Raw thoughts from Alex Dong

Limitation of open source projects

My friend Rodney wrote me an email responding to my previous post of “understand open source”.   His comments led me into some deeper thinking of the difference of open source and commercial software projects. And what they can learn from each other, which I will publish a post later. (Disclaimer: I’m an independent advisor to OceanBrowser, Rodney’s company.)

It is not my intention to draw a black-and-white line and assert “open source is all good and commercial software are just evil”. Quite contrary to that, I’m strongly against monoculture. Either it’s only open source or only commercial software.  Plus, these two terms not even exclusive to each other nowadays.  Android and Ubuntu are both large scale open source projects run by a commercial company, for commercial reasons.

So before I go on and share Rodney’s reply. Let’s remind ourselves that I’m also against the idea of over-generalization. So please read the following with a large grain of salt.

“So if I am missing a needed feature in a project and I do nothing about it, it is my own fault for not getting off my lazy arse and taking advantage of the participation opensource allows.”

Characterizing a user as lazy because they don’t want to get involved in this way isn’t constructive.  The world is full of complicated things that don’t work – there may be a mismatch of expectations, especially around suitability for purpose, quality, and reliability.  ”taking advantage of the participation opensource allows” could be a euphism here for someone disappearing down a rabbit hole of forums, testing and so forth that completely diverts them from the user from what they were trying to do.

“With a proprietary product, if I like it, the only way I am allowed to participate in it’s improvement is by buying it.”

Do you believe this?  Most of the people who have contributed to helping in the development of OB3 haven’t directly bought it – students, teachers etc.  It suggests that closed source developers are fixated on financial returns or money as an indicator of importance.  Which I would reject, at least in our case, the contrary position is it is about control and design, it can just represent a choice about how you want to build your vision.  Then there are all the projects out there where the product is closed source but big chunks of the underlying platform are open sourced.  Or ones which are open sourced with a close source commercial build for “enterprise”.

For the time starved user who reads the hype about some open source product, pours hours and hours into learning about it (event pit) installing and configuring, only to find that it is unstable and bug ridden, they are supposed to now fix it – or shut up?  I’m not the type that slags OS projects by the way…. just putting the contrary view here.

“So my buying dollars dont directly go to the improvement of that product”

It may depend on the type of product you are talking about, and how you define what is “improving the product” – is it just engineering?  If the product needs design, research, maybe you need a team working full time on that – and someone has to pay their salaries.Anyway,  better get back to work… above could do with more drafting.  This article reduces closed source/ commercial development to a caricature – not all closed source firms are evil money focused bottom line etc…