The article in The Economist, Open, but not as usual, contains misrepresentations that appear to be designed to disparage open source and promote closed source.
[ED: Front page news, straight from my favorite Grouch - HC]
The Economist loses its marbles
The article in The Economist,
Open, but not as usual,
contains misrepresentations that appear to be designed to disparage open
source and promote closed source.
"However, it is unclear how innovative and sustainable open source can
ultimately be. The open-source method has vulnerabilities that must be
overcome if it is to live up to its promise. For example, it lacks ways
of ensuring quality and it is still working out better ways to handle
Open source ensures quality in a brutal, Darwinian fashion. It does not
lack a way of ensuring quality; its very nature, that of being open,
ensures quality. Literally anyone may point out a failing in an open
source project. If this aspect is not present, the project is not open.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond.
Open source projects do not exhibit the lawsuit-laden characteristic of
closed source. Open source projects are open for copyright, trademark and
patent owners to examine and protest misuse of their property. If there
are trade secrets appearing in open source projects, those are, by
definition, no longer secret. It would be the responsibility of the owner
of such former trade secrets to discover who publicized them. Since the
activity of contributors to an open source project are part of the public
record of that project, open source projects provide trade secret owners
with a much easier task than do closed projects.
IP Law & Business.
For the real threat of litigation over software, see
Firms face criminal charges over unlicensed software.
"Projects that fail to cope with open source's vulnerabilities usually
fall by the wayside. Indeed, almost all of them meet this end. Of the
roughly 130,000 open-source projects on SourceForge.net, an online hub
for open-source software projects, only a few hundred are active, and
fewer still will ever lead to a useful product. The most important thing
holding back the open-source model, apparently, is itself."
The author apparently fails to notice the conflict within this paragraph
and the conflict between this assertion and the previous one that "it
lacks ways of ensuring quality". This project failure rate is not
"holding back the open-source model", it is an inherent advantage of the
model. Projects which do not begin with a working base, or which do not
appear destined to accomplish something useful, or which fail for other
reasons to attract developers, will be abandoned. The ease of starting a
project ensures that many ideas are represented. Not all ideas are good
ones. Natural selection will cause most to fail early. It is not a
perfect selection process, but it does result in higher quality
software. The world is free to start projects, participate in projects, or
"The question of accountability is a vital one, not just for quality but
also for intellectual-property concerns. Patents are deadly to open
source since they block new techniques from spreading freely. But more
troubling is copyright: if the code comes from many authors, who really
owns it? This issue took centre stage in 2003, when a company called SCO
sued users of Linux, including IBM and DaimlerChrysler, saying that
portions of the code infringed its copyrights. The lines of programming
code upon which SCO based its claims had changed owners through
acquisitions over time; at some point they were added into Linux."
The question of accountability is vital regardless of whether an open
source model or a closed model is used. The history of litigation among
closed source proponents indicates it is a far greater problem in closed
source than open source. Patents are "deadly" to all software
developers, regardless of open or closed. Patent litigation among closed
source proponents appears to be a daily business activity. Copyright
ownership is easier to establish in an open project than a closed project.
Danish newspaper reports on Microsoft threat.
The SCO v. IBM and SCO v. Daimler Chrysler litigations, the latter
having already been dismissed without prejudice, are poor examples if
the author is trying to cast doubt on the accountability of open source
projects. The SCO Group refused to publicly reveal code it claimed. This
is not the action of someone being harmed who wants the harm to cease.
This is the action that one would take if the goal was to prolong the
impression that harm was being done. The SCO Group morphed its case
multiple times to avoid presenting any evidence. It now appears to have
only peripheral association with GNU/Linux in some nebulous contract
claims against IBM. IBM, 3 years into the litigation, is still trying to
get The SCO Group to identify, with specificity, exactly what the claims
See, in general, Groklaw.
"To sceptics, the suit seems designed to thwart the growth of Linux by
spreading unease over open source in corporate boardrooms--a
perception fuelled by Microsoft's involvement with SCO. The software
giant went out of its way to connect SCO with a private-equity fund that
helped finance the lawsuits, and it paid the firm many millions to
license the code. Fittingly, Microsoft indemnifies its customers against
just this sort of intellectual-property suit--something that
open-source products are only starting to do."
What indemnification? See the MS EULA. See the Timeline v. Microsoft
suit, involving Timeline patents that MS assured users of MSSQL 7 and
Office 2000 they were not infringing. The judgment said otherwise.
Microsoft left developers twisting in the wind, facing treble damages
for infringement. Indemnification is a straw-man created by MS.
Offerings by Red Hat and Novell have existed at least 2 years.
Microsoft's new weapon against Linux questioned.
"For the moment, users of Linux say that SCO-like worries have not
affected their adoption of open-source software. But they probably would
be leery if, over time, the code could not be vouched for. In response,
big open-source projects such as Linux, Apache and Mozilla have
implemented rigid procedures so that they can attest to the origins of
the code. In other words, the openness of open source does not
necessarily mean it is anonymous. Strikingly, even more monitoring of
operations is required in open source than in other sorts of
Why are businesses not worried about closed-source adoption since, over time,
historically, they cannot vouch for the code? Why do they use such code, given
the history of devastating litigation among closed-source vendors?
"Even if the cracks in the management of open source can be plugged by
some fairly straightforward organisational controls, might it
nevertheless remain only a niche activity--occupying, essentially,
the space between a corporation and a commune? There are two doubts
about its staying power. The first is how innovative it can remain in
the long run. Indeed, open source might already have reached a
self-limiting state, says Steven Weber, a political scientist at the
University of California at Berkeley, and author of "The Success of
Open Source" (Harvard University Press, 2004). "Linux is good
at doing what other things already have done, but more cheaply--but
can it do anything new? Wikipedia is an assembly of already-known
knowledge," he says."
Where to begin? What "cracks in the management"? The article fails to
identify any whatsoever, instead holding up incorrect assumptions based,
apparently, on a shallow investigation of open source, as examples of
problems with open source when, in fact, those characteristics are what
give open source its strength and viability.
Open source will not "remain only a niche activity"; it never was one.
Collaborative, open development has spurred software advance since the
first computers. It has simply gone global by means of the open source
creation, the Internet. Closed source is, was, and always will be, the
niche player. The aberration of the Microsoft model inflicted itself on
unwary and unsuspecting "consumers", to the detriment of a then
well-established and thriving open development and sharing community.
Microsoft's first product was an adaptation of the public domain BASIC.
Everything since is likewise based on pre-existing inventions. Their
success depended not on "innovation", but on injecting themselves into
marketing choke-points to control distribution along with injecting
misinformation to control demand.
History and Timeline,
Twenty Years of Berekeley Unix,
Grace Murray Hopper,
The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement,
Leading Edge Forum Report 2004, Open Source: Open for Business.
As for Mr. Weber's comment that "Linux is good at doing what other
things already have done, but more cheaply--but can it do anything
new?", would he please point to anything before Linux, at any price,
that would run on a watch, a telephone, a personal computer, a
mainframe, a cluster, and a grid of supercomputers? Oh, each of those
things had already been done before, but never all by one "product".
Please show me the off-the-shelf closed operating system, at any price,
that could match the performance and scalability of a Cray supercomputer
in 1999 -- "As for the copy of Red Hat's Linux, IBM purchased it at a
local Barnes & Noble the day before the demonstration."
Open-source supercomputer beats Cray
Of course matching the Cray's benchmark record indicates that once
again, Linux is doing what has already been done. Why didn't IBM buy
some other boxed system at Barnes & Noble? Surely a superior innovator
like Microsoft must have had lots of boxed systems for sale that could
accomplish that feat. No? Interesting. Something new. Still not matched
by "consumer" boxed OSes from Microsoft.
"The second doubt is whether the motivation of contributors can be
sustained. Companies are good at getting people to rise at dawn for a
day's dreary labour. But the benefit of open-source approaches is that
they can tap into a far larger pool of resources essentially at no cost.
Once the early successes are established, it is not clear that the
projects can maintain their momentum, says Christian Alhert, the
director of Openbusiness.cc, which examines the feasibility of applying
open-source practices to commercial ventures."
That second doubt is easily dispelled. The primary motivation is to
solve a problem. So long as the problem exists, somebody wants it
solved. Once the problem is solved, it may be adaptable to solve other
problems. If the solution cannot be adapted, and it adequately solves
the original, inspiring problem, then the project requires only
sufficient motivation for maintenance of the code. Note that maintenance
involves realigning a solution to continue to fit a problem. If the
solution is no longer needed, no motivation is needed. When we run out
of problems that can be solved by code, we run out of motivations for
open source. I don't expect that to happen any time soon.
"But there are arguments in favour of open source, too. Ronald Coase, a
Nobel prize-winning economist, noted that firms will handle internally
what it would otherwise cost more to do externally through the market.
The open-source approach seems to turn this insight on its head and it
does so thanks to the near-zero cost of shipping around data. A world in
which communication is costly favours collaborators working alongside
each other; in a world in which it is essentially free, they can be in
separate organisations in the four corners of the earth."
It is amazing to see such a long article under the heading "Open-source
business" which has 1 paragraph discovering arguments in favour of open
source. This is especially surprising considering the multitude of very
large corporations which report they save many millions of dollars by
using open source software. Surely they must see sufficient arguments in
its favor to warrant more than 1 in 31 paragraphs spouting arguments in
favor of open source.
Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look
at the Numbers! by David A. Wheeler,
The near-zero cost of shipping data around the world is not an inherent
advantage of open source. It does allow wide-spread collaboration on
open source, and wide-spread testing of open source. The biggest
advantage of open source is open source. It is open for inspection by
anyone who cares to do so. It is open for developers to participate in
its creation, testing and maintenance. It therefore leverages the work
of individuals, both in creation of the code and in testing the code.
"Strikingly, mainstream technology companies--once the most
proprietary outfits of them all--have started to cotton on to this.
Sun Microsystems is making its software and even chip designs open, in a
bid to save the company's business from competition from open-source
alternatives. Even Microsoft has increasingly made some products open to
outside review, and released certain code, such as for installing
software, free of charge under licensing terms whereby it can be used
provided enhancements are shared. "We have quite a few programs in
Microsoft where we take software and distribute it to the community in
an open-source way," gushes Bill Hilf, director of platform
technology strategy at the company. Open source could enjoy no more
flattering tribute than that."
Microsoft? Open? I've seen open sewers gush, as well, but that doesn't
mean it's a good thing. Neither is it flattering that Microsoft feigns
some openness in response to the very real threat open source poses to
its illegally maintained monopoly. Microsoft's "shared source" is in no
way equivalent to open source development. Just distributing software in
"an open-source way" is nothing to gush about. Collaborative
development, public participation, open standards and selection of
best-of-breed by merit are worth gushing about. These are marks of open
source at its best. Imitative parasites need not apply.
Let's see how The Economist scored compared to the things Microsoft has
used in public against open source in general and GNU/Linux in particular:
The article reeks of trying to make businesses afraid to use open
source, uncertain of associated legal risks, and doubtful of its
viability. The article is very short on facts and long on FUD.