Open vs. Closed Source Development

I'm not going to sit around all day beleaguering talking points. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, myths, etc. My questions lie more in the fact that we seem to be dead set on forcing one or the other down everyone else's throats.

Open Source development by its very nature is a good idea. It allows a bunch of people to test and report bugs on software, and even fix it and submit fixes if they see fit. The downside to this is it's a lot like the chokepoint in communism, you can't really rely on people to always do the right thing, and despite what others might say, it is orders of magnitude easier to compromise something when you can run directly against the source code. That being said, it still theoretically allows for resolutions for problems to be achieved faster, because you have more people working on the problem.

Openness tends to also lead to the vast fragmentation you see if in communities. There's not a definite line a lot of times, but there are plenty of people who disagree on a project, so they take a gpl sourcebase and wander off in another direction to develop it without the concensus of the previous group they were a part of. Hence why you end up with so many linux variants, that are largely compatible, but the left hand doesn't really talk to the right.

Closed Source development is also by its very nature a good idea. The difference is, it's a good idea for business. It stops competitors from simply walking in, making minor changes and stealing work your company may have spent millions,and in some cases billions, developing. At present, closed source targets are appealing because they generally have large amounts of money behind them, and selling bugs to companies translates into a lot of money (50-100k USD on average, depending on severity).

Closed development leads to a similar degree of fragmentation as we see in open source, the biggest difference is you see very hard lines in the sand, with vast gaps between them as far as development methodologies and technologies are concerned. A lot of times closed source software develops cleaner codebases, but the lack of abstraction and interoperability makes them less than friendly with their competitor's software packages. This is changing slowly, but it's still largely the case.

It all comes down to views on intellectual property. Both sides seem to have completely different definitions of fair use, intellectual property, what should and shouldn't be patentable, etc. It all seems to stem from their experiences and the areas they operate in (consumer and business, for example), and the needs and demands of those sectors.

The compare and contrast method may be woefully insufficient here, both options have their merits, and it comes down to opinion in the end. There's no real way for anyone to prove that one concept has a vast advantage over the other from a global perspective. My thoughts on the subject is that they both have their place, and they both exist in the areas of technology they were designed to bolster. The problem comes in when people (like ECIS), try to demand that everyone adopt the *same* development practices. I don't know about you, but that, to me, sounds like extreme homogenization.

So, I suppose the question is this: Aren't people entitled to their opinions, and shouldn't we have a right to choose what we want to do with our intellectual property?

Note: Any antitrust derailment will result in immediate filtering. I'm not looking to make this a bashing session for ANYONE. This is about a development methodology, not specific companies.

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Tags: closed, open, opinion, source


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Comment by Glenn on May 3, 2009 at 7:42pm
In my opinion, both have a place, a use, and viability, though in different ways.

The closed source software has (relative) stability, functionality that will fit most of the users of the software, and usually a highly polished GUI. It had better, or not many people will buy the software and support the company that generates it.

Indeed, closed-source software is not particularly configurable by the end user, except within narrowly defined limits, but one has support from the company, and the ability to request features in future releases.

Open Source software, on the other hand, while it often doesn't have a pretty GUI, all the major functionality, or solid customer support (unless you buy one of the Enterprise versions of the distros), they do offer end-user configurability and the ability to alter the software itself to suit the user's needs. Not only that, but the functionality is often there; you just have to find it.

Which leads to the cons of open software. Not only are the GUIs not very polished, but the use of some functions are often lost in a morass. The writer(s) of the software know what is needed, and they write it in, but accessing some of those functions is often not obvious to someone who installs the software and tries to use it. Documentation is often sketchy or not present at all.

No, I would agree that both are necessary. Closed source is often necessary for beginning users, and those requiring software with very complex functions. For instance, I have not seen Open source software that comes anywhere close to MS Flight Simulator X, or to DeLorme GPS Mapping software.

Open source, however, not only allows end users to adapt software to their specific needs, but I perceive might generate ideas from which closed source software companies can then develop, polish, and distribute professionally developed software packages (not using the source code, of course...the ideas).

Of course, the end user is free to choose between them; a closed source software package that is easy to use, packaged well, with fairly complete functionality and support (that you have to pay for, of course), or open source (that is free, unless you pay for Enterprise support) that they can freely adapt to their specific needs, but might be harder to use and not contain all the functionality that you would have with the other.

In my mind, it all comes down to freedom of choice.
Comment by franklin on April 29, 2009 at 5:38pm
open source

usually free, and less problems of licencing, differnt versions of licencing, lots of addons(firefox)

con: bad interface of most software(audacity, old vlc, old ff) lots of time, featsres arent tied to gether as well(gimp)

open souce is a good learning place for programmig starters, as it has a big community for you to report bugs, and they can help you find bugs in your programming
Comment by Kitty on April 28, 2009 at 9:11pm
Gotta admit, that's pretty messed up. I guess in his mind, my wanting to eat and pay my bills is evil.
Comment by Michael Farinha on April 28, 2009 at 6:32pm
Ask and ye shall receive.

"by Richard Stallman

The free software movement aims for a social change: to make all software free so that all software users are free and can be part of a community of cooperation. Every non-free program gives its developer unjust power over the users. Our goal is to put an end to that injustice."

Now tell me... do you feel like you've been treated unjustly when using non GPL software? Really this is a sickness in the IT world that probably won't go away. I'd just be happy if people were better informed about this nonsense. I'm glad you posted this blog post and responded back in kind to my response.
Comment by Kitty on April 28, 2009 at 10:27am
Well, like I said, it's all about opinion. This is, however, about development, and the advantages of closed source development as opposed to open sourcing for software companies and the intellectual property issues therein, as opposed to open source implementations and shrink wrapped software.

When making a business case, you have to take into account that businesses don't have time to go fishing through forums, they need immediate support, and many times, onsite support. My current implementation runs suse and redhat enterprise. Price wasn't so much a factor as security and performance (I <3 sandbox), but each license of suse with the support I need costs $1500 annually, and each license of redhat is $1300. Remember, it's not the software you're paying for, as Mr. Fahrina pointed out, it's the service. It costs almost exactly the same as an identical windows server implementation.
Comment by Justin on April 28, 2009 at 9:32am
I can't even really agree with you on saying that closed source is better suited to companies because a good deal of companies have opened up to open source development. Using Open Source in the business community allows a company to cheaply acquire more than capable software and tailor it to their needs this saves valuable time and incredible amounts of money, this often allows companies to offer products to the public at a ridiculously low cost. The only real advantage to closed source software is that because it is entirely designed by industry professionals it often offers a polished interface and features that can correlate with professional training models. You can't expect a professional who learned everything on Autodesk software to instantly implement something like Blender, Blender may even be better but not cost effective if the professional needs to be retrained even if the basics are the same.
Comment by Kitty on April 28, 2009 at 8:20am
@John C

I would agree.

@Michael Farinha

I would say you're dead on with most of how I feel. I'm personally a big fan of the codeplex arrangement when it comes to Open Source projects. In the article I didn't want to delve too deeply (read: at all) into the fact that businesses exist to make money, but I appreciate you doing it for me. The 'software is a service' example is one I agree is far too often lost on people.

I've actually never had all the much of an issue with the .Net framework being 'non-branching.' I think in the end, that a single governing authority over official releases of code (i.e. stable) results in a much better end product. I think there are many reasons they chose to go this route, and I do recognize that the court of public opinion has a habit of ruling rather harshly in regards to their work. I also realize that the court of public opinion is staffed with individuals similar to the cult of mac, who are disproportionately loud in relation to their size.

You make an interesting point about GPL being more about social change than coding best practice, and I can't honestly make anything resembling a counterargument to it. It does make sense, seeing as how they seem to be far more concerned with adhering to/copying a standard than actually innovating. I'd love a (lazy kitty) link to a source document where he states this (and I truly honestly would, no sarcasm implied whatsoever), though I do understand if it's an overall summary of his ideology and will require some more work on my part. I have to admit, being limited on time, I haven't looked deeper into the GPL [insert version number here] than the contract itself, and software based around it.
Comment by Michael Farinha on April 28, 2009 at 4:45am
This is a good question; my feelings are a bit nuanced. I believe that Open Source will eventually become the norm as opposed to the exception yet closed source will never die and will always play an important role in software development. I also believe that GPL'ed Open Source will not drive the most widely used Open Source projects. In fact I believe that the GPL license is the worst type of license, it is too demanding and restrictive in its use. The author of the GPL licenses' freely admits that is goal is to push social change rather than push better software. If you were to tie it to a political ideology it would fall more along the lines of Fascism rather than Socialism. Much better are the BSD License and the MS License. IMHO.

Open Source is a very broad term while closed source is very specific. For example did you know that Microsoft's .net framework is open source? It is open source in the most literal sense, you can view the code but you cannot 'branch' it. This allows developers to step through the .net framework's code to help debug their applications that use it but they cannot create their own version of the .net framework.

The fact of the matter is that the fabled 'community' that will create all this wonderful open source software doesn't exist. If the software is worth something to some one then
1. Some one is willing to pay for it and
2. Some one is willing to make money off of it.

Most open source projects that are worth anything are financed through companies. If the companies cannot turn profit from their investments then they'll fail... e.g. Sun Microsystems.

Another reason GPL'ed FOSS will never become predominate is because, and a lot of people still don't get this, software is a service industry... Software is not a product, it is a service. Once the servicing of any software stops the software eventually dies, just because something is GPLed doesn't mean it will live forever.
Comment by John C on April 28, 2009 at 4:44am
I perosnally like both.

Pros: usually free, can be modified without permission from the creator
Cons: Some have bad interface, and they can also be a bit buggy

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