I, Cringely: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Apr 28, 2003, 22:00 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Robert X. Cringely)
[ Thanks to Howard B. Golden for this
"This is all very frustrating for me and reminds me how hard it
is to make scientific progress on a volunteer basis, which brings
me to the real topic of this week's column--Open Source software.
Is it really a viable concept? This week and next we'll try to
figure that out, but we'll start with the idea that Open Source
actually isn't viable. I'm not convinced of that, but it is as good
a place as any to start.
"Here is the core argument: There are a thousand Open Source
projects that get started out of need or fun, are maintained for
awhile for fame, then get abandoned because there is no reason to
go on. Eventually, the programmers come to understand that 'users'
are people who yell at you to fix stuff. So Open Source is
inherently flawed. It only works because otherwise unknown
programmers can get 15 minutes of fame using the Internet as
low-barrier entry into introducing their skill to the world. Since
they are introverted nobodies, getting a few emails from unknown
users that say 'good job!' feels great. But in time, most Open
Source projects grind to a halt. The ones that survive are projects
like Linux and Apache that have substantial involvement by PAID
engineers. One could argue, in fact, that the idea of Open Source
software being created by volunteers is a misnomer. Even Linus
Torvalds is paid by Transmeta to be the God of Linux.
"Open Source has value or people wouldn't still be doing it
after 10 plus years. At the same time, complexity breeds
inefficiency. Whatever approach you take to the organization of
product development some form of the 80/20 rule applies--80 percent
of the available material is useless to you. We can easily just
dismiss the creaking parts of Open Source by bunching them in the
80 percent we ignore.
"But ignoring them does not make those parts go away, and here
is where we'll find Open Source's vulnerability..."