Open Source Software's Bad Reputation is Bunk

Posted on Jun 28, 2007

Ever go to a conference or meet-up and hear the proselytizing, evangelist rant of some person claiming to know why OSS development is bad and only produces poor-quality amateur software? I think every single conference the world over has at least one of these people. They speak like they know everything there is to know and claim to have the answers to all these problems facing OSS. If you haven’t met one of these prophets yet, I highly recommend seeking them out and hearing what they have to say.

It’s really quite funny getting their goat and calling them out.

Claims that OSS is generally comprised of messy, amateur code is unfounded. There’s a range of quality one can expect, but it’s the end result that counts. Proprietary software is not exempt from this condition either; there are simply a range of skill levels in all programmers contributing to a project. This fact is simply more easily observed in OSS by the nature of the beast; we can see the source and derive observations of its quality. However, inspecting the source code for projects like the Apache Web Server, the Linux kernel, or the MySQL relational database will reveal software of a very high calibre — some would say the best quality software available (Apache Web Server still has the highest server penetration in the market).

Claims that the open source development model is unsustainable is also a ridiculous claim. The Linux Journal recently ran a series of fascinating articles examining the inner workings of the Apache Software Foundation (May 2007). They described the merits and challenges facing the organization; but in the end the process works. The Foundation has been continually releasing updates to their web server product and have since released a bevy of other software packages since their inception. The open source development method is more chaotic than a hierarchal corporate organization; but it works. There are challenges, but the system is certainly sustainable.

The people we meet at these conferences spreading all this misinformation are harming the reputation of open source. It’s all smoke and mirrors; deflection, and distraction (and more often than not, ego-pandering). The next time you attend a conference and meet one of these people, attend their lecture, see what they have to say… and challenge their claims. Open source deserves our support — and the truth must always be known.