The treatment of Open Source software in the press

When I’m not busy with my family or work, one of the things I do is browse many web sites.  I have a catalog of ‘regular’ sites I visit, including CNet, the WinSuperSite, ARS Technica, Engadget and its family of sites and a bunch of others.  Lately, I’ve noticed a common thread among many of the sites when software is involved.  Many of these sites, like Downloadsquad.com, just love to point out when something is ‘open source’. 

Open Source software gets a ton of attention from these sites and it does not seem to matter if the software is actually any good, useful or even somewhat useful.  It seems that just because it is Open Source that makes it better.  Sorry, people, it doesn’t.  Just many ‘eyeballs’ can see the source code, that does not make it better, foolproof, free from hacking or mischief, or plain useful.  There are proponents of Open Source who will defend ANYTHING just because it is Open Source. 

Yes, someone may have put a lot of time and energy into a project that made sense to them, but that does not mean it will to others.  It does not mean it is useful. It just means that that person has chosen to make the source available for anyone to use.  And, how they use it could very well come with strings attached using one of the open license schemes.  Microsoft, a copy that is so far away from the open source model, recently came under fire for a tool they GAVE away that aided in the installation of Windows 7 on netbooks.  They had farmed out the work to a contractor who used open source code to develop the tool.  Someone figured this out and Microsoft had to yank the tool so they could investigate and release the tool ‘properly’. 

What really gets irritating about the whole Open Source thing is the pedestal it has been placed on.  It isn’t noble that someone chooses to give away their work.  Generous, maybe, not noble.  It is not a ‘right’ that software be free, but if one chooses to make it free, that is different. It is their choice.  If I want to make money from my work, that is my choice. If my work is good enough, people will buy it. If not, they won’t. This isn’t a hard concept.  Just because someone chooses to make money from their work, does not make them evil. It just means that that person places a certain tangible value on what they did.  They should get just as much respect for that as the person who just gave it away. 

I’ve seen plenty of examples of Open Source software that was just junk.  I would rather pay for something that is good, than use something that wasn’t but was free or Open Sourced.  Likewise, there are lots of Open Source tools and applications that are far better than many commercial products, or, at least, just as good.  While I don’t think Linux holds a candle to Windows or Mac OS X for the average person as a daily work operating system, it is more than suited for other applications and, in a few cases, it is superior.  Likewise, the GiMP is a great alternative to the Adobe Photoshop package.  I wouldn’t however, consider it a noble contribution to computerdom.

I think another trap that many fall into is the distinction between ‘free software’, ‘Open Source’ software and ‘free, Open Source’ software.  There is a difference.  A HUGE difference.  For example, the software I use to post to this blog is the Windows Live Writer from Microsoft.  It is free. It is part of the Windows Live Essentials bundle.  However, Microsoft has not released it as Open Source.  Likewise, there are Open Source packages that are free for personal use, but require a license that usually involves some kind of exchange of currency, if the application is used commercially.  Then there are the free, Open Source applications that allow you to do anything with them you want, as long as you observe whatever licensing has been attached, if any.  The most common license is the GNU license.

I sure hope this trend is short lived, but I suspect it has legs. 

I’ll step off of my soap box for now.  

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