Open Source Not Reliable? Misinterpration

It really, truly frustrates me when people don’t really listen to a statement, and instead read into it the meaning they were expecting – then become truly enraged about it. CNet has an article entitled “Microsoft: Open Source ‘not reliable or dependable’” in which Jonathan Murray, the vice president of CTO of Microsoft Europe was blatantly misquoted.

Murray’s words were ”
Some people want to use community-based software, and they get value out of sharing with other people in the community. Other people want the reliability and the dependability that comes from a commercial software model. And again, at the end of the day, you make the choice based on what has the highest value to you.” This statement does not equate to “Open source is not reliable or dependable” in any way shape or form. Murray’s words mean, quite simply, that within a
commercial software
model (note, he is referencing a business model) there is more reliability and stability. This doesn’t mean Open Source is unstable, nor does it mean open source businesses are not stable. It means he believes that businesses that are founded on commercial software models tend to be more reliabile and dependable than the businesses found on alternative business models. It’s a matter of relativity – not of absolutes. Note, whether people agree with his believe or not is up to them – but one can’t in all justice, take his words as an attack on the reliability of open source software.

This same article went on to quote Kenneth Cukier: “One can consider open-source software a lot like generic drugs. The analogy fits,” Cukier said in the documentary. “Open-source software…is essentially the same product–it does the same thing on a computer–but it costs less.” I’m sorry Kenneth, but that is not a comprable analogy. A comprable analogy would be a drug company printing the recipe and instructions on how to manufacture an alternative, and allowing them to do so without penalty. In fact, it would require that company to NOT charge for the drug (although they could charge a delivery fee or fees for additional support services).? Open source isn’t about cheaper alternatives – it’s about a fundamentally different business philosophy. Reducing it to the generic drug analogy is insulting to not only the open source movement, but also the intelligence of consumers.

I use mysql, for example, not because I beleive it’s the same thing as SQL Server, but rather because I know it’s fundamentally different. Similarly I use Windows over Linux for my PC’s for the same reason – they are fundamentally different.

Both open source and commercial software have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes these are as a result of the businesses behind them, sometimes these are as a result of the design choices, and sometimes it’s just because of the philisophical differences of the developers. Anyone who tells you that one is always better than the other, or that they are the same thing is trying to sell you something.


VP HCM Products at NetSuite and Founder of TribeHR and Lewis Media. Waterloo Region Enthusiast and active volunteer.

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