Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's talk about Open Source

As a former teacher I see the need for good software, and I understand the "I don't have the time to learn how to use new programs" excuse that I hear frequently. Well, let's talk about it - from my perspective what I am seeing is that a lot of folks have learned how to use a specific product instead of learning a skill. There is one point worth mentioning: moving to use an open-standards program (say OpenOffice) will help you become less dependent on the current distribution of MS Word (and, yes, there are changes you will have to learn anyway with every new release) and allow you to use the skill (word processing) for it's intended purpose (communication.)

There is no 100% guarantee that every Open Source program is going to perform exactly the same as it's proprietary counterpart, but the same is true with different versions of the same product. Ever tried opening and old version of MS Word? The transition is not always smooth, but by using Open Source there is a built in way of assuring access to the information that is being retrieved, and that is open access to the code that created the document. That may sound like mumbo jumbo geek talk, but it is a fundamental difference between Open Source programs and others: you can see the code, and if you can, then you will have access to your documents for many years to come.

You can read and listen to a dialog between a concerned citizen (worried about the moneys being wasted on proprietary software) and a district's legal counsel <here>.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here is what I have seen from the Open Source Community:

MOST, not all, of the programs are a generation or two BEHIND their commercial conterparts. That is because the open source community is not so much innovative, rather imitative. They wait and see what the big guys are doing and then imitate it. So, if you want to be a generation behind, then you use open source. So be it. That is not a bad thing. However, I prefer to be on the edge, for the most part.

IN essence, the OS community uses the software companies as their R&D arms, waiting to see what the next innovation will be that they can write into their software. They then copy the innovation, let it go into the open source world, and say "look how good we are at making something that is ALMOST like the original."

Sounds fair huh?

Look at GIMP for instance. Whenever Adobe comes out with the latest Photoshop, THEN the GIMP community comes out with an update that tries to match the feature set. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. But, GIMP is NOT Photoshop. That is because Photoshop, like many other commercial programs, have an ecosystem built around them that simply cannot be matched by the OS community. Plug Ins, peripherals, books, training video, websites, all revolve around the commercial products.

I can get something that MAY be like the plug in I want to use in Photoshop, but to say a program IS JUST LIKE another program is in fact, a terrible missstatement.

Is a Steak at Ruths Chris Steakhouse the same as a steak at Golden Corral? No, it is not. Yes, they are both steaks, but they are not the same. The experience is different, the taste is different. Yes, they will both fill you up, but...

Finally, you cannot be in any conversation with an OS person without these words being uttered: "Why should we pay Microsoft for this or that?" Interesting. Why pay for anything? Why pay Dell for hardware? Why pay AT&T for connectivity? Why pay EXXON for gas? I don't understand the aversion to having to pay for something. The entire economy of the free world is based on this. You pay for goods and services.

I always go back to the book [], the Cathedral and the Bazaar: A book about how paying for software was so bad...
Cost of the Book: $18.00.

It seems paying for something is okay, as long as it is OS stuff...

Almquist Burke said...

> Look at GIMP for instance. Whenever Adobe comes out with the latest Photoshop, THEN the
> GIMP community comes out with an update that tries to match the feature set. Sometimes
> they do, sometimes they do not. But, GIMP is NOT Photoshop. That is because Photoshop,
> like many other commercial programs, have an ecosystem built around them that simply
> cannot be matched by the OS community. Plug Ins, peripherals, books, training video,
> websites, all revolve around the commercial product.


The ecosystem doesn't exist because the product is closed source, it exists because Photoshop has been around a long time and has a lot of users. Look at the ecosystem around Firefox. There are tons and tons of great extensions and plugins for Firefox. Far more than any other browser.

It's true that Photoshop has functionality that GIMP doesn't, and the reverse is true as well. There are a few little features that GIMP does that Photoshop does not (at least according to some GIMP users. I don't do much photo editing so I really can't tell you.) GIMP and Photoshop were designed to tackle similar, but not identical, tasks. GIMP wasn't originally aimed at publishing, just web graphics, so it doesn't (IIRC) support CMYK color.

The broader point is that the "copycat" argument cuts both ways. Yes some OSS is simply designed to be a drop in replacement for existing closed source programs; mostly, because they simply wouldn't port the closed source software to the "small" linux market. They also couldn't be included in the linux distribution, since they are not freely re-distributable.


> I can get something that MAY be like the plug in I want to use in Photoshop, but to say a
> program IS JUST LIKE another program is in fact, a terrible misstatement.

This is true of any alternative to favorite program X. No two pieces of software are exactly identical. That's not an argument against open source, it's an argument that they can never switch to a different software package because it doesn't have the EXACT same feature set. Sometimes people really need a certain piece of functionality. Sometimes doing it the other way is just as good or better, but it's different, and people don't like to change. Office doesn't save to PDF. Yes you can buy another software product, but it's integrated into Open Office. Every piece of software has functionality that its competitors don't. The question is how much you heavily you depend on those features, and how exclusive are those features?


> Finally, you cannot be in any conversation with an OS person without these words being
> uttered: "Why should we pay Microsoft for this or that?" Interesting. Why pay for
> anything? Why pay Dell for hardware? Why pay AT&T for connectivity? Why pay EXXON for
> gas? I don't understand the aversion to having to pay for something. The entire economy
> of the free world is based on this. You pay for goods and services.

Open Source isn't about free as in beer. Although much of the software is free of cost too . It's about openness. Dell and Exxon have a marginal cost for their product (so does the printer of the Cathedral and the Bazaar ), meaning that each additional computer or gallon of gas cost them additional money to produce. Software (like movies and other intangible things have marginal costs that are zero (or approximate zero). This means that an additional copy of Office 2007 or Firefox costs basically nothing to produce. It's all just bits. All the cost for software (and music and movies..) is upfront or fixed. This means that software can be free, as long as fixed costs are covered (These costs and payments may or may not be monetary).

The writer of the C&B talks about people "scratching their own itch" (or their company's itch). You'd be surprised, but the number of people employed to write software for private use far exceeds (by like ten times) the number that write off the shelf software (stuff that others buy or license.) Most of these people aren't in the software business, so why on earth would they want to try to sell this stuff. The value is in its use. If even a small outside community wants to use or develop their software, then it's no skin off their back. Others are in a service business. They are writing this stuff to help a customer. Making it open source means they can reuse code from one project to another, regardless who has the copyright. The customer doesn't worry they will be cut off from the code base of the software they use either, they always can find someone else to develop it, even if the original developer owns the copyright.

balmquist_mindfirestudios_com

James P Kinney III said...

All of the arguments below have some simple merit on face value. But I would put to the poster of the argument the following question (warning - there is a single question at the end of the lead up of 1400+ words -this hit a nerve):

Over the last 1500 years of human development things have been done for 2 and only 2 reasons: monetary gain and philosophical ideals.

Think about this a minute.

People do things for money. Is that inherently bad? Or good? I would argue that it is neither. Just a hammer can build a house so can it also harm another living creature.

In order to survive in the modern world, one must have the basic food, water, shelter. The acquisition of those tangible requirements for life now requires the exchange of resources mostly in the form of the local cash.

There are many things that people do to get the cash they exchange for the goods the needs to live. Some are of dubious merit and others are almost noble.

People do things for philosophical reasons. Some people will not spend cash in certain ways because to do so will in part support the philosophical principles they abhor. Other will spend cash because he the philosophies are enhanced that they approve of.

Sometimes, people are moved to try and change the world because of an emotional experience or other times because of an intellectual analysis, either of which demonstrated a need that was previously latent.

So what? How does this fit into the proposed argument that commercially produced, rights restricted to "pay us or else we'll..." software is better than software that grants the most freedoms possible to the end user and future developers?

In the same way humanity has in the past held that actions done for ideals are far greater (or far more terrifying) that actions done for the acquisition of money.

Is commercial, closed source software (CCSS) often times more polished than its free and open source software(FOSS) brethren? Yep. It's a lot easier to do that last 10% of clean-up and polish when everyone involved knows they won't be on the street next month because they worked on that project instead of what they otherwise do to pay the rent/mortgage.

Does FOSS software often imitate CCSS? Sure. It's not that the CCSS looks bad or all does Bad Things (tm). If FOSS had the cash resources (or even a tiny fraction) that CCSS does, we wouldn't be having this discussion. CCSS would cease to exist as we know it because all of FOSS would be outstanding.

Does FOSS always imitate CCSS. No. The best example of this is tabbed browsing from Firefox that has been incorporated into other browsers.

Why should people pay for software? Whys should people pay for anything? Those are purely philosophical questions. From the viewpoint of the software vendor who can eat because people buy software, everyone should pay for software. From the viewpoint of the computer user, why should be effectively forced to buy anti-virus software because the software that
came with their computer is basically broken. What would be the implications of a brand new car that has to get parts added to it just so it could be driven down certain streets without falling apart. Why should the car owner be liable for the defects of the manufacturer. Why should someone be forced to pay for software that does the same thing?
Why should someone be forced to pay for software that states the manufacturer is not liable for anything their software does or does not do? If someone pays for software that allows them to put text on a piece of paper but that software also allows their neighbor to steal access to their back account why is not the software manufacturer held responsible.

Furthermore, if a tangible item is found to be defective, people have the recourse to demand repayment and sometimes can even get reimbursed for harm caused by the defect.

But software makers have a license that says in effect "if you use this product, we keep your money. We will never give you a refund. We will never allow you to sue us for damages caused by the use of our product. We don't acknowledge this software will do anything. But you paid for it and unless you AGREE to all of this, you can't use this software". This
is standard license boilerplate from CCSS.

So the better question is why is ANYONE willing to purchase that kind of abuse?

But wait, there's more!

The FOSS also has a license agreement that basically says "We don't guarantee this software will do anything. But you can take it apart if you want to and make it work for you if it doesn't. It's OK. We won't come and try and take you to jail. In fact, we want you to both help make it better and share that knowledge with everyone. And you can make copies and charge for the copies. But you can't restrict anyone else to have fewer rights than you have right now.".

Hmm. So the software choices are pay for stuff that looks good but has no warranty what-so-ever and may be a legal liability issue or don't pay for software that may or may not be as polished and has similar lack of quality guarantees but has no legal implications outside of "play well with others".

Sure a steak from Ruth's Chris Steak house is great. At $60 for what I had the last time I went, it had better be! Of course a steak at Golden Corral is going to be different that the Ruth's steak. But what a surprise when it tastes just as good for $8. It does happen.

FOSS is also like that. Sure the CCSS can be had for big bucks. For the big bucks costs everyone should expect excellent quality and outstanding service.

One can get support contracts for FOSS and get excellent quality and service.

It must be noted that "economy of the free world" is an oxymoron. Here is where things get sticky. The GPL plays with this use of the word "free" as well. Most CCSS vendors use "free" to mean "has no cash value". For the CCSS vendors "value" and "worth" are only viewed their
myopic cash-flow perspective. Does this mean that CCSS is possessing more "value" and "worth" than FOSS? In the eyes of the vendors it does.

So if a CCSS package can do twice as much as a FOSS alternative does the FOSS alternative posses half the value and worth of the CCSS package?

Hmm. That could be an interesting dilemma. But the CCSS vendors have further muddy the analysis because their products are not priced like tangible goods. It may, for the sake of argument, cost a car maker $10,000 to make a car that sells for $15,000. But software is different. Each iteration recycles the prior effort and add patches, features, etc. So the cost of each new release is spread over the lifetime of the entire product line plus each copy sold. So a CCSS application that cost $1m to create originally gets replicated over 1 million copies. Each copy costs $5 for the tangible portion and has $1 for the amortized cost
of code production. Then that copy gets sold for $30. Or $300.

So what? CCSS costs money. FOSS can also cost hard cash.

It all boils down to philosophy.

Commercial, closed-source software exists to make money.

Free and open source software exists for philosophical reasons.

One is greed based and the other is far more altruistic. One is trying to control the world by having acquiring the resources that everyone needs to eat while the other is trying to change the world so that everyone has the right to think and study and make improvements (and
eat).

This is a profound difference of thinking. Is it an either/or situation - make money OR change the world?

No. There is no problem with making money in the FOSS world. It is encouraged. But not at the expense of freedom. That would not be changing the world for the better.

Which finally leads to the real question to pose to the closed-source software advocate who argues that Free and Open Source software just isn't good enough, just copies things from the commercial world and in general is an economic train wreck looking to happen.

So which would you rather be remembered for: making a ton of money selling stuff that didn't work that well or changing the world by empowering everyone with tools they can use and modify?

jkinney_localnetsolutions_com

R Mcdaniel said...

Anyone that thinks Open Source users settle for something less should take a close look at programs like Alfresco and Asterisk. Both are Open Source and IMO do a much better job than the competition, MS Sharepoint and Cisco VOIP. These are just two very good, mature Open Source programs that don't just sit back and try to copy the competition, they seek to improve what is being offered by the competition. After all, isn't that what competition is all about, making a better widget than the next guy. Open Source just takes the position that knowledge should be free. I don't think that the "steak" analogy presents a good comparison of OTS software and Open Source. It is just that the two have very different business models. Make no mistake about it, Open Source is a very thriving business. Open Source is currently a $1.8 billion dollar market and is projected to be $5.8 billion dollar market by 2011. There wouldn! 't be this much growth for something substandard.

rmcdaniel_indata_us

Terrell Prude Jr said...

> "Here is what I have seen from the Open Source Community:
>
> MOST, not all, of the programs are a generation or two BEHIND
> their commercial counterparts. That is because the open source
> community is not so much innovative, rather imitative. They
> wait and see what the big guys are doing and then imitate it.
> So, if you want to be a generation behind, then you use open
> source. So be it. That is not a bad thing. However, I prefer
> to be on the edge, for the most part.
>
Hmm...I guess that means that the Internet shouldn't exist? The TCP/IP stack that just about everybody, including Microsoft, uses, came from BSD UNIX, released under the BSD license (a Free Software license) by UC Berkeley. BIND, the Internet's DNS server and another Open Source package, literally scales to the Internet. ISC DHCPD (also Free Software) remains the canonical DHCP server for a reason; it's really good. Apache, the #1 Web server on the planet, came from NCSA HTTPD, which also was Free Software. Furthermore, Microsoft's own IIS v6.0 Web server took its modular architectural queues straight from the Free-Software Apache, which had been doing for years before then.

Tatu Ylonen's Secure Shell was released originally as Free Software, and the OpenBSD team continues to extend and refine it. That's why both Cisco and Sun Microsystems use OpenSSH in their products. Yes, you read that right--Cisco.

As for being "on the edge," that's how you get broken functionality. We call that "bleeding edge," and it's true regardless of which software package--or vendor, for that matter--that you choose. Ask any major enterprise outside of Microsoft how often they upgrade their really important stuff. It's not often. It's why I run CentOS-based K12LTSP instead of Fedora-based K12LTSP. I do my initial prototyping with the Fedora version--to see what's new--and the production deployment with the CentOS version. It's also why all of my Sun boxes run Ubuntu Dapper Drake LTS instead of the latest Feisty Fawn (Solaris failed our usability tests).

> IN essence, the OS community uses the software companies as
> their R&D arms, waiting to see what the next innovation will
> be that they can write into their software. They then
> copy the innovation, let it go into the open source world, and
> say "look how good we are at making something that is ALMOST
>like the original."

Actually, it's the other way around; see above. Microsoft wouldn't have had a TCP/IP stack without BSD UNIX. MS-DOS is itself a complete rip-off from both CP/M and BSD UNIX. Easily displaying GUI applications remotely was an innovation done by the X11 team, copied later by Citrix and Microsoft.

Also, Microsoft has itself actually engaged in multiple theft instances. The most famous of them was when MS stole Stac Electronics's disk compression software, which Microsoft claimed to have "innovated" in MS-DOS 6, in total violation of Stac's copyright. Microsoft called it "DoubleSpace." Who knows what else they've ripped off, since their source code repositories are not publicly available?

> Sounds fair huh?

Well, no. It is never fair when a firm like Microsoft copies someone else's functionality or even violates someone else's license and claims to have invented it...and then even tries to patent it! Talk about chutzpah!

> Look at GIMP for instance. Whenever Adobe comes out with the
> latest Photoshop, THEN the GIMP community comes out with an
> update that tries to match the feature set. Sometimes
> they do, sometimes they do not. But, GIMP is NOT Photoshop.
> That is because Photoshop, like many other commercial
> programs, have an ecosystem built around them that simply
> cannot be matched by the OS community. Plug Ins, peripherals,
> books, training video, websites, all revolve around the
> commercial products.

Oh, really? Maybe you'd better tell that to Disney, because they not only are heavy GIMP users, they also contributed to it, creating FilmGimp. And I hear they're not the only ones....

And as for the "commercial ecosystem," puh-leeze. I walk into my local Borders bookshop and see so many Red Hat, Ubuntu, and Sendmail books that it's dizzying. Sendmail has more add-ons for it than any other MTA I've ever seen, and that includes MS Exchange.

> I can get something that MAY be like the plug in I want to use
> in Photoshop, but to say a program IS JUST LIKE another
> program is in fact, a terrible misstatement.

True. It's like trying to convince an Apple Mac user (read: most American schoolteachers) to willingly go to MS Windows. Or that Microsoft Word is "just like WordPerfect."

The correct question is, does the tool--F/OSS or proprietary--do the job that you need done? For Paul Nelson's graphic arts class, and several others, apparently that answer is yes, the GIMP is terrific.

But if you love Photoshop, I'm not going to try to stop you.

> Is a Steak at Ruths Chris Steakhouse the same as a steak at
> Golden Corral? No, it is not. Yes, they are both steaks, but
> they are not the same. The experience is different, the
> taste is different. Yes, they will both fill you up, but...

Depends on the quality of the steak and your abilities as a cook. I've had $3.95 steaks in Las Vegas--quite often--that were truly delicious! The best chicken I've ever had was in Turkey, in a restaurant that you'd call a "dive", for $2.00, and the second best was in a so-called "dive" place called El Pollo Rico, in Washington, DC, which makes Peruvian-style chicken (it cost me less than $7.00). No fancy expensive restaurant has ever come close to either place. Ruth's Chris is good, no doubt...but I've out-grilled them at home several times before.

What matters to me a whole lot more is that I have the freedom to either go to Ruth's Chris, or grill my own in my backyard without fear of some ridiculous "patent lawsuit" from Ruth's Chris for grilling steaks in my backyard.

> Finally, you cannot be in any conversation with an OS person
> without these words being uttered: "Why should we pay
> Microsoft for this or that?" Interesting. Why pay for
> anything? Why pay Dell for hardware? Why pay AT&T for
> connectivity? Why pay EXXON for gas? I don't understand the
> aversion to having to pay for something. The entire economy
> of the free world is based on this. You pay for goods and
> services.

That's true; why would I pay *Microsoft*...given that I don't want Microsoft's products? Now, Red Hat, that's a different story; I'll gladly pay them for their product if I find it to be the best solution for my job at hand. If not, I'll go to another F/OSS support vendor, e. g. Canonical, and buy their package. Of course, if my staff already knows what they're doing with GNU/Linux, then I don't need to purchase said support contract, and I can pour that money into other areas of my business or school, e. g. buying textbooks or printer supplies.

You're right...why would *anybody* willingly do business with Microsoft if they know there's a better alternative? Maybe they're getting something under the table--"co-marketing dollars", maybe? :-)

> I always go back to the book [], the Cathedral and the Bazaar:
> A book about how paying for software was so bad...
> Cost of the Book: $18.00.

Bull-loney. That book is about development methodology. Totally apples and oranges. The Free Software movement has never been about not making money from Free Software; matter of fact, that's a core freedom that you *must* have. Richard Stallman himself has made this clear for decades. Steer yourself on over to http://www.gnu.org's philosophy section. If you're really not either a Microsoft shill (read: "independent" tech journalist) or an MCSE scared of losing your job, then you'll actually read it.

The aforementioned Red Hat seems to do quite a fine business of making money by selling bundles of Free Software and Support Services for it. So do the smaller outfits that we have contracted with at my district. For example, we paid a PERL hacker plenty of good money to add authentication and authorization to NMIS 3.3.3, to use it as a replacement for the (HORRIBLY expensive) HP OpenView Network Node Manager, which we got rid of. In the first year, that PERL hacker's work more than paid for itself.

Today, NMIS 4.2.12 has that code merged in, and the upstream devs are maintaining it.

> It seems paying for something is okay, as long as it is OS
> stuff..."

No, wrong; it's about not wanting to be forced to pay for something that I don't want in the first place. What's not okay is forcing a "Microsoft tax" on people who want to buy your computer without Microsoft Windows pre-loaded on it. I don't want MS Windows, so don't try to "inextricably" bundle it with a hardware purchase.

And since you mentioned Ruth's Chris, perhaps you'd like for them to bundle a chicken with that steak that you ordered--a chicken that you don't want and didn't ask for--and then expect you to pay for it? Would that be "okay"?

microman_cmosnetworks_com

Les Mikesell said...

> MOST, not all, of the programs are a generation or two
> BEHIND their commercial counterparts. That is because the
> open source community is not so much innovative, rather
> imitative. They wait and see what the big guys are doing and
> then imitate it. So, if you want to be a generation behind,
> then you use open source. So be it. That is not a bad thing.
> However, I prefer to be on the edge, for the most part.

By 'on the edge', do you mean you are willing to use a product available only from a single vendor, and put all of your own efforts at risk of the whims of that vendor and whether they will be around next year? Since AT&T published the SVID in 1986 (because the government at the time sensibly would not take bids for things only available from a single vendor), things running on unix-like systems don't have to worry about the demise of their operating system or processor type since porting across wildly different systems is very easy, if needed at all.

> IN essence, the OS community uses the software companies as
> their R&D arms, waiting to see what the next innovation will
> be that they can write into their software. They then copy
> the innovation, let it go into the open source world, and
> say "look how good we are at making something that is ALMOST
> like the original."
>
> Sounds fair huh?

Your are being very selective about where you start looking for innovations and what kind of product is involved. Go back to the beginning when Sun and Cisco were startups and find where the code was developed that allowed them to interoperate. If we didn't have the free TCP reference code, we couldn't be having this conversation right now. If we had any networking, it would be isolated sections controlled separately by different vendors. And if you are talking about Microsoft, what were they selling in 1984 as Cisco started to connect the world based on this free standard protocol? A very limited single user, single user OS that sort-of emulated the even more limited CP/M system - was that innovation?

> I always go back to the book [], the Cathedral and the
> Bazaar: A book about how paying for software was so bad...
> Cost of the Book: $18.00.

As I recall, the book was about software design methods, not so much the cost. As in, is it better to have many contributors adding parts that work the way they need them to work in practice, or someone isolated from the program's real use building something he thinks might be flashy enough to make a sale?

lesmikesell_gmail_com

Rob Owens said...

Off the top of my head, here are 2 pieces of open source software that are superior to any closed-source software I've seen:

BackupPC and LTSP

I won't pretend to be an expert on backup software, but I can tell you that 3 different paid consultants to my company (my day job is doing mechanical engineering) recommended closed-source backup software that is clearly inferior to BackupPC.

Then there's LTSP. Is there even a closed-source competitor to this software? Yeah, there's Windows Terminal Server, but doesn't it require a local operating system to be loaded before you connect to the server? (I'm really not sure, so somebody speak up if I'm wrong here). Does it let you boot a diskless client over the network? Does it let you take a "junk" P2 machine and turn it into something usable? Like I said, I'm not an expert on the functionality of Windows Terminal Server, so somebody please speak up if it actually can do all of these things.

I should also mention rsync. I've spoken w/ 3 different paid consultants who specialize in supporting commercial software, and they were astonished when I told them that Linux and rsync could transfer partial files. One guy didn't even believe me. Is there an equivalent in commercial software? I'm not aware of one, but maybe it's out there.

Regarding open source stuff being a copy of commercial software:

In some cases this may be true. For instance, (in my opinion) OpenOffice is heavily modeled after MS Word and Excel. Of course, MS Word was pretty similar to other word processors--how different can you make them? At some point, when people are used to doing things a certain way and seeing things that look a certain way, those things become a design standard.

Take automobiles, for instance. Most of them are designed very similarly: engine in front, 4 wheels, windows that roll down, the controls are all in the same place as the last car you drove, etc. If you made a car that was too different, people wouldn't like it simply because it's not what they're used to.

Let's get back to OpenOffice again. Instead of bashing OpenOffice as a less-functional rip-off of MS Office, maybe we should take the time to thank them. The first time I used MS Word, it was version 5.5 and it did everything I needed it to do. How many versions of MS Word have most people paid for since version 5.5? What OpenOffice has done for the world is they've said "OK Microsoft, enough is enough. How many times are you going to charge us for the same software?" The only most people ever "upgrade" to the next version of Word is because somebody else did and they needed to maintain compatibility. OpenOffice empowers people to break the senseless and eternal upgrade cycle of MS Office.

Sure it might mean that MS is going to sell less copies of Office. But if MS was actually selling new stuff instead of the same software over and over again, they wouldn't have to worry about OpenOffice. The original poster seems to be embracing/defending capitalism, but this is capitalism at its finest: competition yields improvement (and survival of the fittest). MS has stifled commercial competition for so long, that a bunch of hobbyists in their spare time have produced products which rival what MS and all its $billions have produced.

> Finally, you cannot be in any conversation with an OS person
> without these words being uttered: "Why should we pay Microsoft
> for this or that?" Interesting. Why pay for anything? Why pay
> Dell for hardware? Why pay AT&T for connectivity? Why pay EXXON
> for gas? I don't understand the aversion to having to pay for
> something. The entire economy of the free world is based on
> this. You pay for goods and services.

In my case:
Q: Why pay for that new part for my truck?
A: I don't, because I can use a junkyard part and make it fit with the help of my welder and other tools.
Q: Why pay for that new shirt when I could make one myself?
A: I pay for it because I think it's worth it.

You pay for goods and services...when they are worth it.

rowens_ptd_net

Brad Thomas said...

> So which would you rather be remembered for: making a ton of
> money selling stuff that didn't work that well or changing
> the world by empowering everyone with tools they can use and
> modify?

This question made me think of the iPod (and Steve Jobs) -- does it (he) fit either category? I don't think it (he) does. It's great hardware and, combined with iTunes (and the fact that Jobs got major corporations to agree to distribute their music on-line), it created a cultural revolution (podcasting, etc.). The iPhone may have similar effects. Jobs wants to both create great products and make money. He benefits, but so do consumers who buy the iPod.

As for the original question, I don't know that I would even bother responding to that post. That guy and you (or anyone else who really gets FOSS -- which is more about "open" than "free," though the "free" is still very important) operate with very different basic assumptions (and maybe understandings -- for example, I wonder if that post was written by a guy who actually codes and experiences the simple joy of writing a script that solves a problem or adds a useful feature to another program). He doesn't get the "open" part, but he also doesn't get the information/digital economy part -- code (like other information) can move anywhere almost immediately for almost no cost (as you stated -- no marginal cost), and for many different reasons. The kid who wrote the code that led to Kaaza, Limewire, and other p2p software was angry about Napster getting shut down (he posted his code that very day). Torvalds simply saw a need and filled it. Others put out open source code simply to get the ball rolling on a project in the hopes that others will do additional work that they themselves do not want to do (but want to use). Imagine if Mother Teresa was a coder and did her best to help the poor by writing code instead of providing food and shelter (I am sure there are a few people like that around). My point is that the original intentions often don't matter -- digital media combined with worldwide networks equals fast and vast transformation that combines open and closed systems (Apple's OS X is built on top of Unix -- is it open or closed?), paid-for and free software. A debate framed as: "Open source software simply copies/doesn't copy paid software," in my view, isn't worth having. From an educator's perspective the only question is: What is the cost/benefit of this technology in terms of making students as capable (informed, skilled, etc.) as possible?

bthomas_bhbl_org

Terrell Prude Jr said...

> This question made me think of the iPod (and Steve Jobs) --
> does it (he) fit either category? I don't think it (he)
> does. It's great hardware and, combined with iTunes (and the
> fact that Jobs got major corporations to agree to distribute
> their music on-line), it created a cultural revolution
> (podcasting, etc.). The iPhone may have similar effects.
> Jobs wants to both create great products and make money. He
> benefits, but so do consumers who buy the iPod.

Actually, it was a combination of Napster, MP3.com, and the Diamond "Rio" MP3 player that created that cultural revolution, not Steve Jobs and his iPod/iTunes. The latter is a Johnny-come-lately that uses Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to essentially force you to "rent" your music instead of buy it. That's how it got blessed by the big music studios (their fright of another Napster somewhere showing up jolted them awake).

The problem for the end users is that, with Apple's iTunes, you're restricted as hell with what you can do w/ the music that you paid for. And Apple keeps changing the rules, never in the users' favor.

Jobs had an empire before, with the Apple II, until IBM came along with its IBM PC that used actual open specs. Jobs had another chance with the Mac...and he stayed too closed and proprietary, losing that market to Microsoft (MS was, at the time, considerably more open than Apple). Now he has an empire again (the iPod), and he's making the same mistakes...again.

TP

Anonymous said...

One time I tried using the argument, "what's our goal, being a voc-tech school or an academic institution? Are we teaching specific 'trained monkey' skills like ITT Technical Institute, or are we educating young minds on concepts?" I figured that'd be a good argument to use with teachers who are supposedly focused on the latter.

Turned out not to be. They shot baleful looks at me, from the principal on down, and I pretty much became persona non grata at that site for a while. That was a few years ago, and fortunately, I didn't have to go there anymore for a long time. Also fortunately, there was a lot of turnover there, so the "institutional memory" of that incident is pretty much gone.

But it did teach me something about teachers' closed-mindedness with regard to new things. How ironic--the teachers expect to open children's minds, but those same teachers won't open their own.

Daniel Bodanske said...

Well, in my opinion, FOSS apps can be divided into three categories:
1) developed as FOSS by an individual or small team,
2) developed as FOSS by a corporation, agency, or large non-profit, and
3) developed as proprietary software then converted to FOSS.

Most of the big desktop Linux stuff falls into category 3 -- OO.o, Netscape -> Mozilla -> Firefox, Blender, and Xara Xtreme. I find lots of people extolling the virtues of this software and counting on it to save the FOSS desktop. This seems misguided to me. They are invariably the most feature-complete of the lot, but are often slow dogs which I hate using.

Category 2 contains a lot of the other big names: Emacs, Gnome, Apache, X.

Where FOSS excels is in small, single purpose apps developed in category 1. Who can claim that BitTorrent was riding someone's coat tails? Even the really big stuff under Gnome is not nearly as useful as the little pieces of code glued together. KDE does the glue thing wonderfully and has has the most capable and flexible desktop for some time (though I don't liek or use it).

Ultimately, in the area where a developer or small team can make significant contributions, FOSS leads proprietary software virtually every time. The coder's imagination is the only limit. There are many innovative FOSS programs which no one uses or has heard of because they go too far outside of the norm.

Where there is an established standard for something, the most stable and secure implementation almost always comes out of FOSS. Many eyes make all bugs shallow, so they say.

FOSS programs which grow too big invariably need to get cut up and modularized so that they can be understood and worked on like category three programs. Firefox beat Mozilla for this reason. X.org is making great strides now that it is modularized to some extent. Apache is the same. Linux, well ...

FOSS is built on the backs of individual coders. It doesn't manage projects well. Keep everything small and agile, and FOSS will win.

daengbo_gmail_com

nsmith205 said...

I think opensource programs are great, especially openoffice. I think all schools should have them. Students would be able to access their work at home as long as they had the internet rather than buying microsoft word which can get expensive. Schools wouldn't have to buy microsoft word for all of the computers at school either. Its a great way to be cost efficient and benefit the students.

Anonymous said...

As you can see there is a lot of support for the Open Source Software movement and also Linux and Android are gaining in popularity. The bottom line has always been making tools affordable for all