Response to a misguided and bad-faith article about open-source

published May 27, 2002, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Today, I read a story on the World Tech Tribune. It really made me angry. Reply follows:

From: Manuel Amador (Rudd-O)
To: Scott 


I'm going to copy and paste your article, to craft a response to each one of your assertions in a civil way. Doing this is fair use and protected speech.

A May 2002 news story from News Corporation's Australian IT website illustrates how the open source method of software development for Linux is vastly overrated for business customers. According to a story on May 21, 2002 titled "IT Workers poorly skilled: report" by Karen Deane "Internet Business Systems chief executive David Brykman said he was shocked to find many candidates with university degrees and years of experience couldn't pass a simple skills test. The Melbourne-based company has been seeking Visual Basic and SQL programmers over the past six months to handle its business in industrial strength applications that run through a browser or over the web. 'In the past two months we've reviewed about 500 resumes, and out of those we're lucky if we can distil one or two people who are what we would call qualified,' he said."

::Of course. They were looking for a carpenter because they needed to solder something. Naturally, Visual Basic is not used to develop Web-based applications. SQL Server might be, though. I concede that.

It is a grim statement on the state of software programming, but you might ask: "What does this have to do with Linux and open source?"

::Which is a good question, with one problem: it has absolutely nothing to do with open-source development.

Okay, think of it this way: What makes open source the secure, stable and elegant software panacea open source cultists claim it is? The Linux crowd

::we prefer "community"

point to the "thousand eyes" in the vast and benevolent Linux community that view the code and the ability to reuse this secure, stable and elegant code in numerous projects. These thousands of eyes are supposed to be able to spot weaknesses in the code and fix them immediately without bureaucratic hassles found in corporate software development.

::yes, according to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric Raymond.

Because of the General Public License that virtually all Linux/open source apps

::only about 60% of the code of a typical Linux distribution installation is GNU GPL. There is a lot of MIT and BSD licensed code, which you'll find on Microsoft Windows too. Using "virtually" in this paragraph is a blatant error or lie.

are subject to, Linux/open source programmers are within legal rights to cut-and-paste pieces of code from any other open source app into their project.

::as long as they distribute the application with source code (and that's only if you're going to distribute the application at all)

For example, say you are the IT director at a bank and you buy into

::we prefer "are shown that"

the Linux is stable, secure and bulletproof hype.

::we, then again, prefer "reality". I personally installed a server that ran for 180 days straight, showing a hardware failure of the SCSI adapter after that time. Please check your facts before asserting something like this.

The bank's CEO mandates that all loan officers to have a custom software package to track customer credit ratings. Your main applications programmer tells you that he knows a perfect piece of code he can use on SourceForge (an open source code clearinghouse website) that will drastically cut development time and costs. You can legally cut-and-paste this code into your credit software and supposedly make your system "stable and secure."

::No. Stability/security are properties of well-written source code. Cutting/pasting unscrutinized code might lead to problems. Besides, most open-source projects release dynamic libraries, to make software updates in the event of a security vulnerability easier. Both these properties stem from quality assurance. Any self-respecting person who has studied Computer Science knows that. Open-source merely facilitates QA procedures (a lot).

What do business people involved in software development think of this approach? David Brykman lamented that most software programmers have become lazy due to the prevalence of open source development methods.

::which is a completely unfounded and false assertion

"Unfortunately we find people try to look up existing code and then want to copy and paste it, rather than being able to do the task themselves." Brykman said. "[P]eople still need those skills."

::if he needs to build an application with existing libraries, he doesn't need systems people who can write those libraries. There are different skills in the computing employment sector.

The attack on Brykman's views from the Linux crowd will be: "He's working with Microsoft tools like Visual Basic that are inherently too closed because of Micro$oft's monopolistic bullying. If Brykman worked with open source tools, he wouldn't have this problem."

::That they are closed, there's no question about it. That Microsoft abused its monopoly position, that's a fact (not my words, the Judge's). That he would get a boost in quality, speed and reliability by using open technologies, of course.

Such an attack is pointless because it doesn't address the business aspects software development. If Brykman could use a "free-as-in-beer/free-as-in-liberty" piece of code to accomplish his business goals for almost no cost, he would. Brykman's business is creating browser-based Intranet software - Usually that business segment prides itself on being "platform independent." Wouldn't Brykman prefer open source development methodologies due cross-platform nature and its ability to use/reuse code for "free-as-in-beer/free-as-in-liberty?" Linux cultists are so fond of saying there's nothing in the GPL keeping businesses from charging for code (a semantic gymnastic feat to prove to anyone with half a brain),

::This is ridiculous. I myself have sold GPL code. Red Hat does it every day.

so why wouldn't Brykman welcome programmers whose method is to cut-and-paste snippets of open source code?

::this is a fallacy. We open-source programmers reuse libraries, we don't generally cut and paste code. You insist in casting your bias of the open-source programmer as "lazy and unprofessional" as though it were true.

No, the problem is that even these supposedly skilled programmers who "hack" couldn't get a functioning application out of the millions of lines of code floating out on the Internet. If they could, Brykman wouldn't be complaining about the lack of programming skills found amongst most job applicants.

::Remember he's lacking people from the Visual Basic camp, because he initially requested them. Let me tell you about Visual Basic: is a bad language, its semantics are inconsistent, people using it tend to write messes instead of organized programs, it doesn't help for parallel programming. Most people who call themselves "programmers" only built a simple calculator in Visual Basic. Programming requires an analytical mindset not found on the "point and draw" crowd.

::If he wanted skilled programmers, he could have asked for people with experience in Python or PHP (both languages suited to code reuse, portability, speed and ease of development, unlike Visual Basic). I tell you, he was looking for carpenters to weld a door.

Businesses in the post dot-com-bomb era will need real programmers,

::You mean like Donald Knuth, a prominent member of the open-source community and one of the creators of UNIX? Or Linus Torvalds, perhaps.

not spoiled lazy kids stealing

::stealing conveys a despective meaning to the practice of legally using libraries/code from another project. Most importantly, what you might call "piracy", properly termed unauthorized copying, is not stealing. I steal something from you if you don't have it after I got it. Look it up in the dictionary.

from true geniuses. The Microsoft .Net framework is poised to be the formidable computing platform in the next few years;

::and who says that?

mainly due to the innovation required in the C# programming community

::C#'s ideas came from investigative papers already applied on Java and Python.

and their commitment to intellectual property rights.

::you're implicitly saying that open-source programmers have no respect for intellectual property. That is a fallacy. GPL-covered code is protected by copyright. Without copyright, there would be no GPL at all.

The Java cross-platform programming language has been around for almost a decade and Sun has never been able to work it into their "the computer is the network and the network is the computer" strategy.

::it's currently working in the form of Java applets, Java server pages and supercomputing applications.

Maybe it's because so much Java code is used and reused? JBoss anyone? Does IBM's "Jikes" ring any bells? Notice all the Java code on SourceForge? See the press releases from Sun trumpeting their alliance with Apache "to make the Java platform even more open"?

::You are advocating private rewrites of publicly available code. You have no idea about software development, and are against the trends of the last 20 years in the field (software reusability, object-oriented black-box programming). Why don't you rewrite the C library or the X Window System to suit your needs? If there's a road, you take it; you don't go through the mud.

Welcome to the lazy, cut-and-paste world of open source "innovation" where people who should be smart enough to know better still think you can get something for nothing. It would be humorous if it wasn't so pathetic...

::Evidently, your job position is threatened by our activities. Unfortunately for you, this kind of self-serving talk doesn't affect decision-makers, because we already have proven that we can build real technology with our open development process.

::In summation, you are calling us lazy, antisocial, irrespectful to property, and blaming us for the incompetence of 500 ignorant morons. You have some nerve.

::I really wish the open-source programmers that coded the DNS system could switch DNS resolution off for those unwilling to recognize their hard work, like you. This would be one honest, thankful Internet.

This article is under the GNU FDL. Special permission granted to NewsFactor Network to reprint it under any license they choose.

Manuel Amador (Rudd-O) is an open-source developer and 4th year student at Universidad Santa María. He wrote Directory administrator, a popular tool among network administrators.