Is OSS less reliable?

That's certainly the impression you'd get from reading the headline and money quote from an article posted at C|Net's News.com today. "Microsoft: Open source 'not reliable or dependable' blares the headline.

That's certainly the impression you'd get from reading the headline and money quote from an article posted at C|Net's News.com today. "Microsoft: Open source 'not reliable or dependable' blares the headline. There's a certain tabloid sensationalism running rampant amongst tech site headline writers to be sure. Hey, I've been known to write a headline designed to get you to click through to my blog from time to time myself ;^)

So my first impression was to say to myself, " Self... that's just a headline writer getting a little exuberant. Microsoft couldn't possibly be silly enough to make a statement like that. Could they?" Well, it turns out that at least one senior executive of the company in Europe apparently has had more than his minimum daily quota of silly pills today because that is, in fact, what he said in so many words. Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK quotes Microsoft's VP and CTO in Europe as saying:

A senior Microsoft executive told a BBC documentary that people should use commercial software if they're looking for stability.*

"I don't think (open source) is anti-Microsoft in the sense that it's giving people choices in the technologies that they use," Jonathan Murray, the vice president and chief technology officer of Microsoft Europe, told BBC World in the first part of the documentary "The Code Breakers," which aired this week.

"Some people want to use community-based software, and they get value out of sharing with other people in the community. Other people want the reliability and the dependability that comes from a commercial software model. And again, at the end of the day, you make the choice based on what has the highest value to you," Murray continued. 

Wow! Talk about damning with faint praise. The way I parse this, Murray is saying you essentially can choose between two polar values: be a sharing, community-minded user of OSS or buy stability and dependability only available from a commercial vendor.

Incredible. That's exactly the sort of thing you don't want to say if you aspire to... oh I don't know... credibility.

Bottom line: IMO, there is no clear line that can be drawn the way Murray suggests. Some OSS has proved to be rock-solid and utterly reliable and stable. Some commercial software has proved to be an incredibly poor investment using the same metrics. There is no inherent guarantee that commercial software is going to be more stable or reliable. There is also no inevitability that using OSS is a guarantee that you will experience instability or a lack of reliability. Nor is is it a given that the reason many people and organizations use OSS has anything at all to do with wanting to be a part of a sharing community. Sometimes they're just trying to reduce the cost of technology.

What do you think?

* The line in bold is an editorial summary of Murray's statement.

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