In recent days, two interesting rants on the topic of Open Source, both worth looking at. Summary: Clemens Vasters is really, really, wrong; Lemaire and Decroocq cover well-trodden ground, but have some zingers.
Clemens · I don’t know who Mr. Vasters is; he’s reasonably popular at Technorati, which is a good sign. But his much-referenced essay Where do you want to go, Aiden? is an ill-informed rant against the economics of Open Source; I quote:
No — in the end you are going to settle for a job that pays for your house, your car and your wife and children. Youll be a developer and, eventually, architect or project manager who produces software for money. That’s your core skill and that’s what you invested 6 years and more of your life into. That money will either come from some internal budget of the company that you work for as a “corporate developer” or it will come from the clients that license the software that your company produces. In the end, there’s got to be money in your pocket. I know that’s not very romantic and has very little to do with the “free software is love” sort of thing, but it’s inevitable. Romantic is what you can get out of that money and that’s a decent life with a house, a car and a family.
Mr. Vasters ignores the fact that there’s a lot of Open-Source software out there and its authors can’t all be impoverished immobilized celibates. Lots of people get paid to write it; I’ve made a couple of little contributions in my day and I have a house, car, wife, and child all of whom are first-rate. I would recommend that people inclined to buy this check out Eric Raymond’s The Magic Cauldron, probably the best summary of OSS economics you’ll find anywhere.
Start with the easily-observed fact that the vast majority of professional programmers in the world are not building stuff that will then be sold. By head-count, software is (and always has been) a services business not a manufacturing business.
So, to any young programmers out there who are reading this: you can make a living in lots of different ways in this business, and Open Source is one of them, and maintaining systems behind some company’s firewall is another, and writing commercial software is another, and best of all, lots of people do more than one of these at a time! I have.
Bruno and Bruno · Via Doc Searls a pointer to this study by Messrs. Lemaire and Decroocq (both named Bruno) from HEC, which I’ve seen described as the French Equivalent of the Harvard Business School.
My French is not that great, and this is not written in beginners’ French either, but I still enjoyed reading it. I’d translate the title as Microsoft Caught in the Net... Story of a Death Foretold?
It’s a fairly straightforward run-through of the Open-Source challenge to the Windows Way, with a lot of material which would, I suspect, be introductory to my readership. The good part is the introduction, where they argue that the Microsoft-OSS battle can only be understood culturally, not economically. They cite Rifkin on the economic effects of the absence of scarcity, revisit some of the lessons well-presented in Information Rules, and observe the trend towards Open Source in the non-US public sector. But for me, the best part were some bon mots that amused me and may even survive my laborious translation from the French.
On Microsoft · Dernier empereur des débuts de l’ère de l’information. “The Last Emperor of the First Age of Information.”
On Why People Write Free Software · Je donne donc je suis. “I give, therefore I am.”
On Open Office · Si tu ne viens pas au libre... le libre viendra à toi. “If you won’t go where it’s free, where it’s free will come to you.”
On XML · ...permettre aux systèmes d’information de partager données et transactions en parlant une langue commune, s’affranchissant ainsi des formats propriétaires qui rendent les informations prisonnières et les systèmes autistes. “...lets information systems use a common language to share data and transactions, freeing themselves from proprietary formats that imprison information and make systems autistic.” [I particularly like that one; I was struggling with the French but Didier Barbas wrote in with some excellent suggestions; thank you!]
Choosing Technology · Choisir un logiciel n’est pas un acte neutre. Il doit être fait en conscience. Le débat entre logiciel libre et propriétaire ne peut se cantonner aux seules approches de différences de fonctionnalités ou d’ergonomie entre des solutions informatiques. Choisir tel ou tel système d'exploitation, logiciels, architecture réseau, c'est choisir un type de société. On ne peut plus prétendre que les logiciels libres ou propriétaires, les standards et protocoles de l’Internet ne sont que des outils. Ou alors ce sont surtout des outils politiques. Après tout, le feu, l’imprimerie ne sont aussi que des outils.
“Choosing software is not a neutral act. It must be done consciously; the debate over free and proprietary software can’t be limited to the differences in the applications’ features and ergonomics. To choose an operating system, or software, or network architecture is to choose a kind of society. We can no longer pretend that free and commercial software, or Internet standards and protocols, are just tools. We have to admit at least that they are political tools. After all, fire and the printing press are ‘just tools.’”