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Open Source In the Datacenter: It Was Never About Innovation 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-was-all-about-the-benjamins dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The secret to open source innovation, and the reason for its triumphal success, has nothing to do with the desire to innovate. It's because of the four freedoms and the level playing field (and agility) that was the end result. It's like Douglas Adams' definition of flying: you don't try to fly, you throw yourself at the ground and miss. This article explains why it was never about innovation — it was always about freedom. Quoting: 'When the forces of economics put constant downward price pressure on software, developers look for other ways to derive income. Given the choice between simply submitting to economic forces and releasing no-cost software in proprietary form, developers found open source models to be a much better deal. Some of us didn't necessarily like the mechanics of those models, which included dual licensing and using copyleft as a means of collecting ransom, but it was a model in which developers could thrive.'"
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Open Source In the Datacenter: It Was Never About Innovation

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 29, 2013 @04:24PM (#45557357)

    90% of everything is crap, but at least with open source you can find out why instead of waiting for the developers who can't reproduce your problem.

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Friday November 29, 2013 @04:43PM (#45557469)

      90% of everything is crap, but at least with open source you can find out why instead of waiting for the developers who can't reproduce your problem.

      Don't forget a total lack of license management, the purgatory of IT. Essentially, with Open Source, you can spend less time dealing with how to get the software, and more time working on interesting stuff.

      • by epyT-R (613989) on Friday November 29, 2013 @05:11PM (#45557595)

        It's not even about just getting the software, it's about preempting lawsuits. Better to just go GPL/BSD/PD since they are easier to comply with.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Remember GPL is a license to redistribute, not a EULA. Nothing to comply with if you're just using the thing.

          • by dgatwood (11270)

            Unless it's AGPL, in which case it does, for most normal people's definition of "using".

          • by epyT-R (613989)

            yup.

    • "90% of everything is crap, but at least with open source you can find out why instead of waiting for the developers who can't reproduce your problem."

      Everybody is skirting the simple and fundamental truth: without sufficient freedom (i.e., with no alternative to corporate lock-up of tools and resources), innovation simply would not happen. So trying to artificially separate the two is just nonsense. Without any competition, there is virtually no motivation to innovate.

      Innovation comes from motivation (which often means competition). If there is no competition, there is no motivation, and innovation simply doesn't happen.

      I mean, Jesus Christ, Americ

      • by ilguido (1704434)

        I mean, Jesus Christ, America. We can see it happening right now in China. They were shit in the world economy (and their own economy, for that matter) until the government started letting businesses actually profit and compete with others (i.e., more capitalism).

        The Corporatism part is quite right, after all the corporatist state envisioned by Mussolini was a system of lobbies, regulated by formal mechanisms. However, when Deng Xiaoping turned China towards a market economy (but not really a capitalist one) in the 80s, China was already doing comparatively better than India or Brazil, two capitalist states that a few decades early were in a better position than post-revolutionary China. The actual Chinese economic system is a bit complex and not really capitalist,

        • "The actual Chinese economic system is a bit complex and not really capitalist, its big players are state owned and the banking system (that is the capitals) is mainly state-owned or under the firm grip of the state."

          That's why I didn't write "capitalist". I wrote "more capitalist". The people who run companies today are allowed to keep (some of) the profit. They allowed capitalist incentive to infiltrate many of the markets.

          But remember what the U.S. government has often seemed to have forgotten: capitalism requires non-interference from government in order to work. India, China, and Brazil all had too much government intervention in the economy for true capitalism to function. The more capitalist they have become,

  • by murdocj (543661) on Friday November 29, 2013 @04:30PM (#45557389)

    This is just an opinion piece, not even remotely news.

    • by mrbluze (1034940)

      This is just an opinion piece, not even remotely news.

      And is it "stuff that matters"? Not to me it isn't.

    • Why FOSS? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by unixisc (2429386) on Friday November 29, 2013 @05:25PM (#45557669)

      One thing I don't get - if there is a downward pressure on prices on developers, how does adapting an Open Source model help them? It's not like they get extra money for it if they reveal their source code.

      Also, the 'four freedoms' have never been about making better software, as RMS never tires of pointing out (and it shows). They've been an end in itself. If you write a software - no matter how bad, but simply put it under a A/L/GPL license, RMS would be pleased. Your software respects the 'freedom' of your neighbors, who you must help, as per Freedom 2.

      But I doubt that the desire to put Open Source in the datacenter had anything to do with any 'freedom'. It was about putting better software out there. Since the existing datacenter hardware was tied to the support contracts that a Microsoft or Sun/Oracle or HP would provide, moving to FOSS meant that any datacenter that adapted it would determine its own support timelines, since the open source meant that they could hire their own developers to maintain it beyond upstream support, and also, the upstream projects had no strong reason to EOL a version, unlike commercial entities.

      The innovation part - this part is not completely true about FOSS, since there ain't millions of programmers interested in the project, and so the software usually doesn't get examined except by its developers, and maybe some very interested customers. Where FOSS helps is that if a customer has esoteric hardware, the software can usually be ported to it to exact the maximum life out of the system, as well as provide a uniform software platform for heterogenous computing environments.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        One thing I don't get - if there is a downward pressure on prices on developers, how does adapting an Open Source model help them? It's not like they get extra money for it if they reveal their source code.

        Its not the developer's source that needs to be open, its what they use. Where I work we use C#, but were almost set up with python and other FOSS. Its only because the python guys were idiots wanting a TON of money (more than IIS and SQLServer would have costs with others) for not knowing what they were doing we stayed with C#. Next time the same question comes up I would be shocked if python/MariaDB doesn't win just because setting up a web site with that is a fraction of the cost. C# worked for us ON

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        One thing I don't get - if there is a downward pressure on prices on developers, how does adapting an Open Source model help them? It's not like they get extra money for it if they reveal their source code.

        That suggests (maybe even begs) the question, can they get extra money for it if they reveal their source code? You always reveal your source code to your employer in a "traditional" programmer-getting-paid relationship involving corporations (or at least companies) and groups of programmers, marketers, et cetera.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      The cost of OS software is not a major factor in Data Center budgets the cost of the plant plus the power costs are much much more important
    • Yeah, the article mixes a couple different subjects that don't really have a whole lot to do with each other much of the time - development and datacenters. Most developers aren't doing anything remotely relevant to the datacenter.

      Open source works in the datacenter because it's cheap, relatively easy to manage, and because tools are available that let it scale up fairly easily.

      And while there are successful, large projects that are open source... it's harder to see the argument that open source is the tool

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        it's harder to see the argument that open source is the tool of choice for developers

        It depends on the developers. Certainly here in the land of slashdot groupthink you can see that some of them have wised up to the relative ease of Open Source software development. People fix bugs for you in the best case, and at minimum you get to benefit from the work of others when you link OSS libraries or what have you.

        It's notable though that OSS is only getting more popular in development tools. You're more and more likely to be using OSS compilers and even IDEs today when you do software developmen

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          Um not if your doing serious HPC you use the expensive INTEL compilers and not the open source ones
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            If you're doing serious HPC you might well be using a language that Intel doesn't even have a compiler for.

            • by mjwalshe (1680392)
              Serious HPC uses FORTRAN some of the kids on the variety club bus (the one with the tasty windows) seem to want to switch to C++ but thats a world of butt hurt.
  • Why pay when you can have it fo free?

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Is not about money neither. Is about who is in control, who really owns your data.
      • by GerryGilmore (663905) on Friday November 29, 2013 @05:38PM (#45557759)
        Close. In my case, as head of technology and development at a small outfit then using SCO Unix, it was a combination of factors. First, and most important, was gaining some level of control of the underlying software stack. A couple of examples: We installed the SMP package on a customer's system. Random crashes and panics became too common. We replaced the server - no joy. Having a support agreement with SCO ($$$), we called them for assistance and their response was "re-install the SMP package". When I explained that we'd already done that, they said "well, do it again". Another time, we needed their DDE-RPC package to run some CSTA software. When I tried to buy a copy, they said "nope, we discontinued that package". I offered several options: we'll pay for it, but not ask them for support, etc. No, no and no. It was about this time one of my techs who'd been singing the Linux song finally handed me the pack of Yggdrasil floppies and once I finally got it loaded and started looking at the source code for *everything*: kernel, compiler, utilities, etc. my jaw hit the floor and I knew that the world had shifted forever. We started then on a migration project - which took a couple of years - and we've never looked back. Worth every penny that we didn't pay to SCO, but did pay to our engineers.
    • by NotBorg (829820)
      Most open source is NOT free (as in monetary cost). It's almost good enough so you modify it (at the cost of development time). The expense of maintaining that modification encourages sending your modifications back upstream. The difference is that it's cheaper to pay your own developers to do it than it is to ask some proprietary vendor to modify their stuff for you. Cheaper wins.
    • Not everything in the cloud is open or free. Amazon Web Services are proprietary and metered, for example, and lots of people still use them. Why is that?

      I think it's because AWS decided to support two of the four freedoms, and those are the important ones. Basically, give people tools, and let them build what they want with them, without having to ask anyone for permission.

    • >Why pay when you can have it fo free?

      I will sell you the letter "R" for $500 bucks!
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday November 29, 2013 @04:46PM (#45557491)

    When people say Innovative, we think of something that when we see it, we go Wow this is so cool I would never think of of that myself, and usually throws the rest of the industry in catch up mode.

    Now the iPhone (not the iPad) was an innovative idea. Phones before the iPhone had external keyboards, at the expense of of screen size, or thickness. The idea of very few real buttons at the time was very foreign to us. And using gestures seemed almost impossible, as many early gesture systems had a lot of complicated gestures to get tasks done.
    The iPhone wasn't innovative based on its features, there were other companies that had phones with more features or better hardware. But the innovation was able to successfully make a phone, that the advance feature were accessible and to the end users. The idea of say browsing the web on your phone, or have it as your main method to check for email seemed silly before, today it is quite common.
    What happened after the iPhone kicked off, it threw the Industry in catch up mode. It took years for good Android phones to get into the market to start competing, and these new phones all are based on the iPhone.

    Now the iPad isn't that innovative, it was easy to realize you take your iPhone and just give it a bigger screen, and fit better processing.

    Other innovative products.
    ID software 3D shooter. Wolfinstine 3d and Doom. They had some wire-frame attempts, and a few polygon based games. But games before that for the most part where 2d sprite based (Side Platform like Mario, or top down like Zelda), specificity for fast paced action games.

    Nintendo Entertainment System. Unlike the Atari and other predecessors it didn't give any allusion that it was a person computer, just a straight game console. Priced more affordable than the others, and focusing on games.

    Innovation is very rare. Most of the time it is copying someone else idea and tweaking it so there are different set of trade offs. Now their tweaks may change the market, but not as much as a innovative product.

    How you choose to license your product, isn't really that big of a deal. Open Source, sure people can tinker with it coming with some new ideas. Commercial Software will have paid employees trying to come up with something new.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 29, 2013 @05:27PM (#45557679)

      In my opinion, the problem is the misdefinition of the word "innovation".

      An innovation is something new. Something revolutionary that changes everything.
      The transistor was an innovation. Rounded corners and ultra-thin device form factors are not.

      In the world of free software, tools, apps, and other software constructions don't overtly aspire for this goal. They just want to get X task completed. Most tools and products start as ugly assed hacks, thrown together with haste.

      The magical alchemy of free software, is that if somebody else expends the energy making that ugly hack, and shares it for free, others can snag up that hack, look under the hood, and either use it as-is, or use the energy they would have used to create their own ugly hack to beautify and refine the hack they just found, and make it better for servicing the unique twists of that person's requirements when doing that task. This could be anything from adding new features, to fixing dirty code work and inefficiencies in the logic. Des not matter. The effect is the same.

      Over time, the dirty hack becomes something the original author never envisioned, but increasingly more innovative, as more people look at it, and add clever improvements. It does not come into the world to change anything, just to do a job.

      It is an organic, evolutionary process. Something "barely fit" for the function undergoes selective pressure, and unrestricted replication, and intelligently guided evolution. The latter part is why it reaches "innovative" local maxima solutions to problems quickly.

      Trying to upset the applecart, just to upset the apple cart and change the world is a monumentally difficult task to "just do". FOSS does this effortlessly, one clever hack at a time. The payment the innovators receive in return, is better employment of their time (for the few minutes or hours of time they invest each, they all get demonstrably better software than they could have produced from scratch in that period of time, and if they improve the software and release under the license terms, then the time they spent adds value to the next person in the chain. It isn't about monetary compensation; it's about time use.)

      Proprietary software tries to leverage the time and energy of a small group of talented people, to prduce a product of greater sophistication than an individual software hack can produce in a sensible amount of time, and extort money out of them for the service of providing an already made package that should suit thier needs. (Should). This is done to get a slightly higher amount of monetary valuation of "time" from the customer, and offer a "bargain" in time expenditure vs value to the customer.

      (The software company pays their employees a certain financial compensation per hour worked, which is summed to help arrive at a production cost figure for the product. The proprietary vendor then amortizes that cost over an estimated userbase, and arrives at an MSRP, and from there a transaction for the finished product can be conducted. The msrp is higher than the amortized cost per unit, the price of the product for the customer is considerably lower than the valuated figure for the time it would have taken them to mae the product themselves. Both walk away with value.)

      With foss, this methodology is disrupted; there is no money seeking middle man. The value added by each small successive evolutionary step improves the software. They get the benefit of many times this investment, the longer the product stays in active development. Linux Kernel alone constitutes millions of man hours of coding time. If you spend 1 hour making a small improvement to current trunk, and have it accepted, you still have over 1,000,000:1 value return on the time. The next person gets 1,000,001:1 return. Etc.

      This feedback allows foss to grow and evolve radically faster than proprietary software could ever hope to achieve, especially as the development life of the product increases. Proprietary software has recurring costs in deveopment. FOSS has recurring returns.

      FOSS is a true innovation in software development.
      Thin screens and gestures pale in comparison.

      • > Proprietary software tries to leverage the time and energy of a small group of talented people, to prduce a product of greater sophistication than an individual software hack can produce in a sensible amount of time, and extort money out of them for the service of providing an already made package that should suit thier needs. (Should). This is done to get a slightly higher amount of monetary valuation of "time" from the customer, and offer a "bargain" in time expenditure vs value to the customer.

        Yes f

    • Now the iPhone (not the iPad) was an innovative idea. Phones before the iPhone had external keyboards, at the expense of of screen size, or thickness. The idea of very few real buttons at the time was very foreign to us.

      The 7710 [gsmarena.com] says you're wrong. (As if being 2.5 years earlier wasn't enough, it had more pixels, too. And it's not as though that's some fluke that was promptly abandoned, as its descendants, while not as minimal as the iPhone, were definitely of a piece with the later iPhone/Android/WebOS/etc. "big screen, few buttons" concept. By the time the iPhone came out, the N800 was current, which while not a "phone" as it no longer contained a GSM radios (being made for tethering to a phone), was up to 800x480, and th

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      ..didn't give any impression of being something else?

      you forget about rob? it was a chore for them to invent something so that the usa release of famicom would seem something else than just a games console because "just games" console market had just crashed badly!

      and you forgetting touchscreen motorolas, touchscreen nokias, treos.. what was big thing was that the manufacturers of touch tech managed to embed capacitive in thin screens and without too much power use around the time iphone came to market..

      i

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You were doing well until you mentioned the iPhone, which was not the first of anything in its class. The closest it gets is being the first commercial product to use a stripped-down version of the full OS on the phone; iOS is derived directly from OSX, but other examples like Windows CE are not. That's not innovative, though; it's evolutionary, and was bound to happen when the phones became powerful enough.

      Unfortunately, you mentioned it in your second sentence, which means you went off the rails early.

      You

  • GNU GPL FTW (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 29, 2013 @04:52PM (#45557519)

    When I write code for personal reasons, I always release it under the Affero GPL v3+ [gnu.org].
    It saves me the time and effort of attempting to monetize or control every little snippet of code that I write just for fun or just to learn something.
    It also ensures that nobody can commercially exploit the code without A) paying me for a non-GPL license, or B) contributing back to the community.

    As a side effect, it makes a great way to show off my coding skills to potential employers.
    They can look me up on GitHub and evaluate my code and skills, but they still have to pay to play.

    I'm not a libre software zealot. I don't believe that everyone is under a moral obligation to release their source code.
    However, I do find the Affero GPL effective at protecting my non-commercial interests and providing an assist on my commercial interests.
    That is why I use the license, and encourage other software developers to do the same.

    • by unixisc (2429386)

      How exactly does that work? You provide a package under AGPL3. I pick it up & use it, and run it - maybe on your server, maybe on mine. Everything I do is internal facing - I put it on an Intranet, but not the internet As a result, nobody other than me & my colleagues get to use it, I don't add a thing to it, so your source code is available to anyone who wants to see it - my colleagues, while they run it on as many computers as needed. Instead of paying for a closed source package, I got yo

  • The bit about developers using "copyleft as a means of collecting ransom,".

    This doesn't sound like a complaint from the end user (data center) for all the nice, free software. It sounds like butthurt from proprietary s/w vendors who can't find a way to take open code back into a closed product.

  • What really happened was that new ways were found to monetize open source. Most of them involve advertising. Some of them involve spyware. Others involve making programs dependent on "the cloud", or on an endless stream of patches, so some company can cut off your air supply unless you pay.

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      ..or they built a business around natural scarcity, such as network presence that requires things like bandwidth, server maintenance, and support. Nothing wrong with that.

      Scarcity of access really doesn't work that well with media, software, or ideas...even with a police state.

  • I don't see why he's contrasting things that, instead, worked together with synergy. Strikes me as a really short-sighted way to approach the success of Open Source software.

    $.02, etc.

    -Slarty

  • * Freedom to change shitty design decisions by the author(s). *cough*GIMP*cough*

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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