Open Source, and winding up Tadhg

Thursday, July 12th, 2007 by Kevin Teljeur

Every now and again, it’s necessary for the good of the world to ‘flame-bait’ Tadhg on a matter close to his heart (Partly because it’s always a good warm-up exercise for writing my own material), and the matter I generally choose (Because it’s a subject of which I know just enough to get into a conversation about, have some mild opinions on it myself, and Tadhg has some very passionate feelings about it, all of which makes it the perfect combination for this exercise) is Open Source software.

To get some background on Open Source/Free software, you’ll need to read a bit about it (a couple of good places are and but in a nutshell it concerns the licensing of software. By and large, when you buy a piece of commercial software, you buy a limited licence to use the software, not the software itself. Sure, you have a cd or a dvd, a box, a serial number and perhaps some manuals of varying degrees of quality, but the software is ultimately not yours to do with as you please. It’s yours to do with as you’ve agreed with the company that publishes the software. You don’t actually own the software.

Now, there’s been a new way of doing this in the last few years, which is the Open Source/Free software movement. Even if you buy and perhaps pay a lot of money for a piece of software, the Open Source licence means that the code of the software is open and available for you to do with what you want, inspect, modify, and a number of other things. Now, there’s still a licence of course, but that is there to protect the author of the code. Again, if you want to know more about it, have a read at the links above and maybe it’ll explain a bit better and in a lot more detail. Personally I think this is a good thing and it’s good for the software industry.

The thing is that this has developed for some into a sort of religious movement, where there is a Right and a Wrong. You can probably see where that might lead. And also, a sort of alternative eco-system of developing Open Source/Free software alternatives for just about any software you can think of has developed. Not that I think that this is a bad thing, it isn’t, but the people doing this are often doing this in their spare time, and tackling big projects which require expertise which they don’t have available to them (And a lot of the time, that expertise is in non-software development areas, such as user interface design and project management). The upshot is that while some projects are incredibly good and innovative, there are others which are technically good but not great, and lack the polish, finish and depth of design of a commercial ‘closed-source’ product. I mean, that’s something you can expect, if you try to create your own alternative to a piece of software which has been designed and created by a team which has access to everything they need, including money, quite possibly working together in an office. It doesn’t guarantee success (There’s an awful lot of very, very bad commercial ‘closed-source’ software out there.) but it’s definitely a big advantage for a commercial ‘closed-source’ product development team.

So, with all that as a background, have a read here (‘FUD about open source Flash’) to get an idea of where Tadhg stands on this. Make sure to read the comments; and I was pleased to see I’m not the only person out there trying to get Tadhg worked up about Open Source/Free software issues.

It came up again recently and somewhat unexpectedly here (AutoHotkey Script for Now, It’s unlikely you’ll want to read the article; not because it’s a bad article, but it’s not really relevant to this story, it concerns some scripting for the (Quite beautiful, actually) website. No, what pushed my button was a recent comment by Tadhg about his choice of music playing software and (The important bit) the influencing factor in making that choice. The ‘discussion’, naturally, started from there and I decided just for the hell of it that I’d reproduce my analogy here on choosing software based on the licence.

I’m aware, incidentally, that it has at this stage lost all context. And this post has become one of what Oana describes as ‘the boring ones about software or something’. Still, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

You’re going to put up some shelves. So, you need a hammer, and you go to the hardware store. In the hardware store there is a good quality Stanley hammer, some other medium-quality hammers, and a cheap but somewhat shoddy G00znr hammer from some guys who make them part-time (during the day-job they make saws for… Stanley) which you’ll have to assemble yourself. Anyway, to make the ethical choice, you buy the G00znr hammer, take it home, spend a couple of hours assembling it and setting it up, and eventually get 2 of your 4 shelves up (one has been destroyed during the learning process, and you ran out of time and got too fucked off before putting up the last one). But you know what, if everybody used a G00znr hammer, we’d get used to putting less stuff on shelves, and the world might be a better place. The guys at Stanley would be out of jobs, and have more free time to improve the G00znr hammer. Maybe we might find we don’t need shelves, and we can start asking ourselves “Where do nails come from?”.

And just for bonus points:
Q: How many Open Source advocates does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Maybe the real question is, ‘do we need light?’, because the lightbulb is a proprietary non-open system, we should explore alternatives to light which negate the need to use lightbulbs…

5 Responses to “Open Source, and winding up Tadhg”

  1. Kraj Says:

    Great analogy kev, I love it.

    Plus, this is the first message I’ve ever left on your site that isn’t just general abuse.

  2. Garv Says:

    How many protestants does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None, they live in eternal darkness.

    ……I’ll get my coat

  3. kevintel Says:

    @ Kraj:
    Thanks, and well done! We at andCurve are very proud of you. The medal’s in the post. The analaogy does come across as being a bit down on Open-Source though. I guess I didn’t emphasise the point I was trying to make enough, which is that if you’re just out to use the tool (not just dismantle it) then I think the quality of the product matters more than the ideology behind it. After all, if you applied the same to music and literature, you’d never read or listen to anything. Curious to see people’s views on that one.

    @ Garv:
    lol. More please. Very topical, since the Vatican recently took that joke as (if you’ll pardon the pun) gospel. Almost literally.

  4. barry Says:

    funny, if long winded, and slightly hypocritical given just how much open source software you use…

    NeoOffice, VLC, Azureus… to name a few…

    Oh, and lets not forget what you use to write THIS BLOG… wordpress.

  5. kevintel Says:

    @ Barry:
    Somehow, in all of this, people seem to have missed my endorsement of good Open Source software. In a nutshell, my dig is at doggedly supporting lower quality software purely based on a licence which in many situations makes no bearing on whether or not the software does what you need it to, which was my original point; use the tool which most fits your needs, not your ideology. If the tool does what you need it to, then that, surely, is what matters?

    The softwares you mention are by and large good, and this is why I use them. Not because of the licence, but because they do what I want. The jury’s still out on NeoOffice, and I’m very close to ditching it and putting down the readies for a licence for MS Office for Mac. It’s good, but not great.

    Tadhg has posted a spirited response on his site to my comments, and I’ll have to respond here and there. He didn’t like the hammer/software tool analogy, I believe :-)