[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

Don Marti dmarti at zgp.org
Wed Aug 20 11:03:47 PDT 2003

begin Daniel Howard quotation of Wed, Aug 20, 2003 at 10:08:48AM -0700:

> 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?)

You should criticize something in the domain in which it is offered,
from the point of view of readers who would be likely to use it.
TuxPaint should get a different style of review from a C library.

> 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?)

Depends on your readers.  If you can reasonably expect the same
readers to use either the Free Software or proprietary programs,
and want to choose between them, it's fair and meaningful to
compare them.

> 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?)

Licensing terms are part of the overall package deal for software,
and deserve consideration in a user's decision, and therefore
mention in a review.  It's fair to mention and consider the license
when reviewing software, just as it's fair to mention and consider
spyware and "product registration" schemes.

Many readers will have had a bad experience with lock-in or
"orphanware" and could see Open Source licensing as a safety valve.

> 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?)

You can criticize a program, and say what it needs to be useful for
a certain set of users, without saying that a particular programmer
needs to be the one to do the work.  After all, another programmer,
or a vendor, can always get the source and add the features you want.
"MongrelWare needs PNG support to be useful for pig farming web
sites" is different from "Joe Hacker needs to get off his lazy ass
and write a PNG filter".  The developer's needs may be satisfied
with software that doesn't meet the needs of your audience.

> 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?)

That is different between different projects.  Some projects set
out to be "killers" of a particular proprietary program and match
it feature for feature, while others just solve one problem
for one developer.  Most are somewhere in between.

Don Marti                Reform copyright law -- return abandoned works
http://zgp.org/~dmarti   to the public domain after 50 years:
dmarti at zgp.org           http://www.PetitionOnline.com/eldred/petition.html

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