[svlug] Open Source Criticism Questions

Linuxcpa@netscape.net Linuxcpa at netscape.net
Thu Aug 21 12:42:17 PDT 2003

Just so no assumptions are made, about my background, I am a CPA, and I only have a very very very low ability to program, low enough that I do not consider myself to be a programmer. Obviously these are my opinions, I can't speak for everybody, nor can those that speak up, speak for everybody.  We are not the Borg.

Also note that if you ask a question that presupposes the conditions in which the question is to be answered, you may find that you get back answers that are just as asinine as the question.

Some of your questions are laid out that way and border upon asinine in my opinion.

Your questions _beg_ the question, why are we here? So I will try to answer that now.

Yes, I will tell you how I see it...

Daniel Howard <dan_howard at yahoo.com> 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

In my opinion, if you have no connection with the Open Source Community, but you pay for Open Source software, and that software does not fit your needs - but you were deceived into believing that the software had features that you desire, then it is fair to criticise whoever deceived you and sold it to you.

If you are part of the Community and have the ability to merely modify  - and therefore not create or purchase an existing program to fit your needs, - then the criticism is unfair, and only a reflection upon one's lack of initiative.

>(Or, since it is free and open source, does
>it deserve more respectful and softer criticism since
>open source programmers are volunteers?)

You need to define this more narrowly. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

This is an issue of context. Who is your audience? Businesses, home users, experienced Unix users?

>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?)

Ok, the word "free", when used in the context of "free software" means freedom. It does not mean price.

This a _crucial and fundamental_ reason why I want to be a part of this community. My hope is that some day, people will feel that they have a choice in which operating system that they use. I know I want that choice, and that is the goal I am working for, and am very happy and willing to do.

I will say that this is a political issue, so in fairness, I refer you to two sources of basic information that you need to make an educated determination @ your question:

1. The Open Source Initiative is located at: http://opensource.org/

Here is a synopsis for what they stand for:

"The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

We in the open source community have learned that this rapid evolutionary process produces better software than the traditional closed model, in which only a very few programmers can see the source and everybody else must blindly use an opaque block of bits.

Open Source Initiative exists to make this case to the commercial world.

Open source software is an idea whose time has finally come. For twenty years it has been building momentum in the technical cultures that built the Internet and the World Wide Web. Now it's breaking out into the commercial world, and that's changing all the rules. Are you ready?"

2. A second group, which I tend to fall in line with - but not completely - is an organization called the Free Software Foundation has a site here: http://www.gnu.org

Here are some of the things that they stand for:

"The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete Unix-like operating system which is free software: the GNU system. (GNU is a recursive acronym for ``GNU's Not Unix''; it is pronounced "guh-NEW".)...We maintain this free software definition to show clearly what must be true about a particular software program for it to be considered free software.

`Free software' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ``free'' as in ``free speech,'' not as in `free beer.'

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission.

You should also have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately in your own work or play, without even mentioning that they exist. If you do publish your changes, you should not be required to notify anyone in particular, or in any particular way.

The freedom to use a program means the freedom for any kind of person or organization to use it on any kind of computer system, for any kind of overall job, and without being required to communicate subsequently with the developer or any other specific entity.

The freedom to redistribute copies must include binary or executable forms of the program, as well as source code, for both modified and unmodified versions. (Distributing programs in runnable form is necessary for conveniently installable free operating systems.) It is ok if there is no way to produce a binary or executable form for a certain program (since some languages don't support that feature), but you must have the freedom to redistribute such forms should you find or develop a way to make them.

In order for the freedoms to make changes, and to publish improved versions, to be meaningful, you must have access to the source code of the program. Therefore, accessibility of source code is a necessary condition for free software.

In order for these freedoms to be real, they must be irrevocable as long as you do nothing wrong; if the developer of the software has the power to revoke the license, without your doing anything to give cause, the software is not free.

However, certain kinds of rules about the manner of distributing free software are acceptable, when they don't conflict with the central freedoms. For example, copyleft (very simply stated) is the rule that when redistributing the program, you cannot add restrictions to deny other people the central freedoms. This rule does not conflict with the central freedoms; rather it protects them.

Thus, you may have paid money to get copies of free software, or you may have obtained copies at no charge. But regardless of how you got your copies, you always have the freedom to copy and change the software, even to sell copies.

`Free software' does not mean `non-commercial'. A free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. Commercial development of free software is no longer unusual; such free commercial software is very important.

Rules about how to package a modified version are acceptable, if they don't effectively block your freedom to release modified versions. Rules that `if you make the program available in this way, you must make it available in that way also' can be acceptable too, on the same condition. (Note that such a rule still leaves you the choice of whether to publish the program or not.) It is also acceptable for the license to require that, if you have distributed a modified version and a previous developer asks for a copy of it, you must send one.

In the GNU project, we use `copyleft' to protect these freedoms legally for everyone. But non-copylefted free software also exists. We believe there are important reasons why it is better to use copyleft, but if your program is non-copylefted free software, we can still use it."

>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

You need to define this more narrowly, because there are two types of features: 

1. Core functionality in which there is no dispute as to what is better
2. Graphical User Interfaces that do not add to core functionality. I do not say ease of use here, because, if you know what you are doing, it is much easier to configure a program that only requires modification of a single text file, rather than working through a GUI.

>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"? 

Yes this is fair. Blame the salesman that disappointed you, noone else. 

However, my experience is contrary to the scenario you describe. I have found that most of the open source programmers I have been in contact with are very kind people who do not hesitate to offer help, or correct a problem. 

Can I make this guarantee? No

Should you expect volunteer help? No

Can you hire someone instead? Yes

Can this hired person make the software exactly like you want it? In theory yes.

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

They do this stuff to challenge themselves to a new level of greatness. They probably, in fact would love to know what pieces of core functionality people thought were missing. They probably would get excited over the idea of adding the feature. If they got angry for being taken to task, it would probably be because they would rather just have you tell them what you think is missing, have a rational discussion about the idea, and then if it is needed, be very happy to be able to go into the new programming adventure before them.

There is a good book called "The Hacker Ethic" that I recommed you read. It takes an academic approach.

* Why am I here?*

In the context of Space and not software, John F. Kennedy explains the reasons why I am here, very well:


Real Player Video/Audio:


"We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, 'Because it is there.'

Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked."

>Is open source software's general objective

The objective is the advancement of freedom and human knowledge. Economics is secondary.

> 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

>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.

You have an explanation to the phenomina you witness, and you should note that it is not out of a mental deficiency in which criticism is not tolerated, but rather, the spirit in which we operate.

James Leone

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