Monday, 13 May, 2002
Open Source Propaganda
A Slashdot posting yesterday discusses this article at Newsforge about a "panel of experts at the National Academy of Scientists" that wants to end the software industry's special exemption from product liability suits. A "lemon law" for software. The article tries to make the point that Open Source software developers would incur liability under such a law, in much the same way as would a commercial vendor. Perhaps so, perhaps not, although considering that lemon law claims typically are limited to the price paid for the product, what's the big deal? Open Source software is, most often, obtained at no cost.
My primary beef with the article, beyond its coming to no solid conclusion (or even attempting to), is the author's use of unsupportable blanket statements, most of which are mindless parroting of Open Source propaganda. For example, the third paragraph contains this oft-repeated myth:
We all know that the open and distributed model for development described in Eric S. Raymond's book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is much better and creates more reliable products than any closed non-distributed development model.
I certainly don't know that! There is some evidence, anecdotal at best, that the distributed "bazarr" method can create good software. Understand though, as I've pointed out before, that most of the projects that the Open Source advocates hold up as examples (the Linux kernel, Apache, Samba) were developed using a traditional model of a small tightly controlled team. It's only after the software was stable and substantially complete that it was released as Open Source. There's nothing even close to proof that the "many eyes" method of debugging makes for superior software. Conversely, there's a mountain of evidence to show that the "million monkeys" approach to development makes for clearly inferior software. The one project they thought was going to prove their point conclusively,Mozilla, is a laughing stock even in the Open Source community.
I wish the Open Source crowd would come up with some objective proof of these claims. Instead, whenever somebody calls them on it, the reply is "You always say 'unsubstantiated' and 'anecdotal'. You're just spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt)." Sorry, guys. You're the ones running around with chips on your shoulders, making wild claims that you expect us to believe despite all evidence to the contrary. If you want to change my mind, you had damn well better show me conclusively that your way is better.