Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Perils of Fanaticism

I found this article on reddit the other day and was immediately struck by its stupidity. Now, usually I wouldn't use such a harsh word, but the ideas contained in it are so preposterous that it doesn't really deserve any better word.

I first want to say that I have no opinion about the book described or the author of the book. I have not read the book and I don't know the author. For all I know, After the Software Wars could be about bunny slippers. Instead, I want to be very clear that I'm arguing only with the points contained in the article.

The article describes how open source produces superior software to a closed source model and uses, as its first example, Wikipedia. It mentions that Wikipedia is not software, but uses it as an example anyway. Seriously. I can't deny that no closed source institution can provide the same quality of data as Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia deals with data, not code, and data entry can be done by anyone. It is very different from a program that requires someone know how to program before they change it.

Next, the article uses two examples to prove that open source software is better than closed source: FireFox and the Linux kernel (over IE and Windows). Wow, this is the height of arrogance and a circular argument. There is no demonstrable way to prove their superiority; I doubt even 4 out of 5 dentists would agree that one is better than the other.

The next part of the article that I find incredulous is that he believes that Google Docs will never catch on, while Linux and OpenOffice will. Yeah, sure. People are going to avoid using something that doesn't take any effort to change to, makes your data available everywhere, and is constantly updated versus something requiring a complete modification of your current computing environment, has to be shared separately, and is updated using magic incantations. While this may sound like I'm a Linux newbie, I'm not. I'm just pointing out the fact that, to most people, yum is something you say before dinner, not the way to update your programs.

The MOST ignorant thing, however, was the following: "If Microsoft, 20 years ago, built Windows in an open way, Linux wouldn't exist, and millions of programmers would be improving it rather than competing with it."

Yeah, right. We don't have various flavors of Linux. We don't have emacs and Xemacs. We don't have hundreds of open source projects that do the same thing in slightly different ways. Come ON! Competition is in our blood. Doing things "our way" is what makes programmers unique. You could have the most awesome open source project on the planet and someone would find a reason to fork and change it. That's just how we work. The idea that everyone will give up their belongings, join a commune, and hum "Linux is king" is not realistic. Just look how many open source programming languages there are. Look how many open source unix-like variants there are. Get a grip on reality and stop pontificating your idiotic ideals.

Ok, next quote. "The biggest difference between Windows and Linux is that free software contains thousands of applications, installable with one click, and managed as one set." First off, I'm not sure what that means. I have never seen a Linux application that was installable with one click. I definitely prefer the Windows model of installation to the Linux model. In addition, the Windows and Linux model of uninstallation is similar, IMO, so I'm not sure what it means to be "managed as one set", nor how that differs from Windows. As for thousands of applications, that is true, but Windows also has a number of free applications and that seems to be growing as the .NET platform usage increases.

The idea that software developers around the world will just give up the idea of profits and join together in harmony is ridiculous. Furthermore, proprietary software has benefits. You can judge the financial soundness of a company to see whether their software will be around in 10, 15, or 20 years. Just look at sourceforge to see the number of free software projects that are abandoned.

I believe strongly in the value of free software and open source software (and I even know the difference). However, I also believe strongly in the value of proprietary software. For a case study in what happens when you are the champion of free software, just look at Sun. Oh, you can't, it's been bought by Oracle, a closed source shop. Yeah, Microsoft should really follow in their footsteps. Sheesh.