"OSS - what is it good for? Absolutely..."
I was going to have long rantish thing here, but all of my justified righteousness fizzled away like a romantic mood after a very loud fart.
It all started with this piece from Lessig where he tears a new asshole to SCO. After this, a bunch of people on IRC started to criticize the fact that Kiseido Go Server developer is keeping the protocols secret... It seems that people have the darnedest notions of what Open Source actually is, and what the benefits really are. Here are some of my observations - from my personal, own perspective as an open source developer.
- You get to meet interesting, wonderful, intelligent people, and talk geek talk
- Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. Some guy in Germany can solve the problem that has been plaguing you for weeks, and never be heard from again.
- It feels good to give back to the OSS and Free Software communities, considering that most of my tools that I use are open.
- Freedom - if I suddenly stop development (get bored, win a life in a lottery, die, etc), I can leave the system as-is and someone can pick it up and continue.
- The ability to say to unreasonable/impossible requests: "Well, it's open source, you can go and fix it yourself." :-)
- The freedom to ignore any Curly Brace Wars, since I own the code and can use whatever style I like best - and others have to comply :-).
- The amount of sheer communication. I sometimes use more time per week answering email queries than actually writing code. It's not that I don't like it; it just takes a lot of time.
- Combination of sayings "any user can see source code and contribute" and "users are morons". The quality of some of the things that gets my way is astoundingly bad - and some people don't seem to understand that once I accept something into the core of JSPWiki, I'll be the one who has to support it.
- Getting into the inevitable Curly Brace Wars
- The morons who think they can do better than you, and are not afraid of saying it to you - but somehow they never manage to produce a line of functional code.
- The morons who think they know how it should be done, but don't have the experience to back it up. Good advice is a dime a dozen.
Actually, looking back at those lists, it suddenly seems obvious to me that the real value (and problems) of Open Source lies with the people. Open Source is good because it encourages active communication between people, not only in code form, but also in personal and professional relationships. It is far more taxing to the developer, but it also gives more.
Open Source is to closed source much like blogs are to personal diaries: The power of blogs lies in the fact that they allow people to communicate, and OSS does the same thing, albeit in a form that is more rigid: the compiler does not forgive spelling errors. Networking is, after all, the key to innovation - very few people have been able to be geniuses without the support from any other people. And even now, we are all relying on the open work done by scientists, men and women of the past, as we travel in our cars on the freeway or talk in our cell phones. We all stand on the shoulders of the giants.
It is not a question whether OSS is superior to proprietary systems or not. OSS allows whole new kinds of innovation methods that allow things that cannot be done in a closed framework, and that I believe to be its strength. Proprietary systems are very good at providing specialized solutions (just look at all the research the military does to become better at killing people - they're very good these days), but I think the real innovation comes from large networks of people. Perhaps creativeness is an emergent property of groups?
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