LinuxWorld.com, April 2, 2004
The Institute for Policy Innovation, a non-profit libertarian-leaning public policy organization, has put out a short four-page white paper questioning the ability of open source to meet the hurdles of the mass market.It says...
"Open source is not necessarily the best way to develop software. While it may fill a useful role in specialized computing environments, open source does not translate to the mass market for software. Proponents of open source are vested interests who have substituted myth for reality. Policy makers should not mistakenly assume that this essentially derivative process is any substitute for innovation."
The piece, called "Has Open Source Reached its Limits," claims the mass market "demands a much higher level of software engineering in order to provide the requisite ease of use, robustness and flexibility." Its author, Tony Healy, a research software engineer and policy researcher in Sydney, says most open source projects are poor in quality or unfinished, largely research output and certainly not comparable to the commercial model.
We didn't get a chance to ask him whether he's been talking to Microsoft lately, but the paper unquestionably favors the Microsoft Windows platform.
"In terms of arguing that open source is a better way to develop software, one popular rationale is that open source spares the developer from having to reinvent the wheel. But all modern software platforms provide this benefit. Microsoft platforms probably provide it better than open source, because they expose functionality via precisely defined hooks that continue to work in upgraded versions of the platform, allowing properly engineered third party applications to work seamlessly across all required versions of Windows, including future versions."
See - http://www.ipi.org
Maureen O'Gara is editor-in-chief of Maureen O'Gara's LinuxGram(TM) - published weekly by G2 Computer Intelligence Inc. and distributed by Linux Business Week
I'd follow the people at "libertarian think tanks" anywhere. After all, people who believe in abolishing the minimum wage, child labor laws, all gun controls, the public schools, anti-discrimination laws and rent control have my complete confidence. Hell, some of them think that private citizens should be able to own nuclear weapons. Who can argue with reasoning like that?
How do these think tanks stay in business? They sell "thinking". A group pays them, and they make a business argument for them. It's the "free market" version of research and development.... but it's usually more like research and justification.
More to the point, in this situation, there are a few premises they assume, that don't apply to most software development.
First - there's the assumption that most software is mass-market. This has never been the case. Most commercial software, measured in lines of code typed for money, is customizations. A program like MS Word may have a million lines of code in it, but, 100 programmers writing 10,000 lines of code each also equals a million lines of code.
Second - that open source is *not* the optimal way to produce software. It is. All commercial software development requires non-disclosure agreements, not only internally, but between collaborating companies, because all the programmers tend to expose code to each other in lieu of explaining the code in detailed prose and/or detailed APIs for everything. Black box encapsulation of code is good, in theory, pretty good in practice, but a pain in the ass when the black box fails, and your code depends on it functioning flawlessly. Open source development is more efficient than closed source development.
Open source is an inferior way of protecting intellectual property, and IP is the lynchpin to securing profits from intellectual labor. Strong international IP laws are also the basis of international "outsourcing" or job export.
Open source also increases the pace of technological improvements by guaranteeing that innovations are quickly commodified, rather than held privately and milked for maximum profit, or used as leverage against competition. This aspect of open source runs counter to "rent seeking behavior" of business and captialism. It also pushes software engineering to become a service industry rather than an intellectual *property* *development* industry.