquestionably powerful method of improving code quality. But we seem to have forgotten that peer review is, or should be, part of the normal software engineering process

    I have worked at many places developing software and not a single one of them engaged in peer review of anyone's code unless we were looking at how they did so

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

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