[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

Ira Weiny iweiny at acm.org
Tue Aug 19 23:24:22 PDT 2003

On Wed, 20 Aug 2003 10:08:48 -0700 (PDT)
Daniel Howard <dan_howard at yahoo.com> wrote:

> 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?)

Harshly, no.  After reading your whole email I get the feeling you are one of
the persons I see on many lists who email a request for a bug fix or feature
addition and expect a deadline to be met to fix it.  As such this puts a lot of
pressure on persons doing the work.  As a volunteer I would not respond well to
"harsh" criticism well either.  <disclaimer>I mean no disrespect to you as I
don't know if this is the case, however...</disclaimer>

That is not to say that pointing out deficiencies is wrong or even not welcome.
Certainly some open source project leaders will be more open to criticism than
others but I think part of this issue is in the way you ask for said
feature/bug fix.  If the request is made in a nice, hey this would be nice and
I will try and help you in any way I can.  I see things like that get done much
faster than the, hey when will version x.x be out which will fix my bugs.

> 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?)

Yes of course, we compare open source with closed source all the time.  Should
you expect open source to have $150,000 worth of features...  Maybe, maybe not.

> 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?)

I believe that open source is a feature.  I believe it out-weights a lot of
other "features".  However, that feature may or may not be valuable to you or
your product.

> 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?)

Of course it is legitimate.  Furthermore, part of the open source mantra is
that if there is a deficiency you help to correct it.  If you are unable that
is OK but it does not give you the right to demand changes.  As I said above I
feel most of the time developers are open to comments where help is offered
rather than an attitude that this is a product which you are requesting support

> 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?)

???  Probably depends on the product.

> 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.

Well in my conclusion I personally like the way some projects have made
different license available for different users.  MySQL is one example where
the source is open for one to use for other open source projects but there is a
fee for commercial or "support" users.  In this case you have paid for support
and have the right to request said support.  In my case, I don't have a right.

However, I think that one should point out deficiencies but in such a way as to
not be too demanding.  We all want to see open source get better.  If we all
sit back and say "open source is better" and never evaluate it critically it
will not get better.

To quote: "There is a fine line between cleverness and stupidity."

Just my $0.02,
Ira Weiny
iweiny at acm.org

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