[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

M Wendall mwendall at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 20 12:10:27 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?)
I respect a fully balanced review that explains both the good points as 
well as bad, but I'm tired of hearing how "bad" open source is because 
of teensy faults. Has anyone checked out how just plain *bad* MS stuff 
has been lately?

>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?)
It's probably more fair to compare two or more open source projects, but 
in the real world, users need to know how well they stack up to 
expensive closed source software. (How much bang do you get for your bucks?)

>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
Open source, to me, is a feature only insofar as the product does what I 
need. The GIMP is wonderful, and it hasn't cost me a penny so far.

>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?)
If it's a spare time project (such as some of my astronomy stuff), say 
so. It would save time if one really needs a professional 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
I hope that eventually, open source will be the best software around, 
and think it has a good chance of this because of the open-minded 
attitude of the authors. Mozilla, for example, wants bug reports. MS 
does not.

>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.
I use both Linux and windoze to do work for which I get paid (a little). 
So far, both are equally necessary. I'm waiting patiently for something 
like PageMaker to be born in Linux and then I can drop windoze entirely.

Margaret Wendall

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