[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

Erik Steffl steffl at bigfoot.com
Wed Aug 20 11:34:56 PDT 2003

Daniel Howard wrote:
> 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?)

   IMO in case of the commercial software you can blame the company 
(after all they want you to pay for the software), in case of free/open 
source software you shouldn't take it out on the programmers (they are 
not bound by anything to provide it).

   But the review of the software should be pretty much the same, no 
reason to hide or trivialize deficiences/problems

> 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 it fair to compare $499 and $150.000 products?

> 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?)

   IMO software should try to match the task, not other software. price 
is certainly something to consider as well as open nature (I can 
fix/extend it or have it fixed/extended by third party).

   on a related note: I have noticed that open software usually (my 
experience) has less bells & whistles but is more flexible and easier to 
integrate with things it wasn't written to be 'integratable' with...

> 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?)

   IMO it's legitimate excuse. open source programmer is not obliged to 
provide anything (if I voluntarily give you $10 you can't really 
complain that it's not enough)

> 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?)

   as far as I can tell the objective is to be good enough, but that 
varies for each programmer/project

> 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, IMO you cannot _demand_ anything from opensource 
programmers/projects. Possible exception would be projects like kde or 
gnome that tries to become de facto standard - if that's the case they'd 
better live up to it (but still, the only leverage is to threaten them 
that you're not going to use their software)


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