Monday, December 28, 2009

Open Source

When someone makes a program, the public availability of source code is sometimes a weighty matter. Now, if someone goes to all the effort of making a huge, extensive program, why would they want to just give everyone the code for it? Lets take a look at reasons for and against just giving the source code.

Reasons against:
  • Perhaps the biggest reasons to keep source code private is control of whats public and retaining monetary flow. If you have some unapparent bugs in your program or maybe some algorithms you don't want everyone to have, you might think that keeping things from the public protects your interests. If you want to make money with your program, just giving the code doesn't make it that easy.
  • Maybe you have something to hide. You might be sending usage statistics back to company servers and you don't want the user to be aware of this. Obviously, a user might get a bit freaked out if they find out you are collecting information from them, so what better than to not let them know in the first place.
  • You may want to prevent competition. If you let your code into the open, others are destined to see it and try to make something better. If your company depends on keeping things private to remain prosperous, the last thing on your mind is feeding competition the code you have so far, and thus driving business away.
Reasons for:
  • One of the biggest reasons open source programs do so well is because they have a community backing and developing them. The program doesn't just rely on a small set of somewhat knowledgeable people, but many, many people, collectively far more knowledgeable than a subset of employees.
  • Another big reason is the speedy development. If someone finds a bug or gets an idea for improvement, they can fix or add code to their hearts content (obviously moderated by those in charge of accepting changes). This give the community a say in the direction a program goes and how secure it is. If a program has a vulnerability, it can be resolved soon after discovery, and possibly even by the discoverer. This makes a program much more secure and just cooler in general.
  • Everyone can see the code, so they can conform their program to work with yours or take full advantage of your programs capabilities. End-programmers can also learn from your program. Rather than spending hours hassling with something, just trying to get a simple piece of their program to work, they can see how you got yours to work. Its a great way to learn something.
  • Have you ever just made some quick, poorly thought piece of code, which would embarrass you to have everybody see? Well, the whole publicity factor can help you to make higher-quality, clean code that you can be proud to put your name to.
  • Open source programs can bring in revenue as well. If you make a high-quality product, your following community is much more likely to donate money than if you make a low-quality product. This encourages you to make an awesome, well-liked product. Plenty of profit can be made from simply asking your users to donate a little bit of money. If you make the users happy, they will gladly repay.
  • Lastly, its just cool and helps everyone. Sharing is better than selfishly hoarding, so why not apply that to your code?!
Ok, so in this comparison we can see that the reasons for open source outweigh the reasons against (at least I hope you can see that). Now, lets take a look at examples of proprietary vs. open source:

Microsoft has long kept its code private. This has brought a plethora of problems. First off, its operating system has (as I have seen) utterly failed. They control everything with it and it bugily progresses (if not digresses) at a very slow pace. Windows Vista is basically a slower prettier, much buggier version of XP. Windows7, though an improvement over Vista, fails in many ways. Nextly is their browser, Internet Explorer. As seen by the majority of web designers, it has been one of the largest stumbling blocks of internet progress. It renders things terribly, slowly, and very bugily. It doesn't support, but rather impedes many standards. The community has had little to no say in the development Microsoft products, its all corporately managed.

Some of the best known open source projects are Linux and Mozilla Firefox. Linux has been slowly, but surely, crushing Microsoft's monopoly. Anyone can make their own distribution of Linux and can contribute to existing distributions. Its entirely community based. Since its beginnings, Mozilla Firefox has been thriving. The browser quickly gained popularity and is currently one of the biggest forces crushing Microsoft's sad attempt at a browser. Recently, Google released a friendly competitor to Firefox. Google Chrome brags an amazingly fast javascript engine, which makes notable speed difference. Rather than attempting a monopoly, these two browsers provide encouragement to one-up each other. This just makes both of them better. The open source factor has brought Linux, Firefox, and Chrome to be far better than any corporate controlled product could ever become.

So, these are just a few examples of why open source is far superior to closed source. Next time you start a large project, consider open sourcing it. Help others and yourself!

1 comment:

  1. Very well thoughtout and good writing style for your subject. Also enjoyed the post on PHP, which I've been debating on diving into.


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