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How far Open Source has come...

by tjh (Curate)
on Jul 17, 2003 at 04:42 UTC ( #275108=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

It's funny how this topic feels a bit passe now, when just maybe a short year ago or so it was a hot topic.

I was exchanging email with my broadband cable ISP (city owned by the way), asking about an interface I'd like to have.

Without the details, his reply discussed the possibility of a commercial solution, but - they obviously have other preferences...

"...I believe I've got funds in the budget for a commercial web interface, though we're a bit hesitant to go with more closed-source software due to the shakiness of the current industry, amongst other impediments. Our funding structure, not being that of for-profit entity, places some hurdles on how quickly we can move with respect to at-a-cost upgrades, bug fixes, etc... Not a good place to be if you're an ISP requiring quick fixes to security holes.

"Besides the modem provisioning software (which runs on a suite of open-source software, but is nicely integrated with a user-friendly GUI), we are completely open-source."

Interesting turn of events eh?

Comment on How far Open Source has come...
Re: How far Open Source has come...
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Jul 17, 2003 at 05:06 UTC
    I've heard similar notions from a lot of places. Basically, the economic crash is the best thing that could happen to free software now that people are well aware of its existence.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

      the economic crash is the best thing that could happen to free software

      But is free software the best thing to happen to the economy? Something to ponder as software development jobs are cut left, right, and center.

      If you were considering posting the "employers will pay to modify free software" argument, you need an economics lesson :)

        For the time being, no. It is to be expected that the economy will swing up again, though. Reaping comes after sowing.

        Makeshifts last the longest.

        But is free software the best thing to happen to the economy? Something to ponder as software development jobs are cut left, right, and center.

        If you were considering posting the "employers will pay to modify free software" argument, you need an economics lesson :)

        I think I have had the economics lesson. Yet I still think that free software is good for the economy.

        The fact is that proprietary software development has never hired more than a small fraction of the programmers out there. And maneuvering between developers attempting to induce lock-in while customers minimize it costs serious time and money. Cutting out that BS game improves everyone's productivity, and the funny thing is that it is easier in the long run to justify hiring and paying IT workers when IT workers are productive.

        What is good for Microsoft is no more necessarily good for the country than what is good for GM is.

        As for software development jobs being cut, one of the biggest causes of that is the ongoing export of jobs to India, etc. Encouraging Microsoft to make increased profits on work done in Hyderabad isn't any better for US workers than having the Bank Of America outsource jobs to Banglore Place the blame where the blame belongs. It doesn't belong with free software. It belongs with increasing profits being achieved by a dwindling minority through squeezing the vast majority.

        Something to consider. From 1980 to the present the size of the great fortunes of the US have increased tenfold, while their tax rates fell sharply (not as sharply as wealth increased, actual tax dollars rose) while the median family has seen wealth decline and tax rates rise. Strangely enough, in every period of US history where vast fortunes were made, the average person's fortunes stagnated. By contrast the largest expansion of the US middle class (in the 50's) was accompanied by such a sharp contraction in great fortunes that it has been nicknamed "The Great Compression" by economic historians.

        Trickle-down anyone? (Sorry for the digression into politics...)

Re: How far Open Source has come...
by TVSET (Chaplain) on Jul 17, 2003 at 06:14 UTC
    Well, it might come as a shock to you, but most ISPs have been running on open source for most of their lives. Look at the Internet today, and you will see a bunch of Linux and FreeBSD servers staffed with Apache, MySQL, Sendmail, INN, SQUID, etc.

    Closed source software solutions were, are and will be in minority. One reason for this is that ISPs usually have qualified people (yeah, yeah, I know), which are capable of reading documentation, tweaking configuration, and patching (yes, patching) their systems.

    If you want to see the progress of open source, check out the average law office, or an accounting firm. Chances are that they have a Linux machine sitting somewhere in the corner doing file and printing sharing (Samba), and maybe some email. Desktops are not yet that often, but it will come eventually. There are many success stories today, but there are much more to come.

    Leonid Mamtchenkov aka TVSET

      Open Source still has a long way to go. Yes, there are successes. Apache can rival any commercial webserver. Linux and BSD are often good alternative OSses for low-end servers. But there are also places where there's still a lot of work to do. MySQL is way behind Oracle, DB2 and Sybase. Linux and BSD don't scale well enough to multi-processor systems (and I don't mean 2 or 4 CPU's, but 16, 32, or more), nor are they well equiped to run hardware with swappable system boards, or able to run in multiple domains. And there are areas where you hardly find open source software. Enterprise backup solutions, or high-available clusters, to name a few.

      Abigail

Re: How far Open Source has come...
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Jul 17, 2003 at 06:17 UTC
    Well, it seems like their decision is mainly motivated by costs. As a customer, I'd rather see my ISP make decisions based on quality.

    Abigail

      Do you think such decisions would be in favour or disfavour of free software?

      Makeshifts last the longest.

        It depends, see my other posts. In some cases, open source software is as good, or better than non-open source software. Example: Apache. In some cases, open source software isn't as good, for instance, MySQL vs Oracle. And in some cases, there's little open source software available: enterprise backup solutions for instance.

        If I pick an ISP or provider of some other service, I'm more interested in the quality of their service, than whether they happen to use open source software or not.

        Abigail

        I don't think the issue is really that the software is free but rather that open source allows much more flexibility and control for the ISP.

        I know that we (I work for a large cable company) have selected perl, mysql, and apache on linux over our previous Solaris/Oracle implementations for a new system I am involved in deploying because it offered us everything we needed, was easy to develop for, and allows us to make changes as we see fit in the future.

        With open source we are no longer yoked to a vendor and their interpretation of how we should run our business.

        The software licensing costs are trivial in the grand scheme of things, though the lack of these in most open source is certainly a welcome side effect

Re: How far Open Source has come...
by chunlou (Curate) on Jul 17, 2003 at 12:32 UTC

    How much ground Open Source would gain over Commercial Software (or however you name it) depends on the three-front battle: development, marketing/PR, and legislation

    A strength of Open Source development is its by-the-users-for-the-users process. Many Open Source software is often developed by the users themselves. That advantage starts to evaporate when the software are more moving towards Consumer software than Developer software.

    Consumer software requires much heavier marketing that most Open Source software cannot afford.

    Once a while, by luck or by discipline, you could have some commercial firms eventually manage to copy the development process somewhat unique to Open Source.

    As of now, Open Source cannot survive without private sector; it's not financial independent in anyway. Government fundings come directly and indirectly from companies too. If the current computer industry goes "obsolete," Open Source will go down with it, unless it comes up with a self-sustainable financial model.

    Open Source still doesn't have enough "champions" among corporations to market it. It's purely non-technological issue. Just business, as well as cultural inertia. For one thing, it's hard to convince someone that he made a million dollar "mistake" on DB2 when MySQL could do just as well what he needed.

    How important is marketing and PR? Look at Java. It has almost three times as many listings than Perl on Google; five times the shelf space in many bookstores.

    On legal front, Open Source is kind of loosely protected under free speech. It certainly doesn't have enough powerful lobbyists. Most Open Source folks can't afford legal action that some corporations can. If Perl is poetry, legal document is assembly.

    I would say Open Source is a mighty teenager with potential yet to be realized.

Re: How far Open Source has come...
by tjh (Curate) on Jul 17, 2003 at 21:09 UTC
    It's interesting seeing the many turns the thread took. All very useful things to think about.

    My interest in his comments centered around a few of the things he mentioned, as well as his tone and apparant assumptions.

    He works at a city government owned cable TV company, that brokered out ISP provision to a former (Big Name, Now Quite Defunct) company that left them and their subscribers in a lurch for Internet service. One of the former (Big Name) company's higher technical execs showed up, convinced them to let him build and operate ISP services in-house, and took over.

    He has been relentless and technically excellent, achieving highest throughput ratings nationwide as measured by a couple of testing services.

    To me, the excerpt also seems to display that the Open Source disposition isn't all expense based.

    • They are knowingly hesitant to seek commercial solutions for apparantly many things, not just for budget control issues, but "due to the shakiness of the current industry". Will the software providers be around to help them once they start depending on them?

    • Regardless of their civic funding procedures (many company funding procedures are often more onerous), their concern is speed-to-fixes for security holes. They are clearly thinking that not only will they not have to necessarily contend with upgrade fees, patch or engineering costs, they are probably considering that well supported open source ware will fix more quickly. This is a large philosophical leap for years past. Impressive. (And, for the record, I'm not an Open Source Do or Die guy.)

    • Aside from one software alluded to, he says nonchalantly they are "completely open source." The attitude appears certain and well reasoned.

    I agree with Abigail-II that Open Source won't soon supplant commercial software. It's clear it is continuing to make inroads in a variety of places, but ubiquity is a long, long way ahead. And, it's possible that that's a good thing, though that debate is for another time.

    The software industry becoming obsolete? Nah, it's just moving. A trend dozens of industries have experienced in past decades. Is that good? I can see several poignant arguments why someone would want their work done domestically, by people they know or can go see. Plus, I'm still unclear on the smorgasboard of possible risks if someone scoped some new software product they're betting the farm on, and offshore it for development. Copyright issues? Increased piracy risk? Heightened opportunities for competitive intrigue? Less immediate control?

    The role of proprietary software is far from disappearing.

    chunlou mentioned "Many Open Source software is often developed by the users themselves. That advantage starts to evaporate when the software are more moving towards Consumer software than Developer software."

    That was an intriguing concept to me.

    Will (or are) consumer-focused OS initiatives languish in some measure because the contributors are less motivated than they might be on more system-level projects? I'm thinking probably not, but it would interesting to hear about.

    One wonders if there are two or more office suite projects, will the developer base thin across more projects?

    Is there more panache to tweaking a fix in a key kernal issue than making the next OS Photoshop clone?

    Does the somewhat recently discovered value of a resume item connected to a known OS project drive participation more than is guessed? Maybe an increasing number of OS participants are less idealistic than the PR suggests... (I'm certainly not casting a broad net here. There are clearly big-hearted talents in many, many projects.) It's also possible that OS projects are more philosophically commercialized in that contributors exact 'pay' or 'exchange' in the form of the resume item, reputation, etc.

    In any case, we certainly continue to live in interesting times.

    ... just my continuing 0.02

      We have long faced some of the same concerns and I think I can sum up my position on open-source as a positive as...

      Open-Source doesn't mean we have to develop in-house...we can hire contractors, big companies, whatever to get us a 'commercially viable' system to perform the business functions that we need, but....

      At the end of the day, if the system that we have someone develop or we purchase is based on open-source technologies that gives our company much more flexibility in the long-term, which is especially desirable in an environ where companies seem to be evaporating on a regular basis.

      With open-source based systems if I decide that I am unhappy with a vendor, contractor, or whomever delivered the system to me, I can fire them and hire another contractor, vendor or even move it in-house to my own group of employees if it best fits my business needs.

      This is the ultimate application of the Darwin Principle to business....the companies that serve my need must do so on the merits of their abilities, not because I have become dependant on proprietary technologies they delivered to me and migrating from them would cost me more than staying...

      And that, is my ten cents, my two cents is free.

      I think that the good thing of Open Source is that it is changing the not so past monopolical tendencies of building complete and expensive software packs that didn't need anything else. OS are little ideas that are making people look at them to see better ways of doing things. Now, big companies are not so sure of building huge software that might become deprecated in a very little time.

      So the purpose is not so easyly forseen when the main idea is not making money but doing good software. Most of freeware developers use to do OS as a hobby. And that ludic idea is the real power that makes OS so important for the future.

      Is it possible to make a living by OS? Who knows. But people is now understanding that some consumers could also become a new tendency just by trying to code their point of view. And that is the reason why yesterday unspoken LINUX and TRON are now being considered as alternatives to Windows or Mac.

      Like in biology and in the cruel nature, the needs of the users and the ways of surviving of OSs and of consumer companies is going to really determine what is going to dissapear in the future and what is not.

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