[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

Daniel Howard dan_howard at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 20 10:08:48 PDT 2003


Let us suppose that I intended to work for a major
publication as a software columnist, doing reviews of
software.  This is not true but I hope that people
will provide their opinions in this context.

Is it fair to harshly criticize free, open source
software that lacks competitive features, a polished
interface and/or troublefree operation in the same way
that one would criticize a commercial, closed source
product?  (Or, since it is free and open source, does
it deserve more respectful and softer criticism since
open source programmers are volunteers?)

Is it fair to compare a free, open source with a $499
commercial, closed source product?  What about a
$150,000 product?  (Or, is it only fair to compare two
open source projects?)

Is open source considered a feature in such a way that
it compensates for a lack of other features?  (Or, is
open source software expected to try to match closed
source software feature by feature and not use its
source code status as a consideration of
competitiveness?)

Is it legitimate for an open source programmer to
explain deficiencies in an open source project that he
maintains by saying, "I do this in my spare time so
what are you complaining about"?  (Or, should open
source programmers be treated just like commercial
suppliers and be called to task for the deficiencies
in their product?)

Is open source software's general objective to be the
best software available for any price and, thus,
again, subject to harsh criticism for failing to meet
that goal?  (Or, is open source software's general
objective simply to be the best software possible for
free?)

While I realize that the answers to these questions
will be personal opinions and that nobody can speak
for the open source community as a whole and that open
source projects themselves may vary in their
objectives versus their commercial counterparts, it is
helpful to me to find out what other people think. 
Lately, as I look deeper into various open source
projects, I've become concerned about my own approach.
 When I criticize open source projects in the same way
that I would criticize a commercial project, open
source programmers seem to be upset and feel that I am
treating them unfairly.  Open source programmers
generally do not seem to be comfortable being subject
to the same criticism and abuse that commercial
suppliers are subject to.  Nor do they seem
comfortable losing in a feature shootout when going
head-to-head with regular companies.  As a programmer,
I am trying to decide if I should go easy on open
source projects or treat them just like any other supplier.

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