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ZDNet: The Very Real Limitations of Open Source

Jun 10, 2002, 11:00 (61 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Carroll)

[ Thanks to Clay Berlo for this link. ]

"Enthusiasm for the benefits of open source, however, should not be allowed to paper over the drawbacks. Specifically, open source has a critical flaw which has little to do with its suitability as an alternative to proprietary products. That flaw consists of a lack of concrete incentive to motivate developers to contribute to open source projects.

"The benefits of open source are apparent. It enables collaborative development on a global scale, as anyone with the skills can view the code and contribute to it. It is highly flexible due to source code access (third parties can customize it completely) and the requirements of a development model wherein the atomic contributions (as in small, not nuclear) of thousands of developers are organized within a single product. It serves as an educational tool, as teachers can show students the inner workings of a production-scale product. It is free, and that makes possible usage scenarios not available to fee-based products (think low-cost routers running a streamlined Linux OS).

"The problem, however, is that open source must rely on the willingness of programmers to contribute code without financial compensation. The Free Software Foundation claims that in a world of free software, people will program because 'programming is fun.' In their opinion, the promise of high returns has corrupted the programming discipline, as people have been 'trained' to expect that they will be paid well to program. The solution to this problem is to remove, or at least reduce, the compensation incentive through widespread adoption of open source software, as stated on the FSF's Web site: 'If we take away the possibility of great wealth, then after a while, when the people have readjusted their attitudes, they will once again be eager to work in the field for the joy of accomplishment...'"

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