Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Again, Can We Differentiate Between "Free" and "Open Source"?

| Comments

I guess a lot of people will have seen the article on slashdot pointing to an article on a Stanford/Harvard paper on how businesses can win against open source software/technology. I don’t want to get into a debate about how the authors are in fact the spawn of the devil, as you can read the slashdot comments for that. Personally, I started off being slightly disappointed by a number of points that they made, and then quite up-beat about the prognosis for open source as a result.

Why disappointed? Firstly, the article (which is of course a summary of a paper and not the actual paper, so possibly a mis-interpretation) confuses free software with open source, again. Lazy. It assumes that the only reason people will choose an open source product is because it is free, and not because it gives the users better control and freedom from licenses etc. Secondly, they argue that particular types of software are popular because so many people use it (circular argument?, even more lazy?). Apparently this leads to less issues with training, and incompatibility. If this was the case, would Microsoft have had so many issues when they changed the interface for Vista, or Office 2007, and the default file format for Office? Ditto Autocad with their file format in every new release? Consumers are more intelligent than that, and these things do have a big impact on how easy it is to upgrade software.

Why up-beat? Well the point has been made elsewhere that this paper only exists because open source software is seen as a threat. Not only that, all of the strategies outlined in the paper are reactive- how can businesses deal with this threat by using aggressive practices. Even making better, more compatible software is seen as a reaction to this threat, rather than the modus operandi for the company. It’s disappointing that improvement is only seen as a reaction to a threat, but on the other hand if companies are forced to improve their product, and make it more interoperable, everyone wins.

All in all I think it’s disappointing that consumers are given such short shrift in this article, and as always we have this lazy assumption that the open source argument is all about price. It does, however, show that open source software can, and does, have the power to affect the proprietary market, and I find that very encouraging indeed.

Comments