Welcome!

Linux Authors: Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Rex Morrow, Datical, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux, Java

Linux: Article

*POINT - COUNTERPOINT SPECIAL* What's Wrong with the Open Source Community?

James Turner leads off on the "too many itches" syndrome and other problems - Steve Suehring offers his Counterpoint

James Turner: 5 problems with the Open Source community

There’s no question that the Open Source community has a lot going for it. Besides a staggering amount of developer power that can be turned against important problems, the Open Source movement also has a passion and commitment to its work that the commercial software world often envies. But sometimes, the Open Source community can be its own worst enemy. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Too many developers “scratch the same itch.”

We hear that Open Source developers come up with new ideas because they “had an itch to scratch.” In other words, there was some need they had for a new application, and they “scratched” it by coming up with a tool. The problem is, it’s not uncommon to end up with two or three (or more!) different packages doing the same thing. For a specific example, look at what’s happened with the Linux sound systems, where there are now several competing packages that have to be supported by each distribution. Or in the Java world, look at how many competing MVC frameworks there are now for JSP development.

A little competition can be a good thing. After all, Linux is all about offering a competing vision for the operating system domain. But when too many competing visions exist, and aren’t winnowed down to a small number of options over a short period of time, you end up with a mish-mash of conflicting standards, and a user community that ends up having to download and install a plethora of different packages that all do the same thing.

A perfect example of the “too many itches” syndrome is the absurd number of Linux distributions that exist out there. There’s absolutely no reason for there to be more than two or three distributions. And because each one does things slightly differently, we’ve ended up with the problem that applications and drivers are rarely made available in binary form, because there are too many versions of too many releases of Linux to support.

As an application developer, you would have to provide 5 - 10 different binary installs, one for each distribution. Now multiply that times the five or more active releases of a distribution that may be in active circulation, and you see why so few packages are available as anything but source (especially the most recent releases of packages that have not been compiled and included into Linux distributions yet.)

The next question to consider is, why don’t we see more consolidation of technology? The answer: because…

2. Open Source developers love a good feud.

BSD vs Linux. Gnome vs KDE. Debian vs Red Hat. For every interesting Open Source technology, there are two bitterly feuding camps that spend as much time taking potshots at each other as in improving their own products.

It’s hard to imagine how much better a lot of Open Source software would be if these groups cooperated and consolidated their efforts, rather than act like the Hatfields and McCoys. Unfortunately, the downside of personal commitment to projects is that people come to use them as a measure of self-worth, and it becomes increasingly difficult for rival groups to admit the good points in each other’s efforts.

3. Open Source developers often scratch the wrong itch.

The problem with commercial development is that the developers often aren’t the consumers of their products, and thus don’t feel the pain of their mistakes. The problem with Open Source development is that the development community often doesn’t fix problems or develop new features that aren’t directly interesting to them.

Usually, this isn’t a problem, because the developers (as users) encounter the same problem set as their user base. Unfortunately, one way that Open Source developers are different from a general user base is that they have significantly more technical training. This means that they are willing to put up with the need for a much higher degree of technical savvy to use something than a non-technical person might.

Restated by example: an Open Source developer might think nothing of requiring users to create and configure an XML file to make something work, where an end-user might require dialog boxes.

4. In the Open Source Community, you’re either “with us or against us”

A typical complaint of the Open Source community is that proprietary software vendors use legal means to stifle criticism of their detractors. But the Open Source community can be just as unforgiving of internal critics. Attempts to point out flaws or places where there’s room for improvement in an application usually lead directly to defensive rebuttals, character attacks on the critic, or complete rejection of the validity of the issues.

Consider that recently I posted a story on the linuxworld.com Web site listing some problems I saw with the current set of desktop Linux distributions, problems I thought could severely hamper consumer adoptions of Linux in the short run. The posted responses ran in a couple of themes: “It works fine for me, you must be an idiot.” “You’re nothing but a Microsoft ass-kisser.” And the ever-popular “Windows sucks too.”

Until the community learns to listen to and internalize negative feedback (oops, almost slipped into Pointy-Haired Boss speak there…), it will be staring at its navel.

5. The Open Source Community has a huge chip on its shoulder…called Microsoft

Although SCO is also a popular a target lately too, the merest mention of MS is like a bull having a red cape waved before his eyes. All reason and sense of decorum flies out the window. And while I’m first in line to throw rotten tomatoes at Bill Gates, it’s harmful to the community. The reality is that Microsoft owns the lion’s share of the non-server OS market. If the first thing you tell all these people who own Windows is that they are idiots, you’re not starting out on very good ground to convert them.

Like it or not, the existing Windows user base may not like the dreaded Blue Screen of Death or Microsoft’s pricing and licensing, but they know how to use Windows and can usually get the applications and hardware support they need for it. Linux has a wonderful and growing suite of tools that let people migrate away, but they are going to need a lot of hand-holding to decide to make the move. They have to be told why Linux is better (and it really has to be better for them), not just why Windows is trash.

Especially unhelpful is the “who cares about X” attitude, where X is unsupported hardware, non-existent game availability, complicated multimedia support or anything else that Linux has or is perceived to have problems doing. Just because someone wants to do something that you don’t, it doesn’t mean that what they want to do is less important.

I had a number of comments when I complained that I had great trouble getting my DVD player on my laptop to view commercial films, comments that essentially said “why are you watching DVDs on your laptop?!” Some even suggested that I buy a dedicated portable DVD player. Leaving aside the hassle of having yet another piece of electronics to drag through security if I want to watch a movie on a plane, these kinds of comments are the worst kind of evasive nonsense, based on: if Linux doesn’t currently do something as easily as Windows, attack the need to do it at all.

To sum up, the biggest problem that the Open Source community faces in taking Open Source to the next level is not some legal challenge or Microsoft marketing campaign. It’s the immaturity and insecurity of some of the members of the community. As was once said in Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 

See the next page for Steve Suehring's Rebuttal

More Stories By James Turner

James Turner is president of Black Bear Software. James was formerly senior editor of Linux.SYS-CON.com and has also written for Wired, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. He is currently working on his third book on open source development.

More Stories By Steve Suehring

Steve Suehring is a technology architect and engineer with a solid background in many areas of computing encompassing both open and closed source systems, he has worked with a variety of companies from small to large, including new and old economy, to help them integrate systems and provide the best use of available technologies. He has also taken a hands-on approach with many projects and frequently leads teams of engineers and developers, and has written magazine articles as well as a book on the MySQL database server. He has also performed technical editing on a number of other titles.

Comments (85)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
Be Among the First 100 to Attend & Receive a Smart Beacon. The Physical Web is an open web project within the Chrome team at Google. Scott Jenson leads a team that is working to leverage the scalability and openness of the web to talk to smart devices. The Physical Web uses bluetooth low energy beacons to broadcast an URL wirelessly using an open protocol. Nearby devices can find all URLs in the room, rank them and let the user pick one from a list. Each device is, in effect, a gateway to a web page. This unlocks entirely new use cases so devices can offer tiny bits of information or simple i...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
TechCrunch reported that "Berlin-based relayr, maker of the WunderBar, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware dev kit which resembles a chunky chocolate bar, has closed a $2.3 million seed round, from unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. The startup had previously raised a €250,000 friend and family round, and had been on track to close a €500,000 seed earlier this year — but received a higher funding offer from a different set of investors, which is the $2.3M round it’s reporting."
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital busines...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.
The Internet of Things needs an entirely new security model, or does it? Can we save some old and tested controls for the latest emerging and different technology environments? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, will review hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal privacy options and a new risk balance you might not expect.