What is the biggest problem with open source?

What is the biggest problem with open source?

Summary: What is the biggest problem faced by the open source community? Is it marketing or our business model?

TOPICS: Open Source

What is the biggest problem faced by the open source community? Is it marketing or our business model?

I think it's marketing. Over the weekend I proposed a Web ad campaign called "I am open source." Picture big corporate users of GPL software, real business celebrities, and link to case studies. Show people that open source is not pushed by commie-fag-junkies, but by serious people with serious problems.

I shared this perspective with Paul Murphy. He disagreed. "I see Linux succeeding as a political movement but weakened by the lack of economic incentives," he wrote. Open source has a business model problem, one which licenses like the CDDL can help solve, he added.

Which is it? I think this is an important question on which there can be honest disagreement.

You will notice, for instance, that I referenced the GPL while Paul referenced the CDDL. The disagreements within the open source community on this issue are reflected in licenses offered to the market. People can vote with their wallets, and with their signatures on license agreements.

Is this lack of consensus a strength or a weakness? I don't have an answer to that one either. When I see a Microsoft ad surrounding a story on Linux I suspect weakness. Then I read news releases about open sourced business intelligence tools, or news stories about Gaelic versions of OpenOffice, and I change my mind.

Perhaps the answer is it's both. The strength of the open source movement, its breadth and diversity, has an inherent contradiction inside it.

Call it a beauty mark.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Birth mark or birth defect?

    I remember an observation from a prior discussion: there won't be any $ billion open source companies.

    In this stage of maturity of a category like IT, companies consolidate and a few big corporations predominate. Companies based on pure open source are not going to be players on this level.

    Compare SuSE and RedHat. These are the two main commercial Linux distributions.

    The first ended up within Novell after years of trying and failing to be consistently profitable by itself. Novell's attempt to leverage SuSE is failing so far. It's early in the attempt, but the results show Novell is not going to have an easy success.

    Then RedHat has some profitability, but there are limits imposed by the clones.

    Companies based on open source appear to be unpromising.

    Other companies build proprietary software atop open source, and they're more likely to be successful. But they could move to Unix or Windows and also be successful. The success of a non-open source product in an open source milieu proves little or nothing.

    So the problem with open source is not a birth mark. It's a birth defect.
    Anton Philidor
    • Then...

      ... by that reasoning there can be no $ billion service industries either. I think the large mistake alot of open source companies are trying to make is "selling" a hard product rather than selling support services.

      I don't see it as a birth defect, I see it simply as a different model of business that people are either going to have to get comfortable with or dump, and based on the response so far i'd say they're getting comfortable.
      • What is being sold?

        Awhile ago, someone commented that there's no difference between paid software with free services and free software with paid services.

        Still a certain amount of money for a package. The only significant issue is how much money rolls in.

        One thing the .com bubble taught: a company cannot make much profit giving away its main product.

        Are you prepared to argue that the main product of an open source software company is services which make it possible to use the product? Or is it actually the product itself?

        I'd say the main product is the software. Give it away, expect severe limitation on the available profit.
        Anton Philidor
        • I'd say the opposite...

          I would say that the main product of companies like Red Hat are services. The product, being opensource, can be given away, but the support and services that go with are are the icing on the cake.
          Microsoft is betting that more people will buy authentic MS products if they are denied the support of patches and service packs (thus services).
          More people buy Dell, not because they make a fantastic computer, but because their support is pretty good.
          One of the things at the top of the list when people buy cars is the warranty that comes with the car. (just think of Hyundai and its 10years/100,000 miles warranty).

          Thus, I see the valued added by Red Hat is mainly service.
      • EDS, SAIC, ...

        [i]by that reasoning there can be no $ billion service industries either.[/i]

        That might be interesting news to Ross Perot. SAIC is another example, although they have a lower profile since they're not publicly traded.

        Microsoft itself points out that the purchase price of software is the least part of the money spent on it, so it would seem that even they disagree that there's no money to be made with a product that you give away.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Bad apples in the "community".

    Visit any forum where people are discussing Linux, you'll quickly see what turns so many people off.
    • Bad apples in any community...

      Go to any community: whether it be centered around art, science, business, education, open source, closed source, Democrats, Republicans, third parties, church-going Christians, Mosque-attending Moslems or what-have-you and you'll quickly see why everyone should be turned off to every human endeavour! There are unpleasant people everywhere! They cannot be avoided! They surface just to make life difficult for "right thinking people". They are a plague and a pox and they must be eliminated lest they poison the image of the whole community!


      Any adult knows how to ignore, avoid, or befriend pleasant and unpleasant people as they will to function within a community. Those who judge the many, on the faults of a few, generalize to the point of prejudice. Prejudiced people are rarely welcome in any community.
      John Le'Brecage
    • Gratuitous insults, perhaps?

      Such as, perhaps, the kind of gratuitous abuse that "No_Ax_to_Grind" slings on ZD forums?

      That kind of mindless "support" for Microsoft no doubt explains why they're in a business free-fall?

      No? Then maybe readers aren't turned off of a third-rate supplier like Microsoft by supporters such as Don. The frothing-at-the-mouth crowd doesn't seem to make that much of a difference either way.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • License Concensus vs Objectives

    There can be no concensus on licenses within the open source community because different players have substantially different objectives, and the licenses they choose to use reflect those objectives.

    Big companies like IBM and Sun essentially want to outsource the development of critical but non-core products as much as possible and as cheaply as possible, with free being ideal. For them, open source is the ultimate commoditization of software. They aren't really worried about people "stealing the software" because they are already giving it away and control so much of the funded development. Consequently, their licesnes tend to be very commerically friendly.

    Medium sized players like Redhat are gloried value added resellers. Open source "from the wild" is kind of like "consulting products," meaning calling it a product is a severe euphemism. These players add the spit-and-polish required to productize software, and then sell it and services. They could care less about licenses as long as they can change and distribute the software without paying external entities.

    Small players like the GPL and dual-licensing because it allows them to partially outsource development while stopping other people from "stealing" their software.

    Fanatics like Richard Stallman like the GPL because they want to change the world. They they there should be no big companies. Instead, we should all be independent consultants who weave magic with all open source components. No two applications should ever be the same, no two builds identical. That way, we can be independent of our employers, but our customers cannot be indepenent of us!

    In short, the big players choose their licenses to ensure that they can always release commericial versions of the products. Small and individual players choose their licenses to prevent big players (and each other) from turning their wares into products. Medium size ones grab money everywhere and anywhere they can.
  • The "Good Enough" mentality

    My biggest problem with much open source software is the "Good Enough" mentality. The software works good enough in most situations but don't be too surprised if you need to vi some .conf files to make it work for a specific hardware configuration. The programmers are comfortable with the tweaks they have to perform with the command line to make the software do what they need to do and that's good enough for them. The phrase "get familiar with the command line" is thrown around a bit. We've had GUIs for over 20 years now but to many OSS developers the CLI is still necessary. For the record, I drop into the command line frequently and appreciate the convenience when I want it. But it should be optional, not manditory.
    • Re: The "Good Enough" mentality

      Not to be a pain, but having to reboot Win98 multiple times per day was "good enough" for myself and a few family members for a time. Having a web camera that only works with some weird makeshift software interface from Taiwan because Windows can't figure out what it is, that's "good enough" because there is no alternative. Having to use WordPad because I don't make enough money to buy Office is going to have to be good enough because it's the closest thing to a word processor Windows comes with. OpenOffice is better, and will cost me about the same amount of money to acquire. I think you have this "good enough" premise backwards. Microsoft doles out what it deems "good enough" for its customers and we *must* take it. Free/open source software strives to improve continously and the choices are far more vast, to the point that when something is just good enough we can keep perusing til we find an app that is perfect for us.
      • Windows 98?!?!

        I love the way ancient OSs are thrown into the argument. Try using one from this century. As to the web cam, I'd be curious how much luck you'd have getting that same camera working under Linux (assuming that was the alternative OS you prefer over Windows 98)

        Now about the price of Office, no argument from me there.
      • Typical Linux FUD

        In 1998 Linux did not support USB at all (see www.linux-usb.org/ "...Kernels since 2.2.18 have USB, although the 2.4.x kernels are supported better...") - kernel 2.0.36 was released in November of that year - as usual the 'just good enough' mentality continues on....

        So yes, you should have installed Linux on whatever proprietary box you had at the time - and then enjoyed NO webcam ability at all!
        • At one time

          there were serial and parallel web cams... so think before you type next time, you automatically assume USB... although he did not clarify the type of cam, the date would indicate the period when USB was still in it's infancy.
          Linux User 147560
    • Not really

      Ya had to pick vi too lol. Gedit is a fine GUI text editor and easy to use. Tweaking is great! But running a command gives one a report on what's going on with the hardware at hand. The shell gives us a direct interaction with the OS. It's true that some crappy hardware dosn't work without a bug in Linux. But today for the most part, every install works without a hitch. Michael Dell is spending money on making Dell PC's Linux ready. I have had trouble installing hardware on windows too. Have ya seen KDE 3.4? I'm lovin it!
      • "making Dell PC's Linux ready"

        Which makes my point that there's still some work to do. I have installed Linux on desktops that ran fine from the install. On my laptop, the wireless card was another story. Heaven help anyone using a Broadcom chipset with Linux...

        "The shell gives us a direct interaction with the OS"

        What makes you think you "need" the shell to interact directly with the OS? Anything you can do in the shell you should be able to do in the GUI. Depending on the task, one may be easier than the other and that should be what determines which you use, but either should work. Name one thing that you do with the shell that couldn't be done in a GUI window if there were a control available. Both are, after all, just programs running on top of the kernel.
        • OS 101 lesson #1

          The shell isn't there because we like old applications. The shell is there because it's lite and powerful. Very useful for things like shell scripting. Read about bash. The GUI and my 4 desktop environments: With the click of my mouse, I can be in another desktop environment and load it up with GUI app's. This is great because I don't have to load one desktop with 25 GUI's in my face. In each desktop I might have a terminal open and sudo. I could tail or head a file like a log while I'm working on somthing else. Instead of going to the start menu and find. I could just type whereis filename. I could type gedit filename and my gedit GUI would popup with that file open to edit as root without loging in as root ( a no no). The user does not have write access to root owned config files. Hardware: remember the days of windows, when we had to search for drivers that would work? And the resource conflicks? Hey! M$ and the big hardware guys are buddies and still we had issues with getting hardware to work. It's not like all those hardware guys came running to help Linux. I'd say Linux has come a long way in a short time with hardware. Without much help from Hardware venders. Did you read that interview with Michael Dell? He said the word that came up most in their support search was Linux. If people want to use Linux on Dell he says Dell will support Linux and does. Also gave $99mil to Red Hat. So what does that say about Linux? BTW, Open source isn't here to try and take over. It doesn't mean to be in direct competition. Their just groups of people writing great applications because they want to, like to, and can. We used to have to recompile a Kernel back in the day all the time!... Now we just type yum update and update everything. Or ... use a Yum/APT GUI. We don't reinstall and try try again. We install and if somethings not working we edit or install a moduel/driver.. fix it and be done with it. Pretty simple really full control. Not in windows, no one has the source code to fix it and make it a better virus.
  • ultimate teacher

    It seems like Linux is the ultimate teaching tool, challanging your knowledge, resourcefulness, and imagination (which unfortunately I don't have enough of to really make it sing) on the other hand, the guiline interface does make it easy just to memorize the steps that have to be taken to make it work, but with little understanding of what is really going on. Just like plugging in stereo equipment from a manufacturer doesn't mean you have an audiophile setup, getting linux to work (which has become fairly easy) really doesn't mean you know dookie about computers. The real feeling that I get when I use linux is the ability to challange myself and my knowledge. When I work on windows, it's a given that whatever I try to accomplish will get done, (more or less) but I feel vulnerable, since I really don't know how or why its doing what it is. As the kids of today grow up with computer technology, that open source holds the most promise to allow fertile minds to wander (and probably plague windows) at least there's a "baptism of fire" for linux users, hackers, and codewriters to be proud of.
    • oh yea

      The most difficult thing about linux so far has been understanding the filestructure, with everything spread out all over the place.
    • Getting it done

      [i]When I work on windows, it's a given that whatever I try to accomplish will get done, (more or less) but I feel vulnerable, since I really don't know how or why its doing what it is.[/i]

      Yes and no. Right now I'm in a meeting where almost everyone is using MSWindows laptops except me, but the meeting server is running Gentoo because it [b]works[/b] and nothing else tried over the years comes close.

      The interesting thing is how many of the people come to me for tech support on MSWin. I really can't help them, although some of the others in the room do. Most of them find a way to do what they need to, whether it's uploading presentations or what. However, some of them [b]J[/b]ust [b]C[/b]an't [b]G[/b]et [b]T[/b]here [b]F[/b]rom [b]H[/b]ere. With Linux, it might be awkward but you [u]can[/u] do it [1]; with MSWin, it's theoretically easy if you know how, but the "how" can be anywhere from trivial to arcane to impossible.

      [1] Yes, I've had to [i]grep -rl[/i] a few times. It works even if it's annoying, but every time I learn something too.
      Yagotta B. Kidding