A few days ago, a student from the Faculty of Management of the University of Mauritius sent me an email with a list of questions on open-source software. She was going to participate in a debate competition but didn’t know a lot about OSS. She was going to support the motion that the Government of Mauritius should promote OSS. Naturally, I was keen to help.
I quickly replied to her (mostly mechanically) but today I realised that the questions and answers (even though imperfect and incomplete) would make a nice blog post. Here they are:
> The fact that the source code are available, is OSSÂ insecure?
Linus’ Law statesÂ that “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almostÂ every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will beÂ obvious to someone.”
This means that as the source code is publicly available, lots ofÂ people look at it and discover bugs (there are bugs in all softwareÂ including open source software.) Better, as the bugs have been found,Â they are remedied rather quickly and, most of the time, by the sameÂ people who have found the bugs.
Compare this to proprietary software where only a few pairs of eyesÂ can look at the source code and miss most of the bugs.
What do you mean by “professional bodies”? If you mean professionals,Â then you should understand that those reading the source code of openÂ source software for fun ARE professionals (or else they won’tÂ understand a thing.)
The only difference is that they don’t work for the company who hadÂ released the software.
Now, why would someone read the source code of a software if he/she isÂ not being paid to do so? The only reasons I can think of are (i) forÂ the fun of it and (ii) to make it better.
The argument can even be that those who are paid to write softwareÂ generally do a worse job than those who do it for pleasure as moneyÂ has never (and will never be) a strong enough motivation to do good.
Of course. Because of cost reduction, increase flexibility andÂ increased reliability.
What is maintenance cost? Do you mean support?
I would say that supporting OSS requires people who are moreÂ knowledgeable (and, consequently, more expensive) because, simplyÂ said, OSS has more features and offers more flexibility.
Maintaining an airplane is more costly than maintaining a car but youÂ need to do both as sometimes you really need the airplane :-)
What do you mean?
CSS is not generally user-friendly. In fact, most software is notÂ user-friendly as their user interaction (and not only user-interface)Â has been designed by programmers instead of interaction designersÂ (read Alan Cooper’s, the father of Visual Basic, book for instance.Â It’s called The Inmates Are Running the Asylum)
So user-friendliness is a result of the user interaction having beenÂ designed by someone knowledgeable in that field. And you’ll findÂ user-friendly software both in the CSS and OSS scene. And lots andÂ lots of user-unfriendly software too.
No. Provided they have a brain and are open to new things. Those twoÂ should be essential pre-requisites for entering a university.
The general public already uses Firefox which is OSS. The reason whyÂ is that Firefox and OSS in general empowers people to do more complexÂ things.
So I believe that this is the way to convince people to make theÂ effort to learn a new tool (which a software basically is.) You haveÂ to tell them that they’ll become more powerful ;-)
Advantages: Cost-effective, Flexibility, Reliability, Great online community
Disadvantages: Higher-learning curve.
A few days later after having, hopefully, digested the answers, she asked me some additional questions. Here they are:
(1) Reliability: this is a direct consequence of the source codeÂ having been “audited” by thousands of people. Bugs are caught veryÂ quickly. And, more important, they are corrected very quickly too.Â Thereby an increase in reliability.
(2) Flexibility: this is a consequence of most OSS being done byÂ people who think the UNIX-way. In the UNIX world, instead of buildingÂ one tool which does everything (badly), people tend to build aÂ multitude of small tools which individually are simple but which canÂ be combined in a pipeline in multiple ways. Have a look at UNIX pipes for instance. Consequently,Â UNIX-derived operating systems like Linux are extremely flexible and,Â hence, powerful but only to those knowledgeable enough…
I don’t know for sure.
This is true for all software. Every year, a number of software areÂ abandoned. In the commercial world, users are essentially doomed (asÂ nothing can be done except migrating to another software.) In the OSSÂ world, someone else (the end user himself maybe!) can continueÂ development as the source code is available.
You just have to ask the programmers themselves! In the OSS world,Â they are readily accessible. And there are lots of websites thatÂ monitor this kind of thing (e.g. Sourceforge and Freshmeat)
In the OSS world, one can technically-speaking audit the whole sourceÂ code because it is available for free. I don’t know how one can auditÂ commercial software with closed source. So, in the commercial world,Â it’s actually impossible to say that one software does not infringeÂ any intellectual property except if you believe the vendor (but that’sÂ not auditing…)Â Read about the SCO debacle for more information.
That’s it. Nothing much.
A small update: I wrote an article on the Linux User Group of Mauritius website a few years ago. It was calledÂ 10 reasons why Linux is better than Windows for the Mauritian School IT Project. It is still relevant today.
The answers were informative and many will learn a lot from them :)
I’ve some questions :P – what makes an OSS project popular? Is it innovation? Is it because of issues faced by competitors? Is it because it was created a popular blogger/programmer?
You briefly hinted on the answer –
“The general public already uses Firefox which is OSS. The reason why is that Firefox and OSS in general empowers people to do more complex things.”
Do complex things mean innovation?
About the licenses thingy – one of the main issues which I believe OSS developers face is that they may create an app based on a certain concept which is not patented by them but gets patented by a patent troll. The app may be licensed but the concept often gets lost.Or various forks use the same concept and file lawsuits against the original creators. These kinds of stuff happen. Choosing the best licenses matters. What do licenses, according to you, are best for OSS projects and to curb the evil patent lawsuits within the community? GPL, OSL, LGPL?
BTW, the IC3 programme is a good example of the Government choosing proprietary products over cheap and efficient open source ones.
nice answers, practicing your new duties as p.r.o for the dark secret society LUGM?? :D
The aim of OSS is to develop and share. Nowadays there are many open source software being used instead of commercial software. One simple reason is cost and secondly there is no great difference between OSS and Commercial Software, the gap is decreasing. Why do people use software? To solve their problems. And this is what both the OSS and the Commercial software do. Let’s take an example of a DVD burning tool like nero and K3B in linux. I used nero and frankly it took a lot of memory space and resources. While i tried K3B in linux it was much faster and more user friendly. :)
So u might have an idea why OSS should be promoted… :P
Why the government is choosing proprietary products (most of those products are microsoft based) it’s simply because most of us here have used microsoft products from the beginning and got used to it. It sometimes becomes quite difficult to adapt to the new systems. So many people fear to change their way of working. For example not many people would like to take the risk to change from Microsoft to Linux since it’s something new. I tried using it, gave it some time and now am happy to use a linux system with the OSS installed :D
Being a fan of OSS i am currently downloading the Ubuntu 8.10 :P
I think it’s really worth giving OSS and linux a try, under good guidance (Like i got from my lecturer of UoM ;) ) it’s not difficult to use linux… It’s fun… ;)
Asvin Balloo says
BTW, about Open Source software, note that I’ve started a new project called Pixidou which is an AJAX image editor and currently looking for collaborators on github. If anybody’s interested… ;-)
Incidentally, I have forked a project on Github. It’s called Nanofibre and generates iPod-sized playlists for iTunes containing random albums from your entire collection.
OSS is mostly successful whereby they are backed by big companies. Firefox by Google, Ubuntu by Canonical, OpenOffice by Sun, Android by Google & in the near future Symbian by Nokia…
I presume the students were the same who took part in the Cyber Rite debate which was broadcast on Friday which was of a very bad level. I heard things like open source developers being labeled as terrorists and maybe the funniest part was the sponsor of the show arguing how bad OSS was and the Microsoft Representative saying ” We love Open Source”. I have written an article on my blog @ linux-mauritius.blogspot.com and I just wanted to see if others had reacted here, on one of the most popular blogs.
The girl I exchanged emails with was in the proposing team.
The debate will be broadcasted again today at 12:45 (I think) on MBC1. It would be interesting watching it. The opposing team (the anti-OSS) won and I want to know why.
The opposing team probably won because they were good with words :p while the other team was bad with words … this whole world is like this and you can’t do anything about it, you may have the best argument but all that day isn’t your lucky day or you just don’t look and talk sweetly, then you are bound to always be among the ones to lose.
This whole world revolves about one thing, its just the wrappings, you can become a millionaire selling crap bundled in beautiful wrappings.
They lost, so what, doesn’t mean OSS is crap.
all the ways, i’ve always had a bad impression of the people who participate in that cyber rite debate, in my head i picture em as the type who will fit in a blonde joke and man do i look down on em [specially those who usually wins], they don’t know sh!t about the topic other than just learning by heart everything about their topic of discussion and vomiting that there… they are sooo lame, and that vikash gaur sounds dumb also to be presenting a cyber something debate.
As far as the ones who lost.. well like i said, sh!t happens but its not of your fault, its the whole world who’s gone crazy :p. [hell am not on their side because they were for oss, but because they lost :p (because i never win other than in cards :p)].
hahahahahaha *evil laugh*
I’ve recorded the debate.
You’re right about Vikash Guar. He is good (in a certain way)… but not for a debate competition. In fact, I believe he undermines the whole thing by making it appear trivial. Enfin…
The second thing is the whole concept of debates. I’ve never ever been a fan. In fact, I’ve never ever participated in a debate contest in my life. Each time I see a debate on TV, I switch to another channel because debates just irritate me. I guess I’m unhappy about people just learning things by heart and reciting everything afterwards.
As I’ve recorded everything, I’ll have to watch it one of the days. Aargh!
lol.. stop saying he is good hypocritically :p he sure SUX.
Indeed he makes that seems like orange sitara! beeuurrk
I consider a hot flaming session on IRC to be a nice debate, :p am sure you must have been flaming lots of n00bs on irc when you were a teen?
Indeed, it sounds stupid and in college people used to think those are geniuses [ofcourse i knew they were full of shit …just knowing some english and learning by heart isn’t something that’ll make me see them as wonders.. (nothing against people who are good with speech [these are important too])]
I’d like to watch that and “tir l’aile zoignon” from every comment made in it :D
The only debate kind of thing that’s fun to watch is “hard talk”, its always fun to see the guy get pissed off on tv.
yep the fact is that i listened to the debate attentively and where it says about terrorism well it referred to an analogy.. an analogy where things are compared to things just to make things understandable.. they did not that OSS promoters are terrorists.
secondly,it was just a debate.. when u are on one side of the house,whether ur motion is right or not u have got to fight for it and convince evryone about the motion.the other side team bkoz they were good.at subject matter,at presentaion at language. u agree they wer eon th weak side of the house bkoz finally OSS should be promoted by the gov but thzt the ebauty of the debate. they won bkoz they toiled to make watz wrong appear right.. thatz the art of a debate..
fianlly a debate is just a debate..
Whether it is a debate or just a general discussion the truth should prevail. As I have said before the debate itself lacked extensive research, it is understandable that the prize money made the candidates concentrate more on winning than the subject matter itself. I am among the few people here in Mauritius who devote their free time promoting OSS and making sure that people at large have the tools/means to move with technology and such arguments are just unacceptable. OSS is a movement, a philosophy, an ideal that motivates millions of people around the world to work 24hours (around various time zones) all year round to give the world the best software and a freedom that helps shape technology (and the world as with the help of OSS/The one Laptop per Child initiative millions of poor children of the third world countries are having access to technology). I presume you are among the people who took part in debate. I personally have nothing against you but it was simply a poor show. Next time contestants are invited to speak to the right people in community and do some proper homework. This is a matter which will definitely come back to the table after the Microsoft Licensing story a few days back.
Rightly said, Amit.
OSS is not only about free beer but also about freedom. And freedom of choice is an essential component of this.
As a matter of fact, opposing OSS and Microsoft software is not important. We need both in order to have choice. In fact, we should welcome more competition. Whether one chooses OpenOffice or Office or iWork is immaterial in the grand scheme of things… as this is a personal choice. Having no choice (which is the case now for a lot of people as they have been brainwashed by the Microsoft propaganda machine) is bad as some people are being forced to adopt solutions which are not adapted to their problems.
All that blabla…erm, bla (I couldn’t find any other term, sorry!) about open source is all fine! I wonder if you people really understand the concept of a debate is!
Who actually slung mud at your freedom of choice? Where was the Microsoft propaganda?? So, in one sentence, what all of you indirectly mean to say is that whether the team was proposing or opposing, it should never have bad-mouthed open source because OSS is The Almighty??
You probably would like the Emerald Power team members to present themselves on the sets and clearly declare that despite knowing that they are to show up the cons of OSS, they will not be able to do so because OSS is flawless and all OSS developers are super powered people and also because they themself are great fans of OSS…
Get over it peeps, whether right or wrong, they HAVE to defend their cause… and why I am counselling people who do not and will NEVER understand what makes a debate!
Oh and btw, the other team lost because their delivery was mediocre and even the ideas were not at all well conveyed. Just because Mr. Avinash Meetoo helped the opposing team a bit does not mean that it HAD to win on that day. When it comes to the debate, it all depends on your personal aptitudes, not the support of xyz. Oh and btw no. 2 I perfectly understand why some of you have never participated in any debate contest… It’s not at all surprising since it simply means that you do not have the stamina, the GUTS, the calibre and everything else needed to do a debate. Seeing how subjective all of you are being, I would advise not to make a fun of yourself by participating in a debate, where objectivity is all that counts.
Ok..so “the truth should prevail”… Why doesn’t Mr. Amit machin truc phone the MBC and simply tell them, Ok, that was the debate and now WE, fellow citizens of Mauritius, wish to act as eye-openers and enlighten our dear audience about the OSS reality. Please, make necessary arrangements for us to be able to convey our ideals because we were very hurt by the arguments put forward in the Cyber-Rite National Debate Contest and we do not agree to such blatant falsehood!
“The opposing team probably won because they were good with words”
—I will try to convey the compliment, thank you.
No blog was ever written to laud the merits of those 17 year olds but when it comes to repeated stabbing, then oh yes!!! As far as I know, 1 or 2 of the team members DO use OSS themselves and are even quite happy with it, but when it comes to a debate, you gotta be unbiased and neutral.
Take a chill pill dudes. Don’t open up on discussions you will never be able to handle.
Amit Caleechurn says
Most of us who share our thoughts on blogs do it in a constructive way, sharing our views and opinions about subjects that matter to us without targeted attacks at other people. This is democracy, thoughts and concepts that are there in the Open Source philosophy. Like in Economics everything starts with choice, we may not be agreeable to each and everyoneâ€™s choice and we have the right to express these thoughts without being nasty to other people. The person who expressed his disagreement at this blog has the right to do so but within limits. I only regret that this person has target a long time University Lecturer whom I believe speaks with experience. I have absolutely no issues with being targeted as well in this blog. That person should know that all posts are screened before being posted and Mr. Avinash still chose to post his nasty comments. This is the freedom of choice that we people have learned to respect, which narrow minded people fail to understand. The author of this post seem to make assumptions about what makes a good debate without paying attention to the finer details: our views were about the subject matter and I wonâ€™t get into a heated argument by commenting on this part. Since this â€˜incognitoâ€™ demonstrates his close ties with the Emerald Power team and has a clear understanding of why the other team lost we will take for granted that he is â€˜unbiased and neutralâ€™. As the Fedora Project Ambassador (Open Source Project for those who donâ€™t know ïŠ ) for Mauritius, I chose to express my views on what I believe was a poor debate as it simply ruins all the efforts we all put in promoting OSS in Mauritius by conveying wrong ideas. If only people take time to check the professional background of the people posting on this forum, they would realise that are arguing with people who speak with experience. I could have replied to this post refuting arguments one by one but simply looking at the immature writing style full of grammatical errors, sheer ignorance, targeted attacks, biased comments and willingness to prove a point by all means, I would instead suggest that this person pay a visit to a member of Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (on the UOM Campus) to understand what OSS mean to the global community. We can then resume this debate.
Nicely said, Amit ;-)