Monday, July 04, 2005

Open Source

Thanks to Alan Kleymeyer for this pointer to an open-source "smackdown" posting on Very interesting.

I have some opinions about open source. My old company, RightBrain Software, released several products as open source for NeXT computers in 1992, long before the current craze. It didn't work that well as an endeavor, mostly because people don't really want to see or touch the source code. "Open source" is a euphemism for "free". People want free stuff. It's as simple as that.

But is it? Most open source is almost complete and somewhat maintained. A long dig through which is one of the biggest open source repositories will show you that a staggeringly large number of source projects are languishing (or rotting, frankly).

Open source projects usually come into existence when one extremely bright programmer builds something ambitious, but then tires of it, or gets a day job. Unable to just delete and forget the project, he/she pushes it into the open source community, where (if it's cool, and useful) it is swarmed by a half dozen programmers who "maintain" it for a while, or port it to BeOS, or fix compile errors in new versions of MacOS X or whatever it takes.

I've seen many good programmers use open source projects as "example code" to build commercial products. I've rarely seen open source actually become the foundation of anything useful. And when it does, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain, fix bugs, and move forward, because none of the original authors of the code are around to help.

It's not that open source is bad, it's just a lot more difficult to use effectively than most people think. And it's definitely not going to save the world.

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