“The rub … is finding that balance between being open-minded enough to accept radical new ideas but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” – Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine.
In Mel Brooks’ classic movie Young Frankenstein, whenever someone speaks Frau Blucher’s name, horses whinny.
Mentioning Linux in this column has a similar effect.
A month or so ago I suggested it’s time for CIOs to study the feasibility of migrating their desktops to Linux, not for technical reasons but as a logical response to where Microsoft seems to be taking its licensing. With a few exceptions, from people who thought they were watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers and thought I’d been replaced by a pod Bob, most of my correspondents welcomed me to the path of truth and righteousness.
Alas, it was not to last, because the very next week I questioned whether the open-source licensing model can move beyond “me-too” products to create significant innovation.
I immediately fell from grace.
I don’t understand why, though. Some drug companies innovate, developing new and innovative pharmaceuticals. Others manufacture inexpensive copies — generic drugs — and serve a valuable purpose by doing so. Thus far, the role of open source, in the desktop marketplace at least, seems parallel to that of the generic drug companies.
Most proponents of open-source software either described whatever happens to have been developed with an open-source license as innovative, which is true in a black-is-the-same-as-white-only-darker kind of way, or they said that this will change over time, in particular because there are more open-source developers than any single software company can ever employ.
But this argument doesn’t hold together very well. Commercial software companies organize their developers into teams that focus on developing specific products. In the open-source community, developers generally contribute as individuals.
Other correspondents pointed out, correctly, that there are a significant number of innovative open-source products. Interestingly, all are development or administrative tools; none they mentioned are end-user-oriented applications.
Which makes sense to me: A single developer can successfully create a language or utility, which other individual developers can extend incrementally. A team of developers, on the other hand, can create coherent products with a consistent user interface and architecture — something that’s awfully hard for the open-source community’s evolutionary model to manage.
Most worrisome to me were the letters describing the importance of the open source movement — that dealt with the open-source vs proprietary licensing question as one of good versus evil. Opinion: If you think in these terms, you need to peel the onion a bit. And if you think in these terms I have one other thing to say to you: