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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Open Source : Weakness Outweigh Strengths

Stephen J Marshall has a good overview about the limitations of opensource highlighting lot of concerns centered around the opensource movement. Thanks to friends who pointed this article to me. I agree with the core of stephen's argument against opensource movement - there may be a few more factors than what Stephen has brought forth but indeed a good perspective to examine. Commercial product support and viability issues concern customers sometimes to look at opensource more seriously. The usual attractive catch line is with OSS solutions,users have the comfort of a large developer community that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon and there is always the option of supporting the software in-house as the source code is freely accessible. Inducting opensource as part of the software ecosystem need to be examined from different perspectives like IP, design integrity, innovation and professionalism amongst others.
Stephen argues that every contributor to opensource may be violating IP rights as any software written by the employer, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer. Self-employed and contract software engineers may be exempted but they may not be so motivated as they may be assumed to be tight on time and money. The academic, student communities’ lack of practical software development experience will be a considerable drawback. All these rule out meritorious – first level talents participation in opensource development – by inference in a legal sense. Any software effort needs good design to avoid things getting messier. The emphasis should be on good design and tight specifications to minimize bugs, but in the OSS method of software development, the emphasis is firmly on fixing things once the design is implemented in code. This is a very inefficient way of ensuring code quality - just ask Microsoft! The 1980 amateurs almost killed the gaming industry – the industry had to fight back & today perhaps has the most highly trained and disciplined software development community in the world. This professionalism in software development is cited as a major contributory factor to the explosive growth that the computer games industry has enjoyed over the last 10 years. The open source movement, with its hacker ethic, doesn't promote professionalism. The absence of design leadership, diverging motivational needs amongst developers characterize lack of imagination in the OSS world. The open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application. Far beyond the intrinsic characterictics of opensource, it can also damage the small but innovative commercial firms – those that are the lifeblood of the growing software industry. Academic research can contribute to new algorithms and methods but without industry providing the market pull, these technologies are unlikely to end up on our desktops. The established business model for OSS is to give the software away for free but sell support, documentation or consultancy services, thereby providing the added value. While this may seem to be helping mega products like Linux, this business model isn't really viable for niche market software and a scaleable model has yet to be found. As software has become increasingly complex, the software industry has struggled to cope. Pressure has also grown to improve interoperability and maintain backward compatibility through many generations of the same product. OSS may see a role for itself, but it is not the panacea for industry woes. It may be seen as a change agent, but its weakness far outweighs its perceived strengths. As I wrote earlier,"from a technology, economic and sociological perspective, there is no compelling reason for the open source model to succeed and become dominant. We can assume at best - a niche role for open source model in the IT industry" .

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"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"