[svlug] Re: Open Source Criticism Questions

Daniel Howard dan_howard at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 20 14:36:18 PDT 2003

> 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?)

The motivation behind this question was to determine
if open source advocates welcome the same mistreatment
and fault-finding that commercial software vendors
endure in reviews.  Lots of reviews have mistakes and
some fault-find to the point of abuse.  It is not
uncommon for reviewers to use the word, "suck", when
reviewing Microsoft products.  So far, open source
software has gotten a free ride.  Nobody ever uses the
word, "suck", to describe open source software, no
matter how bad it is.  Open source products are often
held to a lower standard; open source software is
often rated better than it should be.

I use the word, "harsh", to try to hold harmless the
usual temptation for everybody to claim that they
welcome constructive criticism.  Most all companies
and people claim to like constructive criticism so
such a claim is meaningless.  The question drives at
whether open source advocates think that open source
projects deserve the same withering and destructive
criticism that commercial products get; that is,
"treat us the same, unfairly in the same way, and let
the chips fall were they may."

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

The motivation behind this question was to elicit any
people who felt that a lower standard was legitimate
for open source projects.  It is conceivable to say,
"Hey, open source projects don't have full time
engineers, full time QA and full time support.  They
shouldn't be measured against products which do."

> 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?)

The motivation behind this question was to determine
if people think that open source products should be
rated as if money didn't matter.  In other words, if
you had to pay US$1,495.00/CPU for Apache, exactly
like you do for Sun ONE Web Server, would you still
think that Apache is a better web server than Sun ONE
Web Server?  The question tries to determine if open
source be evaluated under such a technique and that
same technique is considered fair.

> 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
> source programmers be treated just like commercial
> suppliers and be called to task for the deficiencies
> in their product?)

The motivation behind this question was to determine
if open source advocates expect open source projects
to function more like companies or more like
charities.  It is tempting to say both but, really, it
is important to me to try to distinguish.  If open
source is meant to be evaluated as a gift to the
world, that's a different type of evaluation than if
it is evaluated as a company with other motives
besides profit bringing a product to market.

It also helps to clear up whether open source
programmers owe anything to their users or whether
being an open source product relieves the open source
programmer from all responsibilities.  Example
responsibilities might be: having a clear statement of
their level of dedication to the code, being clear
about the quality or lack thereof, being clear about
their own qualifications to write good code or lack
thereof, committing to a certain minimal schedule,
quality and feature set, statement of intent about
their competitiveness with similiar projects.

> 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?)

The motivation behind this question was to try to
determine a general and fair policy in investigating
open source software.

Approaching thousands of open source projects and
evaluating them under each one's own stated objectives
and charter is difficult.  I don't want rate a project
excellent simply because it has very low expectations
for itself.  For example, if an open source e-mail
project states, "Here is some junk code that crashes a
lot," I don't want to rate as excellent because it is
junk code that crashes a lot and, thus, meets its
stated objective.

So, I simply assume that I must have a general policy.
 That policy can be hard: an open source project only
rates excellent if it is better than all other
alternatives, open source or not.  Or, that policy can
be easier: an open source project rates excellent if
it is better than other open source projects.  I want
to decide whether I treat open source generally the
same as commercial software or as a separate class.

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