Sunday, January 21, 2007

Open souce OS - You get what you pay for.

The “My father has a barn, let’s all put on a play!!!” of software operating systems. Or one of the places where the t-shirts have it wrong.

Open Source: This is a term that most people are familiar with, but it's worth re-stating. The open source revolution, where information is freely distributed and editable, is already reshaping a number of industries and upsetting traditional economic and intellectual property models. Wikipedia has very quickly become the world's largest repository of encyclopedic information. Linux and other open source software continue to rival the big players. And looking further down the line, there's the potential for open source science, culture, and the disturbing potential for open
source warfare
. --

I hate how these religious zealots steal the meaning whenever anybody does anything nice. They claim that Ben Franklin was all about Open Source. Just because people want to give something back to the community doesn’t mean they want to give it all. Read Franklin’s autobiography, he was very clever in how he went about making his fortune and doing good things for society at the same time, not in exclusion to each other.

And I absolutely love the “open source software continue to rival the big players.” They can never give me one example. Netscape was a huge before it was Open Source, but now it has a less that 1% market share. If Linux was going to take off it would have already. Linux market share is 0.37%. Yes, that’s right. The software that is “rivaling” the big players has less than a 1% market share after over 15 years of trying. Linux first came out about the same time as Windows 3.1 did. (Market Share Source =

Yes, free is a great thing to college students. It’s very cool to hate Microsoft. Apple computers haven’t been that wonderful lately (4.15% market share). And it makes a person feel so empowered to be writing chunks of operating systems before they’ve graduated from college. Our rebellious lost boys need a wonderland; they need to find Open Source Land where everything is free (especially food and rent) and everybody always does good things for each other and all the problems are equally hard and fun to work on and candy grows on trees.

I know people that worry about this while working at Microsoft. They think that Microsoft’s short term prospects are dim because of open source. And it does seem like the one thing that all the open source people all have in common is a deep dislike of Microsoft. I commiserate. It must really hurt to want to be an operating system programmer more than anything else in your life and the only company that really does it won’t hire you. And it has to be awful to be a competitor to Microsoft, especially if your company needs an operating system. Microsoft was pretty much the only game in town until modern Linux. Actually Microsoft still is the only game in town, but you can make up for spurning them by using Linux with zero cost of goods and some PR.

Doing it for free is just a huge chunk of the problem. Yes, it’s nice to give something back, and there are ways that are 95 times (i.e. Windows market share) more effective. They can make the world better and give something back in Windows world, but it just isn’t considered cool enough. How Junior High does that sound?

But did they ever stop and think about who does get paid at a Linux company? The janitor sure does. None of them would volunteer their time and effort cleaning up because of the glory of open source. The guys that market Linux get paid extremely well. We are talking "high end BMWs" well. They are saving companies like IBM millions of dollars. Managers? Yes, paid very well again. Product Support Phone Answerers? Yes, they get paid pretty well. Program Managers? Not needed, any attempt at managing this program would be ignored. Testers? Not needed, there really isn’t such a thing as formal testing going on (and IMHO, this is part of the reason that the market share is stuck under 1%.) Developers? Not paid. Nothing. They are being used to do almost 100% of the real work and I do not understand why people this smart haven’t figured that they're the only ones not getting paid.

To me, real tragedy is that we live in a time in history where t-shirts are probably the most powerful people and they can effect change on a global level with very little effort. There is a window now that is unprecedented and nobody knows how long it will last. A program they write today could be run by a million Chinese people tomorrow. The Chinese government is already taking steps to protect their populace from us. It's pretty cool to be feared by the largest country on earth.

T-shirts are also some of the most idealistic people on earth, espcially the ones I know that are into open source. Most of them really strive to use their powers for good. But because of the open source movement this opportunity is drained away to things that do not count for much. Some of the smartest people in my generation’s life work are only seen by a fraction of people because it's cool to hate Microsoft. Some of the neediest causes will not get donations because the people that would give to them have put their best efforts in to endeavors where they don’t get paid. And rather than doing something about that Chinese thing, they are worrying about which of 8 different desktop mangers is the best this week.

Rather than empowering the world, open source drains it.

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