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There is No Open Source Community 367

Posted by Zonk
from the you-can't-see-me-i'm-invisible dept.
porkrind writes "There is no Open Source Community is an Onlamp article about the economics of open source and how most people get it wrong. Really, open source is much more about supply and demand than it is about an activist community or individual drivers (individuals or individual companies) affecting change on society." From the article: "Taking the position that individuals have pushed open source forward leads to the conclusion that a core group of ideological 'believers' is necessary for the continued success of open source software. Businesses unaware of the falsehood of this claim are too afraid of running afoul of the 'open source community' and sometimes make decisions that are not in their financial interests. Both open source-based and proprietary software vendors need to challenge these assumptions."
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There is No Open Source Community

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  • Despite the nascent success of open source software, there has been increasing concern about potential pitfalls, such as patent infringement claims from large software companies including Microsoft. Many fear that Microsoft, often seen as an enemy of open source, is looking for the right opportunity to spring a patent infringement trap. Further fueling some of these fears is the copyright infringement by the Linux kernel claimed by SCO when it filed its lawsuit against IBM. While largely seen as unfounded, SCO's claims have led to some open source leaders calling for such things as more audits of open source code and legal indemnification from open source software vendors.
    You can say that again.

    Allow me to provide some anecdotal evidence of this fear. I work at Corporation X. I'm assigned to a project that requires me to program quite a bit of Java from scratch. So I download the latest version of Java and try to install it. No dice. I need a system administrator because only the JRE is on there, not the JDK. I e-mail my manager that it's going to be tough ...er... impossible to do my job without the JDK and he refers me to the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) division.

    So this FOSS department gives me a business process to follow which contains 31 steps that I have to push paperwork through. I say screw it and attempt to befriend a system administrator. About as far as I got was asking him to put the JDK, Apache Ant and Eclipse on my computer ... which resulted in him running around the room, rotating his upper torso, flailing his arms and yelling, "Warning! Danger Will Robinson!" Two weeks of pushing paperwork and I get my JDK. However, no one's asked for the Eclipse IDE version I want so that takes no less than 34 days (a day per step isn't bad).

    What were they doing in that time? Highly paid lawyers were sitting around a desk grilling my manager about what this software would be used for. Then they debated whether or not someone could come after Corporation X in the future if they learned that their editor was used to create a project.

    My frustrations abound in the corporate world but after what SCO pulled, maybe this insane precaution is necessary?

    I can't help but smile at the wad of dough next to this articles on the homepage as whoever made that the icon for this category had no idea how much it applies here.
    • "What were they doing in that time? Highly paid lawyers were sitting around a desk grilling my manager about what this software would be used for. Then they debated whether or not someone could come after Corporation X in the future if they learned that their editor was used to create a project."
      ...that seems like a problem common to all software though, doesn't it? Even further, it seems like a problem endemic to large corporate structures in general (I suspect that, for instance, the Graphic artists wan
      • But remember, if it weren't for these patents and their precious attached IP there would be no progress at all in the software field!
      • Actually in the graphic design filed with editing such stuff most "photography" is bought as "stock" with the photographer not being able to say what we do with it, but still able to sell his original to others. Modifying a design done by an agency under contract can be a bit more sticky depending on how good your contracts are. As long as your agency isn't the seedy variety and puts in a clause about any changes must go through them (they want to milk you for more money) there are no issues generaly. Havin
    • My frustrations abound in the corporate world but after what SCO pulled, maybe this insane precaution is necessary?

      Well, the speed of the process is a matter for your corporation. But the precautions? Yes, absolutely necessary. Remember that by using hte software, you are agreeing to a license of some kind (GPL, Apache...whatever). If you are an officer of the company, you have just created a legal obligation for your corporation. One it might not have had any plans to take on.

      So yes, clearance of the

      • by Narcissus (310552) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:15PM (#14464650) Homepage
        It is true that the licence needs to be cleared, but surely that would be generally easier in the F/OSS world than the proprietary one.

        In reality, the legal team should just go through the major F/OSS libraries then they would have no need to continually ask people about "what ifs". They could have a checklist of things that the software will be used for and you could probably tell in 15 minutes whether or not that licence is acceptable for that case.

        In fact, that's one of the reasons I love F/OSS so much: with normal closed source software I have to read and re-read the licences to know exactly what I can and cannot do. With the free stuff, I just look at the name of the licence. I already know my rights and requirements for a fair few of these licences and I save time just knowing that I won't have to try and understand yet another licence in the closed source world.
        • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:24PM (#14464746) Journal
          You don't have to agree to a license in order to use most GPL software. You have to agree to a license in order to copy the source code and use it for your own programs.

          That more and more open source programs make you agree to the GPL like it was some sort of EULA, baffles me. It isn't.
          • by Narcissus (310552) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:36PM (#14464848) Homepage
            Agreed. However I was thinking not so much in the vein of Eclipse (although it was mentioned above) but moreso things like:
            * we're writing a program and there's a free library here... what are our requirements in using that instead of writing our own?
            * we're wanting to use a web app but want to change / add some features... what are our requirements with regards to our end users?
            * we're writing an app that uses GPL code but only for internal use... do we have to provide source code to anyone?

            There's just a few questions that even I've been asked from time to time. Having said all that, I think you almost made my point: you mention 'GPL' and knew that you didn't need a licence to use it. By just knowing the name of the licence, you understood your legal rights and requirements.

            Now if I asked you: does the developer licence on Company X's component Y allow you to write a competing product, the only way you could be sure would be to read (or get Legal to read) the actual licence. If it was the LGPL, for example, you would know without even having to read the thing...
          • ...or to distribute copies, or link to libraries, or produce derivative works. the reason for the up-front presentation of the GPL, like any license, is so that folks know what the is or is not allowed in a given case.
            • ...or to distribute copies, or link to libraries, or produce derivative works. the reason for the up-front presentation of the GPL, like any license, is so that folks know what the is or is not allowed in a given case.

              That's a good point, and one I hadn't considered. You've convinced me that displaying the GPL is a good idea, but I think the way in which it's presented is bad. It's presented the same way all of those rights-limiting EULAs are, and which hardly anyone bothers to read.

              Instead, I think

          • The GPL is better than most EULAs for one good reason:

            It's easy to read, and if you read it once, you know what you're agreeing to when you install 99% of open-source software.

            Proprietary stuff, OTOH, tends to have a license per program, so it's really impractical to read everything you're agreeing to.
        • With the free stuff, I just look at the name of the licence. I already know my rights and requirements for a fair few of these licences and I save time just knowing that I won't have to try and understand yet another licence in the closed source world.

          That's a nice opinion but lawyers tend to agree its that simple at all. For example the FSF presents a very limited definition of derived work that most computer people agree with. It is however at odds with court rulings over the last 50 years regarding d
        • In reality, the legal team should just go through the major F/OSS libraries then they would have no need to continually ask people about "what ifs". They could have a checklist of things that the software will be used for and you could probably tell in 15 minutes whether or not that licence is acceptable for that case.

          Your description looks a lot like an e-mail I received the other day at work. If you want to include software on/in products list the code, license, use and send it to legal. They review it

      • by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:17PM (#14464668) Homepage

        Remember that by using hte software, you are agreeing to a license of some kind (GPL, Apache...whatever).

        No you don't. The GPL doesn't restrict use in any way, and you're entirely free not to agree to any of its terms. If you don't agree, you're not allowed to do any things that copyright law restricts (e.g., distributing it) but then you weren't allowed to do before you started using the software either. Merely using GPL software doesn't mean you have to agree to anything.

        On the other hand, if you use any software that has a EULA, an actual use license, then you are perhaps agreeing to something when you start using it. But I've never seen any open source software with a EULA.

      • by fossa (212602) <pat7@Nospam.gmx.net> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:19PM (#14464694) Journal
        Remember that by using hte [sic] software, you are agreeing to a license of some kind (GPL, Apache...whatever).

        Incorrect. For most proprietary software, yes, the license attempts to govern use and must be "agreed to" prior to using the software (whether this is legally valid of not I don't know but remain extremely skeptical). Most free and open source software does not include any license governing use (though it does include a disclaimer of warranty). The GPL merely stipulates conditions under which actions that would otherwise be copyright infringement may be performed. And I don't see how any court could decide that a text edited using a particular program is then a derivitave work of that program; please correct me if I am wrong.

        I've noticed much free software ported to Windows requires, during installation, that one click "agree" to the GPL. This annoys me to no end because I need not agree to the GPL in order to use the software. Perhaps this common practice has confused you.

        • The GPL puts no obligation on you as a user. So what can you refuse to agree with?
        • You are correct that there is no need to agree to the GPL to use software licensed under it, however in general to use software you need a license, and the GPL grants you unilaterally all rights to use the software.

          In other words, you don't need to agree to the GPL because there is no counterpart agreement on your part as far as usage is concerned, but you need to be aware that the software that you are using is in fact Free to use.

          Most Windows installers (even Free ones!) that F/OSS software use have a man
          • Ah, I had assumed that the "click agree" was a fault of inflexible Windows installers, and not really of the actual software authors...

            I'm not sure I agree about needing to see a "license to use" however. Books, lamps, garden tools, etc. do not include a license to use... one may implicitly do as one pleases (within the law of course) with one's own property. It seems like the fact that most consumer software requires a (legally dubious?) license to use, leading free software to also display a license, i

    • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@keirstea d . o rg> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:08PM (#14464585) Homepage
      Either this story is totally fabricated, or the company you work for is staffed by complete morons and will likely go under shortly.

      First of all, you don't need a system administrator to install any of those things. Apache, Java, Ant, Eclipse, Tomcat, can all run from your home directory, or anywhere else for that matter. Don't have access to port 80? Run it on some other port for development.

      Second of all, Java is not open source in any way, shape, or form.

      Third, WTF is your employer doing asking you to write a Java application, but forcing you to jump through hoops to get the software to do it?

      Fourth, if this application you are writing is supposed to be deploye don Apache and Tomcat, then obviously the company has already given the go-ahead to use this open source software. So why the hassle?

      It sounds like this is either a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, or a case of complete incompetance. Neither of which is good for a company.
      • by sheldon (2322) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:24PM (#14464742)
        Honestly.

        The story sounded pretty much the norm for any corporate development job at a company whose primary business is not software. The IT idiots setup the environment for Joe Friday computer user, and then think that developers ought to be able to conform within this same environment.

        First - My guess is he's running on Windows. The port 80 limitation isn't the problem. The problem is writing files to c:\windows without admin access.

        Second - Aspects are, like JBoss and such. Whatever

        Third - That's pretty much standard operation procedure for big corporations

        Fourth - Apache and Tomcat are not Eclipse. The corporate lawyers wanted to be assured that Eclipse had not been made by child slaves in Madagascar.

        It sounds like this is either a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, or a case of complete incompetance. Neither of which is good for a company.

        Welcome to Corporate America. You obviously have never read Dilbert.

        But don't get me wrong. The salaries more than make up for having to deal with incompetence. :-)
        • First - My guess is he's running on Windows. The port 80 limitation isn't the problem. The problem is writing files to c:\windows without admin access.

          You don't need to install any files to any restricted directory to do Java development in any form. Period.

          Second - Aspects are, like JBoss and such. Whatever

          True. However the GP specifically said the whole debacle started when he needed the sysadmin to install the JDK, which is not Open Source.

          Third - That's pretty much standard operation procedure fo

          • You don't need to install any files to any restricted directory to do Java development in any form. Period.

            Your comment is nonsense. You don't even know what platform we're talking about, or what restrictions are placed on users in that environment. Maybe he is running on a locked down Linux box and has no permission to install executables at all.

            However the GP specifically said the whole debacle started when he needed the sysadmin to install the JDK, which is not Open Source.

            This much is true.

            Thir

      • This story sounds completely like many of the big corporations where I do consulting. That the guy can install the software in his home directory is not the issue -- he is not allowed to. Any self-installed software that gets used for product creation is reason for problems in his next appraisel.
      • We've used MSFT software restriction policies (part of Windows Group Policy) to restrict the running of all but approved executables/DLLs on some of our machines. Approval is verified by the OS at run-time by code signature, SHA-1 hash, or (less-securely) by file/path name. Windows will simply not run an executable if it is not in the approved list.

        This works wonderfully for certain classes of machines (temps, the call center, public kiosks, etc.) It prevents the vast majority of malware... even if an unpat
    • You've explained IT experts (sys admins) upper hand in just a few sentences and why they think they are god half the time.

      I dont really think that has much to do with open source. I've done dev contracts for a few companies which I have relied on services to be pre established for me, EG a soap interface for instance.

      It took nearly 3 months to get the damn thing established for me before i could do what was required. So likewise weather its Java SDK, .NET, MySQL setup, ISAPI filters on IIS, or whatever. I'd
      • And in all due respect the Java SDK comes as a rpm or a deb file in Linux most of the time and requires you to type in a command or click a button (you cant get much easier then that dood). So a 31 step manual is perhaps, some dork in your FOSS has gone to the Sun website and just downloaded some dumb ass doco and sent the thing to you while thinking "here ya go now piss off i have other things to do".

        RTFC: the 31 step process is for getting permission to install the JDK.

        Further to that i dont want to

      • The reason we sysadmins think we are gods half the time is because whenever we give engineers god-rights on the systems we have to support, they consistently ignore maintainability best practices, institutional standards, and documentation requirements, resulting in unstable, unsupportable, undocumented systems.

        Seriously. Every single project I support is jam-packed with systems administration headaches that can all be traced directly back to bad coding and bad design decisions made by engineers who think
    • What were they doing in that time? Highly paid lawyers were sitting around a desk grilling my manager about what this software would be used for. Then they debated whether or not someone could come after Corporation X in the future if they learned that their editor was used to create a project.

      Say what? Is IBM going to come after company X for using their product, which is under GPL, to develop some other project? That's insane.

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:51PM (#14464426) Journal
    Rule #1 of Open Source Community:
    Do not talk about Open Source Community

    Rule #2 of Open Source Community:
    DO NOT TALK ABOUT OPEN SOURCE COMMUNITY!!!
  • Its a trap (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I should assume that the autohr is trying to destroy open source. If everybody went with their economic interests, there would be no open source.
    • If everybody went with their economic interests, there would be no open source.

      If everybody went with their economic interests, the world would be a really shitty place to live in. Moreso than it is now...

      Sometimes compassion and humanity requires us to do things that do not benefit us in our pockets or even our well being for the sake of another even if they don't acknowledge or know about what we have done for them.

      And this doesn't just apply to open source...
    • Re:Its a trap (Score:2, Interesting)

      by OneSeventeen (867010) *
      My business is currently working on developing an application I believe to be better than the current application commonly used. The current application is priced in the millions of dollars, and they charge implementation fees, support fees, etc. on top of that, creating a product with a TCO in the tens of millions of dollars. (An organization I worked with once spent $65 million on the entire implementation.) That software can be modified, but the modified modules will not be supported, and the "vanilla
    • Actually, writing open source software is one of the least expensive forms of entertainment for someone who needs to have a computer for other reasons already and has the necessary skills. Commercializing a piece of software requires a certain amount of money to be invested, and involves a certain amount of additional work. Open source doesn't have the potential monetary payoff, but it doesn't have the risk of monetary loss, either, and it's a better value proposition for someone with some code and no busin
    • Re:Its a trap (Score:2, Insightful)

      by alexborges (313924)
      This is not insightfull. Its plain stupid.

      Economic interests are not only about money. They are about cost.

      Cost can also be time, work done or not...etc.

      Rick Stallman started this movement so he could have an OS he could use for some shit he needed to do at the AI lab.

      "Shit" here meaning work. Which costs.

      So, it just goes to show that we humans are moved mostly by what itches. Itches are economic because if you dont solve the itch, it wont let you work, study, have fun...whatever.

      Dont be confused by what po
  • by Xemu (50595) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:54PM (#14464462) Homepage
    "Taking the position that individuals have pushed open source forward leads to the conclusion that a core group of ideological 'believers' is necessary for the continued success of open source software."

    There's a Non Sequitur right there in the summary; just because an individual may have pushed open source forward in the past does not imply anything about future need.

    Contrast this with saying "an individual pushed the invention of a wheel forward, leading to the conclusion that a core group of ideological 'believers' is necessary for the continued success of the wheel" and you see the flaw in the reasoning.

    • Are you an idiot? Did you read the sentence right after the one you quoted? The one that says:
      "Businesses unaware of the falsehood of this claim are too afraid of running afoul of the 'open source community' and sometimes make decisions that are not in their financial interests."
      • Are you an idiot?

        Maybe so, but it doesn't disprove my point. That's an argument ad hominem and just shows your poor debating skills.

        Yes, I read the sentence. I also read the article. It argues that the individuals that made open source a success were only figureheads and not all that important.

        My point is that to invalidate the claim made in the first sentence, one can still embrace the notion that RMS et al were absolutely neccessary for the creation and success of open source software [invention of the
        • I'm not arguing one way or the other. I'm just pointing out that the sentence that you quoted was clearly not a statemnet of of the author's beliefs (as you seemed to imply) but rather a statement of what the author believed to be a widely held falsehood. It seemed silly for you to make a post explaing what was untrue about a statement that the author himself didn't believe.
        • "It argues that the individuals that made open source a success were only figureheads and not all that important."

          Actually, I read it more like it argues that the economics of collaboration around non-scarce resources, multiplied by the economics of internet communication, made the opensource/free software growth more or less inevitable. If those individuals hadnt stepped up, others would have. The fact that even in the early 90's there were several free/oss operating system projects moving along suggests t
  • by spurtle15 (899792) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:55PM (#14464467)
    from this guy. [welovethei...nister.com]
  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:59PM (#14464504) Homepage Journal

    Here's an anecdote from Richard Stallman [gnu.org].

    At a trade show in late 1998, dedicated to the operating system often referred to as ``Linux'', the featured speaker was an executive from a prominent software company. He was probably invited on account of his company's decision to ``support'' that system. Unfortunately, their form of ``support'' consists of releasing non-free software that works with the system--in other words, using our community as a market but not contributing to it.

    He said, ``There is no way we will make our product open source, but perhaps we will make it `internal' open source. If we allow our customer support staff to have access to the source code, they could fix bugs for the customers, and we could provide a better product and better service.'' (This is not an exact quote, as I did not write his words down, but it gets the gist.)

    People in the audience afterward told me, ``He just doesn't get the point.'' But is that so? Which point did he not get?

    He did not miss the point of the Open Source movement. That movement does not say users should have freedom, only that allowing more people to look at the source code and help improve it makes for faster and better development. The executive grasped that point completely; unwilling to carry out that approach in full, users included, he was considering implementing it partially, within the company.

    The point that he missed is the point that ``open source'' was designed not to raise: the point that users deserve freedom.

    Spreading the idea of freedom is a big job--it needs your help. That's why we stick to the term ``free software'' in the GNU Project, so we can help do that job. If you feel that freedom and community are important for their own sake--not just for the convenience they bring--please join us in using the term ``free software''.

  • Waitaminute... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:59PM (#14464509) Journal
    From TFA: " While this makes for an entertaining narrative, there is quantitative evidence to the contrary. The reality is that placing too much emphasis on individual players in the open source movement ignores overarching economic trends that drove open source development and adoption."

    ...most projects are run by a core of developers and (at least) maintainers who are individually reponsible for the care and feeding of a project. And while TFA goes on to say that "Furthermore, taking the position that individuals have pushed open source forward leads to the conclusion that a core group of ideological "believers" is necessary for the continued success of open source software.", I submit that the beauty of Open Source is that if said individuals all gave up, evaporated, ran off to Tahiti, whatever, others can take the existing code and still develop/improve on it. A closed-source project is hosed once whoever owns it decides to not do anything about it anymore (e.g. the decision by MSFT to let WMP for Mac dry up and blow away)...

    /P

  • I agree one 100% (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vmcto (833771) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:01PM (#14464519) Homepage Journal
    with the article.

    "Taking the position that individuals have pushed open source forward leads to the conclusion that a core group of ideological 'believers' is necessary for the continued success of open source software."

    Take the formation and continuation of the United States.

    Certainly it was started by a small group of ideologically and personally "strong" individuals, a core group that got the ball rolling. But today, the country has reached a critical mass that although could be unravelled, seems to be for the most part on autopilot.
    • the country has reached a critical mass that although could be unravelled, seems to be for the most part on autopilot.

      I understand your point, and I'm glad we don't all have to be constantly fighting to keep the Vandals from the gates. Luckily for you and me, there are lots of people who think otherwise:

      • Consider the young men and women to join the military to defend their country. Never mind your opinion of any particular war - they joined risking their lives, if necessary, to protect the nation.
      • Co
    • by Russ Nelson (33911)
      Um ... the original design [russnelson.com] of the US (small central government with most laws enacted by states) doesn't exist anymore. That ball stopped rolling a long time ago.
      -russ
  • Why not both? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kebes (861706) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:03PM (#14464545) Journal
    This article irritates me in the way that most news media coverage irritates me: they purposefully polarize an issue, then present two exaggerated extremes, and try to figure out which one is correct. In the real world, neither is correct, and the truth is somewhere in between.

    This article tries to conclude "there is no open source community." They say: "Some software vendors believe that open source is an ideological movement." but say that this is an "entertaining narrative" and that the conventional wisdom (that ideological people drive open source) is wrong.

    Why can the middle ground be true? Ideological believers in open source contribute significantly to open source. They evangelize and often they diretly contribute (with code, for instance!). Will an open source project die if the ideological believers abandon it? Will an open source project die if the community stops caring? The answer is (as always): it depends. Many projects are community-driven, so of course they require the community push. Others are driven more by companies, so as long as there are enough companies involved, the project will persist.

    I have not finished reading the article, but already I'm annoyed. I find the black vs. white picture it paints a bit boring. The real world is complicated. It is worth making the point that companies should not fall into naive assumptions about open-source... but then again they would be silly to ignore the history of open-source, and the fact that alot of it really is driven and maintained by the community. Use that community to your advantage (but do not be led to believe that they are the final word in every respect).

    So is there an Open-Source Community? Yes, of course.
    • Re:Why not both? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cnerd2025 (903423) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:58PM (#14465110)

      Agree, but disagree. He says that OSS communities like to paint themselves as combatting the "evil commercial software" vendors. And I find that is correct. How many people, if you asked on /., would respond that they favor open source because it is a more ethical idea? I should think that this number is quite high. The article states that "religious communities" with people such as Linus Torvalds would never have gotten off the ground so rapidly if there hadn't been an internet. In other words, the classical model of development, to have experts gather and design software and then centrally distribute the software has worked and continues to work. Without an internet, this would be the only method of distribution viable. Walker's thesis is correct about the floppy disks; such a material-intensive approach is just ludocris and wasteful. Torvalds would be required to spend huge amounts to get the Linux kernel off the ground, and this is highly unlikely for a college student. In essence, we are OSS/FSF junkies because we see the advantages of it over commercial software, rather than as an avenue to "purify" software development.

      What I will agree with you about is the fact that "open source communities" do exist. What I will also say, however, is that many of the projects on sourceforge are ghost-projects. Many of them are excellent ideas, but lack of interest and group dissolution tore them apart. The idealistic "good versus evil" is not strong enough to hold the projects together, so only a certain percentage of the projects ever acheieve even beta status. Walker says that without the internet, OSS communities would have never sprung up, as some OSS pundits would like you to believe. Many of us would preach about our ideals and our hatred of the software giants, especially the Redmond Giant, and act as if we were some outshoot of local game-enthusiast meetings. Not true. I would never have gotten involved in OSS had there not been an internet. I would have no reason to. It would have been totally preposterous, a waste of time, and a waste of money. With the internet I was able to learn programming and learn about OSS. I personally believe that OSS is a better approach to design than commercial software, and I think Walker is saying this. We can't keep treating OSS as just some holy crusade against the commercial industry.

      The only point of contention that we do really follow religiously is the idea of intellectual property. Many OSS/FSF supporters indeed support intellectual property, but only as a method of naming authors. I support IP insofar as credit is given where credit is due. Money and excessive restrictions (such as DRM) are completely invalid (in my view). This is the only valid "cause" that I think OSS really has. Otherwise we would get along quite well with M$ and the other big guys. Walker in his article points out that IBM and other big names have latched on to OSS as a means for symbiosis. This is the strength of his argument. It is really a good article.

      • "The only point of contention that we do really follow religiously is the idea of intellectual property."
        We need no such thing and at least the free software movement does *not* follow religiously the idea of "intellectual property." I think what you meant to think was that the point of contention is that you really want to follow religiously the idea of copyright. Then the rest of your post would read as follows.

        " Many OSS/FSF supporters indeed support copyright, but only as a method of naming autho
  • supply and demand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by N3Z (746334) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:05PM (#14464569)
    open source is much more about supply and demand

    Very true. If there was not a need, OSS would never have gotten started. If vendors had provided good quality, resonable cost software, OSS would not exist.
    • Nonsense. (As is most of TFA.) I got into programming simply because I wanted to play with computers. No economic motivation, and no particular need that I was looking for a vendor to fill. Plenty of people pursue a particular path in life simply because that is what they want to do. (Though of course, the vast majority of people into computing these days jumped in it for the money. Fools.)

      I have stayed on the Free Software side of the world because I believe in it. People who say "there are no little green
  • Fear and Avoidance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by meregistered (895132)
    I agree there appear to be many misunderstandings regarding Open Source software.

    My experience so far has been with IT management who seem to fear the unknowns of 'free' software.
    There is a basic lack of ability to evaluate the product as a product and not based on it's source and/or lack of marketing.
    It seems that managers (and I've heard this from them before) think that when you get something for free you get what you pay for. Suggesting that it isn't valuable because they don't pay for it.

    Case in point:
    • Interesting business decisions...

      It probably wasn't a business decision. It was probably a This is what I'm comfortable with decision. Sometimes comfort can be very expensive, if not downright unproductive.
  • by hughbar (579555) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:09PM (#14464591) Homepage
    During Margaret Thatcher's reign in the UK, she said 'there is no such thing as society'. I find this to be very similar and flawed in the same way. Not everything is supply and demand, tooth and claw. There is room for altruism, generosity and openness too. I find all these in many of my contacts with 'open source' folks. Or maybe I'm just and old hippy, past my sell-by date...
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:17PM (#14464664) Homepage Journal
      I've noticed before that extremists of both Left and Right can be identified by, among other things, their tendency to look at everything in terms of classical economics -- they assume that "the economy" will always make "rational" decisions, whatever they consider "rational" to be. (It's almost tautological that, being extremists, they have an idea of what's rational that doesn't coincide with anything real, but that's a whole 'nother discussion.) It's left up to those of us in the Vast Middle to note that irrational forces -- altruism, generosity, and openness, yes; also greed, envy, fear, and group-think -- very often profoundly influence how people spend their money, as well as every other aspect of how they live their lives.
      • What mechanism causes altruism? I submit to you that it is indeed self interest, whether the reason is religious --- "I want favor with God", spiritual --- "It makes me feel good to help people", ego --- "It makes me feel good to show i'm better than people.. by helping them."

        Those all fit snugly in a free-market economy and without them, a purely laissez faire economy could be argued to be grossly immoral. On the other hand without them, it wouldn't be argued.
      • Indeed, economics is incorporating pscyhology as part of an effort known as Behavioral Economics [2blowhards.com]. Often these new theories are based on empirical results from human subject studies.

        Psychology can help to reveal the true nature of human "utility measures," which might be "rational" (in terms of being rule-based), even if they do not produce the best personal results.

        For example, drug addicts have a higher utility measure for their drugs than non-addicts, regardless of the fact that the additional use of dru
    • Not everything is supply and demand, tooth and claw. There is room for altruism, generosity and openness too. I find all these in many of my contacts with 'open source' folks. Or maybe I'm just and old hippy, past my sell-by date...

      You appear to be suggesting that free enterprize is divorced from principals such as altruism and generosity. This is nonsense. It is possible to be successful in business without integrity - we all many examples - but on the whole it takes honesty and committment to make it

  • by beta-guy (715984) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:09PM (#14464597)
    I installed linux on my compter as my only OS for a month and during that month I met and talked to lots of people who were part of the open source ommunity people helped me get my sound card working 1 guy showed me some fun things to do with the commandline, I have a passion for open source because even if there is a monopoly in the software world for this or that open source can still compete.

    I've seen some open source programs out there then the commercial alternatives as well, after talking to developers, and people who work with and use this stuff, and even go that extra step of helping new users I think says there is a community, Linux User groups are a form of community people sharing idea's and supporting each other in linux. Am I wrong?
    • Am I wrong?

      Depends. Are you posting on Slashdot? Can Microsofties read your words?

    • According to the dictionary, a community is, among other things, "A group of people having common interests...A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society". According to Webster's I would have to come to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a FOSS community. Just as there are different political parties that share their common interest in government, factions within FOSS share the common interest of free and open source - regardless of what purpose and meaning they give to the outcome.
  • Bad history (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbolden (176878) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:12PM (#14464614) Homepage
    The article lacks evidence. It spends a great deal of time talking about economics of scale without at any point presenting what specific scale is required for certain effects to occur. Further his timeline is very far off. When open source developed most software were written by a very small number of people living close to one another and then distributed widely by mail. Sure the wide adoption of the internet helped both commercial and open source software use resources geographically far apart but he completely fails to explain why one side benefitted more than the other.

    What are the implications for software developers? The obvious manifestation of a lower bar to entry coupled with an increasing number of programmers is that it is getting awfully hard for a developer to charge for software. (Quick, tell me the last time you paid for a bare-bones email client.)

    A great example. In 1995 when was the last time people paid for software that had been expensive in 1980? The 1980 office products would be free throw ins by 1995. Small utilities are first sold separately and then get bundled into other larger programs. There proves nothing about scale.

    It used to be that a developer could hack up some small utility, pass it around as shareware, and ask nicely for people to send money. While shareware still exists, the trends are not in its favor. More recently, people who hack together a simple utility simply give it away. They don't ask for payment, because they recognize that it's generally a fruitless endeavor. It's not that they give away the software because they think it's a nice thing to do; they give it away because it's the only way anyone will actually notice.

    There was never a period of time when shareware was a particularly good model for anything other than marketing. The original shareware authors generally had a plan of:

    1) Write shareware
    2) Build up a user base (who pretty much don't pay)
    3) Use this base to get a commercial vendor interested enough to finance bring the product out commercially

    I could go on but this strikes me as a college freshman economics term paper on applying economic ideas to a recent trend, not as a real insight.
    • There was never a period of time when shareware was a particularly good model for anything other than marketing. The original shareware authors generally had a plan of:

      1) Write shareware
      2) Build up a user base (who pretty much don't pay)
      3) Use this base to get a commercial vendor interested enough to finance bring the product out commercially

      I could go on but this strikes me as a college freshman economics term paper on applying economic ideas to a recent trend, not as a real insight.


      That's only true if you
      • I'm not sure what you are really disagreeing with. You seem to agree that shareware is a niche market supporting a small number of programmers writting apps with limited distribution. So what exactly are you specifically asserting is false?

        As for the other points: With crippleware you have the same problem. Don't give enough functionality and the app never takes off. Too much and a huge percentage of your userbase never pays. Nagware -- annoy the user too much and they won't use the product not enough
    • His bad history is just a straw man. He's derived it from the intentional confusion created by the Wintel press and others. Shame on him for wasting time perpetuating it instead of making his point.

      As for his point, I did not see too much that's original or any pieces of concrete advice. The Open Source movement has never pushed the four software freedoms over "practical" matters and has always had a fuzzy philosophy based on economics above all else. Other than slapping around a strawman and GNU, I'm

  • The community behind it is not that important the ideals are what is important. As a proprietary software vendor your biggest priority should be to make your customers as
    happy as possible. This may include allowing them access to the source so they can fix your broken stuff, publishing file formats etc so that they can be interfaced and
    on top of all that stable and as bug free as possible.

    Ask some of the java app server developers what happens when you start charging too much and pushing buggy software out.
    • As a proprietary software vendor your biggest priority should be to make your customers as happy as possible.

      One would think.

      There are several problems with this, though. Sometimes what the customer wants is not what your company wants. Sometimes what is good for the customer is not good for the company.

      Consider the DR-DOS incident. Microsoft intentionally released a version of MS-Windows that detected DR-DOS, gave some obscure error, and refused to load. This was proven to be intentional: it was the only e
  • There is no SPOON! Geez!
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@HORSEop ... minus herbivore> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:19PM (#14464693) Journal

    I guess I won't be getting that membership card I sent a $100 in for anytime soon.

  • Building what needs to be built is a community. Oftc and Freenode are communities.
    Really, what is activism besides building what needs to be built?

    ===
    There's two ways to do open source. The apache way and the linux way. Apache uses committees and democratic processes to, as the article seems to want to stress, place community over individual developers. Linux, the epitome of monolithic, is built under a few chief architects who direct the project. Either one is valid; either one can foster community.
  • Correct ... (Score:2, Funny)

    by gnujoshua (540710)
    There is no open source community, because everyone is in the free software community singing: Join us now and share the software; You'll be free, hackers, you'll be free. x2 Hoarders may get piles of money, That is true, hackers, that is true. But they cannot help their neighbors; That's not good, hackers, that's not good. When we have enough free software At our call, hackers, at our call, We'll throw out those dirty licenses Ever more, hackers, ev
    • Join us now and share the software;
      You'll be free, hackers, you'll be free.
      x2

      Hoarders may get piles of money,
      That is true, hackers, that is true.
      But they cannot help their neighbors;
      That's not good, hackers, that's not good.

      When we have enough free software
      At our call, hackers, at our call,
      We'll throw out those dirty licenses
      Ever more, hackers, ever more.

      Join us now and share the software;
      You'll be free, hackers, you'll be free
  • by whitroth (9367) <whitroth@@@5-cent...us> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:32PM (#14464824) Homepage
    Those of us who were on the 'Net a dozen years ago (geez, is it that long?) when Cantor & Siegal did the famous Green Card spam saw them argue *exactly* the same, that the 'Net was no "community", and they ought to be able to do what they wanted.

    Not that I'd ever have seen them, it not being my religion, but when I was young, I used to read about fire&brimstone (tm) preachers inveighing against the worship of Mammon (aka the almighty dollar); these days, it's the state religion of the US.

                        mark
  • by po8 (187055)

    I'm about one more front-page troll away from bagging /. altogether. I haven't even RTFA, because this is just a sadly successful attempt to increase pageviews on this site and OnLamp simultaneously.

    If there's no open source community, who the heck is it I keep going to conferences with? Who are the folks I am putting on the board of my newly formed open source organization? Who are the folks who keep volunteering to teach in my open source classes? Who is volunteering to work on my open source project

    • If there's no open source community, who the heck is it I keep going to conferences with? Who are the folks I am putting on the board of my newly formed open source organization? Who are the folks who keep volunteering to teach in my open source classes? Who is volunteering to work on my open source projects?

      As far as I can piece it together, this is supposed to end like "A Beautiful Mind" where you wake up strapped to an electric bed with nurse Ratchet probing you and find out all the people you knew and

  • I, Pencil (Score:2, Interesting)

    by protocoldroid (633203)
    I think some good additional reading would be the essay "I, Pencil" [econlib.org]. It is an essay about capitalism, but... I definitely think it applies here.

    Milton Friedman had to say about this essay:

    Leonard Read's delightful story, "I, Pencil," has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith's invisible hand--the possibility of cooperation without coercion--and Friedrich Hayek's emphasis o
  • How many communities have clear divine purpose?

    #1, above all; CAUSE & EFFECT

    "it becomes clear that Linux or its equivalent was bound to happen eventually, regardless of whether Linus decided to release a kernel in 1991. The same applies for Apache and any other project. Both of these are the natural result of massive price drops in their respective markets."
    A) Linux CAUSED that price drop, was because there WAS no cheap unix. Open source IS that price drop. Sure, its cyclical, sure its causing more pe
  • In my line of work, I spend time working with both Windows Stuff (Proprietary) and Linux stuff(Open Source). My experience is that when I have a problem, or a requirement to fulfil that is Linux based, there is a huge amount of resource available on the internet, forums, code-snippets , tools etc free and easily available. Whenever I have a windows problem I find that I invariably run into people trying to sell me stuff, components, plugin's licenses and little in the way of (free) help.

    Im not sure whether
  • I found myself skimming after page two, and it still couldn't go by fast enough. Incredible, I think instead of learning anything from it, the page actually sucked knowledge out of my brain backwards through my eyeballs, so that now I think that there is no such thing as Linux at all, because there's nowhere for the distros to come from, because it denies the existence of an open source community. BECAUSE THESE MULES BELIEVE SOFTWARE COMES FROM THE FREAKING BLUE FAIRY GODMOTHER!
  • Fascetious Tripe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sam_handelman (519767) <skh2003@[ ]umbia.edu ['col' in gap]> on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:49PM (#14465003) Homepage Journal
    Spare me the "iron laws of history" bullshit.

      That individual actors have had a tremendous impact on every aspect of modern technological development is obvious to anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the relevant history.

      Beyond that, cultural and, I dare say, moral aspects of the technology *have* played a significant role in the adoption of open source methodologies and software, particularly at the academic level. Adoption at the academic level has been, if not a driving force, a necesarry condition for widespread adoption in the corporate sector. The talking heads the author discusses may have provided some needed business-speak triggers to make corporate types more comfortable, but that's hardly important or interesting. Richard Stallman was merely a figurehead for impersonal economic forces, but Bruce Perens has changed history? Please.

      So the author's description of history is inaccurate - it is, in fact, anti free software propoganda, and unsurprisingly rooted in the same neo-hagelian ideas as most intrinsically anti-democratic tracts.

      However, the course of action he proposes - which is not a challenge of assumptions, as he characterizes it, but a change in policy - is worth independent consideration.

      The author thinks that corporate america should move forward with an open source development model and ignore the input and wishes of the broader community of developers - the author of the piece insists they don't exist.

      Any corporation that wishes to do this is, of course, free to do so. The question for free software/open source/whatever developers is this - do you want your interests represented, or not? Individual actors have tremendous influence over the course of events from this point onward - and it is pointless to speculate on the outcome of events when individual decisions play such a decisive role.

      A software developer trying to accomplish option 1 on his own will face a daunting task, whereas a developer who releases source code, assuming the project is viable, will have a ready supply of suggestions for improving the software and adding features. - This is generally true. But how, exactly, does it follow from the elementary economic forces that the author thinks drive open source? It doesn't - it derives from the existence of the broader community, about which the author urges corporate developers to "stop worrying".

      The discussion of legal pitfalls and the economic advantages of scale and so forth are mostly accurate (as other posters have addressed), it is the conclusions that he draws from them with which I disagree.
  • The problem is that too many people see copyrights as a meca of free markets and property rights when in truth they need to look at them as massive microregulations on how people can use and apply information in the information age. Rather than seeing them as some glorious protection for creators, they need to be looked at as the intelectual sewage that they are. The current software industry in the USA is just a manifestation of this ignorance (perhaps motivated by greed, and the desire for total contro
  • Oversimplified (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wrook (134116) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:57PM (#14465105) Homepage
    I find the author's main argument, that FLOSS development is a natural and necessary result of economic forces, to be correct. However, to imagine that this is the only thing you should think about is naive.

    I have argued many of the same arguments in the past. FLOSS development is merely a consortium for software development. As long as your core business does not rely on revenue from the software developed (i.e. virtually every company in existence) you are better off entering into a consortium for software development. Especially if the overhead costs for that consortium are (mostly) free (enter the internet).

    What people fail to realize is that FLOSS is a *consumer* movement. It is not a development movement. Developers write FLOSS *because they want to use it*. Especially in the corporate environment, most FLOSS development is a result of wanting to be a user of the software, not of wanting to be a developer of the software.

    It is because it is in the best interest of the consumer to join a FLOSS consortium that it is inevitable that FLOSS will continue to thrive.

    BUT it is a mistake to ignore the underlying reality of these consortiums. If you refuse to believe that a consortium exists at all (the FLOSS community as it were), you will be in for a world of hurt. We have seen this time and time again. The currency in the FLOSS community is mindshare, not money. So if you try to "compete" against an entrenched player you are very unlikely to experience the economies of scale so eloquently discussed in TFA. Furthermore, if you piss off the "major players" in the community, you are likely to lose the majority of your mindshare.

    My personal feeling is that FLOSS has reached critical mass. Only extreme political action (i.e. laws prohibiting it) can stop it now. Every day it is becoming more and more obvious that proprietary software does not provide a competative cost/benefit ratio.

    But if you want to succeed in the FLOSS world, you need to understand the culture and be able to play in that way. Those who ignore the culture and community are doomed to failure.
  • Is Open Source software used primarily to profit? or for fun? Or both?

    A community is where there is an interaction among like-minded individuals with common ownership, and it does exist.
  • Anybody on Slashdot who thinks there is no Open Source Community of which to run afoul is unable to see the forest because he's a tree.
  • by breadbot (147896) on Friday January 13, 2006 @03:11PM (#14465780) Homepage

    Some random thoughts about complexity. I don't have a coherent argument though:

    The author seems to assume that the more programmers there are, the more a software project will advance. In my experience, though, a small, dedicated team of 1 to 4 programmers can outperform the entire rest of the world in 99% of interesting cases. On page 3, for example,

    A new feature for a software project posted on the internet increases the overall complexity of the project.

    The author seems to equate an increase in complexity with an increase in functionality. It's true to some extent, but it also makes maintenance harder. To maintain or even improve any software, you need people who understand that software and, more importantly, who understand each other's changes. Which is why it's so nice to have a small group who can meet and talk and make decisions together. And to be productive, those people have to have a really good reason to:

    • Stick together
    • Respect each other's efforts
    • Refine the software until it is usable, which can take much longer than achieving basic functionality.
    • Be aware of what users really need, and not just what the programmers think they need.

    So far, I have seen these qualities mainly in commercial teams, with a few prominent exceptions in the open-source world.

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