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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 link. ]

"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..."

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