Open Source (was: Re: the economics of transition to nanotech)

From: Rik van Riel (
Date: Thu Jan 13 2000 - 09:02:37 MST

On Wed, 12 Jan 2000, Robert Bradbury wrote:

> Eliezer, while I applaud Eric and Open Source in general, as a
> programmer I must simply tell you that Open Source *does* have
> limitations. If the complexity is too great, or the underlying
> architecture too poor or the number of people trying to
> simultaneously modify the same code too large (requiring someone
> to interpret the spagetti that results), then open-source may not
> be faster, nor work better.

Situations like this is _exactly_ where closed source companies
foul up and where open source succeeds...

If the complexity is too great, the original design was wrong.
Commercial software vendors have a schedule to make and their
marketing people have been promising things to customers, this
means that there's no time to completely redesign the package.
Open Source can, and does, take the time for this.

Also, with Open Source programmers aren't assigned to a task,
so if things get too chaotic because of a large number of
people involved, the people who cannot handle that will leave
and go work on another project. In closed software vendors
those people have to stick to their work and, consequentially,
they are the ones who produce the bad code...

> This comes down to a fundamental problem that one programmer of
> the 100 lines of debugged code per day type is worth a lot more
> than 10 programmers of the 10 lines per day type. Anyone who has
> worked on truely large software projects knows this to be true.


This is also another point where Open Source is stronger
than commercial software. Every (non-opensource) company
has to deal with the fact that most of the smart people
work for somebody else. Even if your company were to employ
5% of the smart people, 95% of the smart people would not be
working for you.

With Open Source this changes. If one Linux vendor employs
5% of the good Open Source developers, that doesn't mean that
that company is limited to those developers. Every developer
works together with the others, resulting in the fact that a
company like Redhat (which pays maybe 5% of the main Linux
developers) gets the benefit of _all_ Linux developers...

So where any normal company has to deal with a shortage of the
100 lines/day people (and often even a shortage of the 10lines/day
folks), Open Source companies have more than enough people working
on their software. In fact, most `top' Linux developers make money
for their company by doing support part of the time.

Problems that cannot be solved by the normal support people are
fixed by the people that wrote the software in the first place!
That's the kind of service that brings in the better support
contracts and allows the developers to work on development most
of their time.

> What makes software much better today and allows things like
> open-source to work is that we have built up the tool base so that
> we have programs to do the stupid stuff (like merging single line
> changes with no conflicts into open source) and better tools (perl
> + lots others), that make the 100 line/day programmers produce 100
> lines of much more productive code.

True for applications, not true for the operating system or the
tools themselves. The kernel, gcc and glibc people (to name a
few) are still programming at a fairly low level. Those people
are quite rare and I can't imagine a company hiring several
dozens of them just because they are needed. (Let alone as many
as are now working on just the Linux kernenl, glibc and gcc)

The fact that allows us to work more efficient than before is
communication. Instant communication over the internet, only
hindered by timezones and no longer by company-mandated secrecy
or geographical distances.

To me, Open Source is primarily about open communication between
the people who have to turn wild ideas into reality. I can work
together with people from Redhat, SuSE, Linuxcare, NASA, various
universities, the company where I'll be working and lots of other
people. No NDAs to keep in mind, just sharing and improving upon
each other's thoughts.

Open minds work better when they're open both ways...



The Internet is not a network of computers. It is a network
of people. That is its real strength.

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