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Long Live Closed-Source Software? 676

Posted by Zonk
from the i-am-something-of-a-fan-of-closed-source-games dept.
EvilRyry writes "In an article for Discover Magazine, Jaron Lanier writes about his belief that open source produces nothing interesting because of a hide-bound mentality. 'Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven't promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they've been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.'"
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Long Live Closed-Source Software?

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  • by Silverlancer (786390) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:38PM (#21858410)
    I'd like to say that the author of this article is completely clueless. Perhaps he should define his position more, and say something like "Open Source interfaces aren't creative" or "Gnome isn't creative," rather than paint a vast category of software, including quite a bit of highly creative non-Linux software, with a single brush.
  • bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Uksi (68751) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:42PM (#21858442) Homepage
    Just look at Java opensource software. Eclipse, Spring and Hibernate are some of the most innovative opensource projects, massively used by the biggest corporate giants to boot.
  • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip DOT paradis AT palegray DOT net> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:43PM (#21858446) Homepage Journal

    Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven't promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science.
    Everybody knows there's not a shred of original code or thought on such sites as SourceForge [sourceforge.net]. Nobody ever visits sites like Apple's development center [apple.com]. After all, they despise open source developers, right? And let's just completely write off sites like Open Source Alternatives [osalt.com], because they've never listed any software that showed promise or included innovative new features. Microsoft and companies like them are the only true source of innovation on this planet, and always will be.

    Yes, I'm keenly aware I'm preaching to the choir. This article is the most flame-baiting piece I've seen on the front page in a long, long time. I have to admit, it'll be good for driving traffic, and unfortunately the author is probably going to make a bunch of money on it. He won't get my clicks, though... I flatly refuse to read TFA.

  • by Aardpig (622459) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:44PM (#21858468)

    Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth?

    What, the same closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop that built a complete, adored operating system around BSD?

  • New for news sake! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by redelm (54142) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:47PM (#21858484) Homepage
    I have a serious problem with observers criticising something for being old [un-novel] without being more specific about how "new" might be more advantageous.


    Such remarks basically insult practitioners for a lack of imagination without giving any substantiation. "Who know how much better it could be" is an impotent whine [whinge]. The commentator reveals themselves.

  • by Hacksaw (3678) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:48PM (#21858490) Homepage Journal
    Attaching open source to these statements clouds the issue. Serious innovation isn't being supported anywhere, except perhaps in Universities. Even there it's hard because the interesting stuff is at the fringes. Businesses aren't interested in it because that won't make them money any time soon.

    OS creation isn't that interesting to most people, because once you know enough about it, you realize that while the Unix paradigm may not be perfect, getting to a current Unix's level of capability and stability would take decades.

  • by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:55PM (#21858540) Homepage Journal
    If you assume that Linux is the only open source stuff being written.

    There is some very innovative open source stuff out there that has nothing to do with Linux. Including a few next-gen operating systems.

    In fact, I think that the fact that open source programmers have gotten so much out of Linux that a 70s platform is *still viable and thriving* in 2007 says quite a bit about them - and the opposite of what the article was saying.

    There are some legitimate criticisms of open source - this isn't one of them.
  • Someone remind me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jjohnson (62583) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:58PM (#21858568) Homepage
    Why I should pay any attention to Jaron Lanier.

    His name pops up every six months on Edge or ./ or somewhere else, because somehow he got certified as a smart guy (TM), but for the life of me I can't think of anything interesting that he's done or contributed that would deserve that appelation. All I've ever seen of him is a bunch of tech punditry that's either obvious or empty speculation (which is supposed to be significant because he's a smart guy (TM)).
  • by peragrin (659227) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:59PM (#21858570)
    Better word

    UNIX.

    The original versions shipped with source code. It was only when AT&T tried to make money on it that the source code closed down, and then guess what happened? dozens of incompatible versions became the norm.

  • by Arrogant-Bastard (141720) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:04PM (#21858620)

    Every piece of significant Internet technology designed, developed and deployed over the past 25-30 years has been open-source. Offhand, I could list everything related to Usenet and NNTP, Apache, perl, gopher, python, PGP, BIND, Firefox, archie, AFS, NFS, X, LDAP, MIME, majordomo and mailman, ruby, RCS, CVS, subversion, BSD Unix, Linux, sendmail, postfix, courier, exim, P2P and associated tools, IRC, a bunch of ASF projects, etc., etc., etc. These are the building blocks of what most people perceive as the contemporary Internet -- and I'd say that creating that has involved some serious innovation.

    The biggest obstacle to innovation isn't open-source: it's software patents and the associated legal thicket that's being constructed to strangle innovation and thereby preserve the profits of the incumbents. I note with interest the the overwhelming majority of those engaging in this anti-innovation practice are vendors of closed-source software -- who are thereby admitting that they can't compete on merit, and so have to resort to unethical legal maneuvers to quash their competition. Oh, and the occasional open-source-is-bad propaganda piece.

  • ...not. Same for Cinelerra and Kino and Jahshakah and Firefox and Wengophone and apt-get and dvgrab and transcode and ffmpeg2theora and Annodex and YouTube and Facebook and, oh well, you get the point.

    As it so happens, I am producing a distributed film with FOSS [archive.org] called the Digital Tipping Point, and our community would never have been able to create all these great BASH scripts [digitaltippingpoint.com] to automate the process of capturing, compressing, and uploading the video to the Internet Archive's Digital Tipping Point Video Collection without the freedom of FOSS. Oh, and coincidentally, neither the Internet or the Internet Archive would exist without FOSS.

    This guy clearly does not know what he is talking about.
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:09PM (#21858654) Homepage Journal

    From the article:

    I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But a politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts.

    He's not saying that Open Source isn't great. He's just come back from a conference of researchers, and is saying that from a research perspective (which is not necessarily production), innovation and creativity doesn't tend to come through in open source projects, even if it is only the 1 in 10 closed source projects that actually have something new. You've just claimed that you don't care about innovation and creativity for the production software you use in your business, but would rather have something stable. I don't follow why you have a problem with his opinion -- there's no relation.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:11PM (#21858662) Homepage
    And Gnome. And the media players on X. They're either superb copies of old tech, or they're just running behind whoever-sets-the-trend. It's also very untrue with regards to apache, perl, python, webbrowsers (who's running after whom in this game ?). But operating systems need an overhaul, that's for sure. Not that old micro/monolithic debate (that I couldn't care less about), but currently a whole lot of tech is ending up in userland where it doesn't belong: virtualization, network-distributed/scaled filesystems, network-distributed/scaled services. And APIs. I mean, by now, transactions on a filesystem should be part of your standard C-API; read, write, oh sorry, I didn't mean that: rollback. Why isn't it ? Standardized APIs with regards to shared memory, synchronization devices, events; the UNIX crowd seems to find it very acceptable to rely on backward compatibility here. Why ?
  • Re:bullshit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:12PM (#21858672)

    Just look at Java opensource software. Eclipse, Spring and Hibernate are some of the most innovative opensource projects, massively used by the biggest corporate giants to boot.

    Yes, they're almost 1/4 as impressive as the commercial Smalltalk and Lisp environments we had in 1987.

    Any argument relying on Java (which Alan Kay called "the most distressing thing to hit computing since MS-DOS") is going to fall kind of flat. Indeed, the fact that the new generation thinks that their Java tools are so cool is part of the problem.
  • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottliebNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:12PM (#21858674) Homepage Journal
    But "UNIX" doesn't rebut TFA, it reinforces it! The article's whole point is that OSS has done little besides copy the work of closed-source innovators, with GNU/Linux copying Unix being the chief example!

    It's because trying to lead open-source developers is like herding cats. Unless you're holding their can of food, they won't go where you want. And if you can't make all of them focus on the single project you want accomplished, you don't get anything done without a huge mass of so many people that everyone can do what they please and you'll still have enough people going your way. But the only way to get that size a mass of volunteers is to work on a "sure thing" project with an established design that moves towards a goal everyone can already see -- to copy an established product.

    For example, wasn't the OpenMoko team supposed to have released a user-ready package of hardware and software by now?
  • by dbc001 (541033) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:15PM (#21858694)
    The appropriate response to criticism like this should be "Can this be true?". Criticism presents a chance for us to ask ourselves hard questions, and lets us work toward preventing problems. A knee-jerk reaction of "This is not true" gets us nowhere.

    So when someone says "Your work is outdated", you should ask "is my work really outdated?". You can then follow up with questions like "How can I keep my work from becoming outdated?", and "how can I bring my work up to date?".

    As a community, open-source developers should welcome criticism - it presents a great chance to improve, it improves the dialog about the overall quality of the software, and it gives non-programmers a way to help. This criticism may be baseless and wrong, but that's no excuse to ignore it!
  • Re:bullshit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:16PM (#21858696)
    And in the case of Eclipse, it was originally conceived by the BIGGEST gorilla out there: IBM.
  • by mrsteveman1 (1010381) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:19PM (#21858720)
    Those sorts of projects would probably do better if they focused more on being Open Source, than being Free Software.

    The ability of someone to take GPL code, even expensive purchased software, and give it to anyone, anywhere, for free, hurts development in many cases.
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:19PM (#21858724) Homepage Journal

    I have a serious problem with observers criticising something for being old [un-novel] without being more specific about how "new" might be more advantageous.

    He's just come back from a research conference, and his point is with how new ideas get developed in a research environment. Right or wrong, he's not saying that open source isn't great, more stable, or a good choice for businesses and individual users who want something stable, reliable and useful. What he has said is that from his own observations, OSS is not a great model for fostering creativity and encouraging people to innovate and try radical new ways of doing things.

    I'm not sure I fully agree with his view as he's stated because there are certainly some innovative ideas out there that have benefited a lot from OSS. He does have some merit with his arguments, though. Many of the popular OSS apps tend to be the ones that re-engineer ideas from closed source products.

  • Everybody knows there's not a shred of original code or thought on such sites as SourceForge.

    And what is the innovative code?

    And let's just completely write off sites like Open Source Alternatives, because they've never listed any software that showed promise or included innovative new features.

    And again, WHAT IS IT? Sure, there is a LOT of code out there. But show me the OSS software out there that screams, "Wow! That's unbelievably clever!" And sure, there's some *popular* OSS software, but as I pointed out in another post, popular does not mean innovative.

    So far, I haven't seen any posts with a long list of examples of OSS innovation. Just screaming that there "just has" to be a lot of innovation... look at all the lines of code!

  • by bmartin (1181965) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:20PM (#21858734)
    FOSS doesn't spur creativity because FOSS isn't inherently creative. HUMAN BEINGS ARE CREATIVE. software is written by people. Knowledge-sharing is natural. Being secretive about knowledge implies that you want leverage over others.

    FTA: "So Richard hatched a plan. [...] He would instigate a free version of an ascendant, if rather dull, program: the Unix operating system. That simple act would blast apart the idea that lawyers and companies could control software culture. Eventually a kid named Linus Torvalds followed in Richard's footsteps and did something related [...]. His effort yielded Linux, the basis for a vastly expanded open-software movement."

    I have a lot of questions about this quote: What is dull about Unix? Is the author so ignorant that he really believe Linus was following in Stallman's footsteps, rather than challenging Andrew Tanenbaum's MINIX microkernel design? There are some pretty fundamental differences between the philosophies of Stallman and Torvalds in regards to FOSS, the GPL, etc. For example, the Hurd kernel is (or will be) a microkernel, and Linus is keeping Linux under the GPL v2. Almost all modern operating systems are modeled after Unix... GNU/Linux, OS X, AIX, HP UX, MINIX, etc. Why reinvent the wheel?

    The author has a lot to his credit; he's a very influential person, coined the term "virtual reality", and has taught at several Ivy League colleges. However, this article makes unsound claims and smells of anger and dejection. It's not worth sending him an email or flaming him, as he encouraged in the article. Let him vent. He's allowed to find FOSS boring. Software like Blender, Firefox, MythTV and Python will hold my attention for a very long time.

    The article seems to be lacking in insight. For example, here's a quote attributed to him (from wikipedia.org):
    "If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves into idiots."

    This is analogous to our belief that books have something to say, which devalues the people who wrote them and make us into idiots. There's nothing dehumanizing about reading what others have written. It's simply a form of communication. /. didn't write this comment; a person did. The fact that you obtained the information from my comment by reading this site doesn't devalue me or make you an idiot.
  • by DevStar (943486) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:21PM (#21858748)
    There are other items that you could list that were NOT open source developments:
    Java, ASP/ASP.NET, C#, Flash, Exchange/Outlook, Adobe Reader, IE, Netscape, Google Search, Akamai caching, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc., etc., etc...
    Don't confuse the blinders for the edge of the universe.
  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:22PM (#21858758)
    As Linux is supposed to be a reimplementation of Unix its lack of a new design paradigm is not surprising. It is worrying that at the application layer, the most popular (or at least most common) designs are re-implementations of some really crap Windows applications.

    Then the fact that most software is still written in C/C++ should cause a tear or two.

    The Unix way of doing things is extremely powerful. It's not the only way, but I haven't seen too many alternatives.

    I too am dismayed at the efforts of the Linux community to clone Windows. Right down to the icons. Ugh! Let's innovate, people!

    ...laura

  • by wytcld (179112) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:30PM (#21858822) Homepage
    Jaron's notion of the hazards of "premature collapse of mystery" as a serious error in conception has great potential, IMHO. Of course, he's the guy who invented "virtual reality" as a marketing term. He introduced some quite useful critiques to the emerging field of consciousness studies before becoming disgusted with the overall attitudes there and leaving. And his musical skills are considerable.

    That said, in craftsmanship old tools and techniques are often best. when I add to my century-old house, I prefer to use updated versions of century-old construction patterns and techniques, not just for continuity, but because they result in better construction than the way houses - even the more "innovative" ones - are slapped together now. And it's the same way with *nix. Updated versions of decades-old tools and design patterns build something not only more compatible, but in many dimensions actually better, than some freshly-invented blue-sky bag of tricks. The geodesic dome was brilliant and novel, yet obviously in retrospect not the way to go. The jury's still out on the VR stuff Jaron's fame is based on - which was something quite beyond the illustrated multi-player versions of Adventure that's all that's seen real success to date.

    Still, Jaron wants art from software, whereas most here, like me, appreciate it more as a craft - closer to fine carpentry than abstract painting.
  • Who needs "screaming innovation"? Even projects that make small advances in functionality contribute to overall march of progress. Multiply that out by thousands of projects and you just might see some interesting results.

    Not good enough? Okay, let's put things in a different light: open applications tend to lower boundaries to broad adoption, and tend to follow open standards. Commercial software firms do not have a vested interest in maintaining open standards for development, as this inhibits their ability to control the use (and profit from) their products. If it weren't for open source software supporting open standards, I assure you we would have far fewer options in computing than we have now.

    The simple fact that a college student can install any Linux distro he/she likes and start writing software is a great way to encourage research into computing. The compiler he's using may not be "original, groundbreaking software" but the end result just might be.

  • Re:NIH syndrome (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:36PM (#21858872)
    I think it's fair to say that there's a lot of pointless repetition in the FOSS world, though I would qualify that by saying that "pointless" repetition is a great way to learn. When I was much younger, I actually reimplemented a substantial chunk of the standard C library, testing my implementations against the GNU version and P.J. Plauger's reference implementation, and I learned a great deal about the various tradeoffs one is obliged to make at every turn. That said, I doubt my version of the library would have been of particular interest to anyone besides myself.

    The fundamental weakness of FOSS is essentially its immunity to commercial considerations. Obviously, this is also one of its greatest strengths. Developers can venture into new territory without having to worry about marketability -- presuming they have day jobs -- but on the other hand, they can also pursue rigid personal development ideologies that have no interest to anyone but a small group of equally fanatical and close-minded enthusiasts. (See the nitwit above who refused to even read the original article, lest Jaron Lanier make a penny from the pageview.) Moreoever, FOSS developers are often unconcerned with the wishes of their users. That's certainly true of much commercial software, but user satisfaction is an inescapable force in the marketplace, whereas it has little to no effect on many FOSS developers.

    Ignoring for the moment the fact that a career vaporware evangelist like Jaron Lanier is probably not the best messenger for this particular message, I think it's fair to say that much of the FOSS community has been preoccupied with cloning or competing with existing software packages, and a relative minority are concerned with the sort of pure research and experimentation Lanier is talking about. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you view the main function of FOSS as providing inexpensive and unencumbered alternatives to commercial software, and it may even be unavoidable with the maturation of personal computer technology, but if you were present for the explosion of creativity in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, it's hard to deny that he has a valid point, even if it is stated in an overly inflammatory way. Most of what we have been seeing for the last decade or so has been the iterative evolution of existing technologies and not revolutionary new developments, no matter how often the latest minor permutation of last decade's news is trumpeted as the Next Big Thing.

    You can elect to get pissed about the message if you want, but it would probably be more constructive to recognize the situation for what it is, and if it bothers you -- and it certainly need not -- then spend some time thinking about the unexplored spaces in the field and start exploring them.
  • by AJWM (19027) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:39PM (#21858896) Homepage
    Best word

    wheel

    There are certain ideas that are hard to improve upon beyond minor cosmetic and detail changes. There are a lot of things one can do to improve wheels -- materials, suspension, etc -- but changing the fundamental shape isn't one of them.

    (And yes, one can invent radically new concepts for transportation -- e.g. wings -- but they don't solve the fundamental problems that wheels solve.)

    Unix/linux, word processors, spreadsheets, etc solve certain fundamental problems. You want radically different software, look in radically different problem areas (as some other posters have noted).

    There are certain shapes of non-round rollers that work fine, and even lumpy wheels work, but after continued use they'll both wear themselves to a circular wheel shape. Twenty years ago Henry Spencer's sig said "Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly", and Microsoft (among others) has been proving him right.
  • by bberens (965711) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:40PM (#21858910)

    It's because trying to lead open-source developers is like herding cats. Unless you're holding their can of food, they won't go where you want. And if you can't make all of them focus on the single project you want accomplished, you don't get anything done without a huge mass of so many people that everyone can do what they please and you'll still have enough people going your way.
    This is precisely why there are companies who gladly hold the food by paying salaries to developers of open source software, so you can lead them where you want them to go. IBM, Redhat, Sun, etc. all make an excellent living guiding open source software where their business needs it to go. Open source software greatly lowers the barrier to entry into the market which, imho, increases innovation in how business is done. I mean seriuosly, I don't see closed source software making amazing technical breakthroughs either. I believe what the original author is seeing is the waning of the industrial revolution in which we're seeing an extensive slow down in technological wonders. Sure computers are getting smaller and with slightly different/better interfaces, but going from steam engines to cell phones was a VERY rapid ramp up... we just don't see that kind of thing anymore.
  • by PeterBrett (780946) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:41PM (#21858924) Homepage

    I would go as far as saying most closed source software I have come across works fairly well on multile distros, though it is generally fairly trivial things.

    What part of, "That is because it is statically linked," did you fail to understand? Static linking of binaries is bad:

    1. Security faults in libraries used cannot easily be fixed in all the programs which use them by upgrading a single (usually small) package.
    2. The installed size of software bloats enormously.

    There is a reason the distributions dynamically link applications, and it's not just so as to be obtuse and obstructive to users.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:00PM (#21859080) Journal
    Perhaps the author could also explain why such big closed source projects as Windows and OSX *are* creative, because so far as I can tell, they too are built on the old models developed during the 1960s and 1970s.

    There's a reason for all of this, of course. Companies like IBM poured untold billions into R&D, particularly during the 1960s when computer power began to make research into various kinds of operating systems, file systems, memory systems, math processor systems, CPU types and the like became possible. Other than perhaps quantum computing, I suspect that there's an IBM, Cray or DEC simulation, prototype or conceptualization for damn near every kind of kernel we find today.

    And what's so innovative about OSX or Windows anyways? Pretty much all the work done on GUIs over the last two decades has been refinement. I don't consider eye candy to be innovation.

    The word innovation gets tossed around so very much, and yet I don't think most of the people that use it even no what innovation means. Xerox was a GUI innovator, because they pretty much invented the concept. IBM was an innovator, because they funded a goodly portion of the research that makes up what is considered computer science nowadays.

    Windows, Linux, OSX, FreeBSD, ad nauseum and etcetera are applied technologies, pure and simple. Linux's kernel is modeled on an old technology, but then again so is OSX's and Windows, because those old technologies are a) really not all that old (what the fuck is thirty or forty years in reality) and b) they worked very very well.
  • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottliebNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:05PM (#21859104) Homepage Journal

    This is precisely why there are companies who gladly hold the food by paying salaries to developers of open source software, so you can lead them where you want them to go. IBM, Redhat, Sun, etc. all make an excellent living guiding open source software where their business needs it to go.
    Sure, sure. But that doesn't encourage any actual innovation in software, it encourages adding another crock onto a heap of old hacks built by badly implementing 30-year-old standards, all of which runs just well enough to keep a small IT department employed (who, coincidentally, keep choosing to run this stuff).

    I would actually hand the prize for OSS development to Ubuntu Linux made by Canonical. They got around the "good, cheap, fast: choose two" dichotomy by using philanthropic funds, and the result is a system that manages to almost not betray its decades-old foundations. DISCLAIMER: I am an OS X user, though I can fully understand how Apple obviously takes the path of "good and fast" by throwing "cheap" out the window.

    Open source software greatly lowers the barrier to entry into the market which, imho, increases innovation in how business is done.
    Very probably, in fact, almost definitely. But TFA spoke of innovation in software and in computer science, and all the copying (and then the subsequent touting of a copy of a 30-year-old system as an "alternative" OS) hinders innovation in software engineering and computer science. Whether the trade-off is fair, I leave up to you. I think we should at least be fostering real innovation in academic CS and hobby programming, even if the market won't support it in business.

    I mean seriuosly, I don't see closed source software making amazing technical breakthroughs either.
    Plan 9 from Bell Labs. The iPhone's multi-touch interface. Bluetooth. The Nintendo and Sega games that actually make good use of the Wiimote. VMWare Fusion and Parallels. Portal.

    I believe what the original author is seeing is the waning of the industrial revolution in which we're seeing an extensive slow down in technological wonders. Sure computers are getting smaller and with slightly different/better interfaces, but going from steam engines to cell phones was a VERY rapid ramp up... we just don't see that kind of thing anymore.
    Since I have a huge hulking Dell desktop sitting a meter to my left that was, in 2001, only two steps down from the bleeding edge, and since I'm typing this post on a Macbook Pro (made in 2007) that outstrips that Dell in every possible way due to Moore's Law and the increasing capacity of hard drives while providing several capabilities, like the iSight camera and motion sensors, that weren't even available (at least not cheaply) in 2001, I'd have to say technological development is not slowing down. Maybe it has stopped accelerating, but everyone knows that exponential growth can't continue forever.

    I'd say we've reached the point where people problems hold as back more than actual technological problems. If OpenMoko got their shit together (I really wanted one, so now I love to use them as an example of a failed project.), we could all be running mobile phones with multi-touch interfaces, cheap service plans, WiFi internet access, and best of all, software at least open enough to let us program the device. Such a device would, if sold cheaply enough, put established mobile phone and the less savvy mobile video gaming companies out of business, and we have the technology to produce it. It's just the people causing problems.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:10PM (#21859142)

    Every piece of significant Internet technology designed, developed and deployed over the past 25-30 years has been open-source. Offhand, I could list everything related to Usenet and NNTP, Apache, perl, gopher, python, PGP, BIND, Firefox, archie, AFS, NFS, X, LDAP, MIME, majordomo and mailman, ruby, RCS, CVS, subversion, BSD Unix, Linux, sendmail, postfix, courier, exim, P2P and associated tools, IRC, a bunch of ASF projects, etc., etc., etc.

    How many of those are open-source knock-offs of a superior commercial system? How many of those only became open-source once their creators had milked everything they could out of it as a closed-source product, and then released it so it would live on?

    PGP was originally "free for noncommercial use only". Ruby (I'm a Ruby programmer) is basically the new Smalltalk. Subversion is just CVS without too many of the more blatant flaws, which in turn is just RCS plus ... Linux (as the author points out) is just a reimplementation of Unix, though a pretty good one (if you still think the slight performance boost of a monolithic kernel is worth the inflexibility).

    Some of those, like Perl, are open-source and have always been. But for some reason that doesn't seem like a great argument in favor of open-source.

    From a different point of view, look at what Xerox PARC created: laser printing, ethernet, the modern GUI (including the mouse, icons, windows, and color computer-generated bitmap graphics), and object-oriented programming, to name a few.

    Sure, if you're running 4 mail servers and 2 mailing list programs and 3 version control systems on your Linux-and-BSD box, then it looks like open-source is everywhere. But if you're using a mouse to click in a window on a bitmap display to use a program written in an object-oriented language and will later print it out on a laser printer, it looks like you're using a modern Alto, which was incredibly innovative, and not developed as an open-source project at all.

    Open-source has a rich history and is responsible for a lot. But so does closed-source. It's just as foolish to ignore one as the other.
  • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottliebNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:11PM (#21859166) Homepage Journal
    Being a great triumph of community function doesn't change the fact that the community could only really unite to copy someone else's work.

    Note that. Where's the innovation in open-source? In projects like Perl and Python where a single benevolent dictator wrote an initial working model and then released it into the wild to attract contributors (though with Perl you would never realize it wasn't designed by a committee). But since those were one-man efforts, they two had to build off of previous work, and so you can't run Perl or Python on most non-*nix systems.
  • by TwilightXaos (860408) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:35PM (#21859364)
    What non-*nix systems can't you run perl on? Windows?
    I run active perl on several XP machines without problems. I get a command line interface, so I can type perl one liners or I can run perl programs that end in .pl, either from the CL or by double clicking on them.
    Mac OS?
    I honestly don't know.

    However, I am lead to believe that you can.

    Perl 5.8 is included in the installation of Mac OS X v10.3 Panther
    http://developer.apple.com/internet/opensource/perl.html [apple.com]

    What other group of systems comprises "Most non-*nix systems"?

    NB: I know that MacOS can be considered a *nix system, but I couldn't think of another operating system for comparison.
  • by samkass (174571) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:41PM (#21859414) Homepage Journal
    Get off your high horse; I've read it all. They are, in effect, the same (thus the apt term FOSS). They may have different motivations, but the FSF is just another aspect of the whole movement that likes to think it's different. And in all your prose you still didn't rebut the main point-- that FOSS doesn't lead to better software, just a "lowest common denominator".
  • Closed source software is very important to how people use computers, even if they tend to use OSS. For example, if, say, Windows XP or Mac OS X were fully open source, would you really choose Linux over them?

    In a nutshell, the point I'm trying to make is that closed source software can be very good. True, that can't be said of certain products [microsoft.com], but Windows XP wasn't all that bad, Office 2007 (ignoring OOXML) is excellent, and since Mac OS X was introduced, Apple have always made a brilliant example of how to create good software; I'm typing this on Mac OS X Tiger now and it's excellent. True, its kernel is open-source, as are the GNU tools, and several of the APIs, but the rest of it is closed, and I truly don't mind using it.

    While it's good to have something for free, it will take something enormous to get open-source on almost every machine in the way, say, Windows is. For example, a real innovation that makes open-source software dead simple to set up, and different to anything before it. Because - let's face it - Linux is a jargon minefield for the inexperienced user, and while Vista is no better, XP and Mac OS X are dead simple - two editions, that's it.

    That said, I do have a problem with fierce monopolisation of software using closed-source, which makes Vista my case in point. So my case briefly is that I don't mind using closed-source software if it's good enough and reasonably priced. If it's open-source, that's the icing on the cake.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @06:25PM (#21859752) Homepage

    Lanier invented gloves-and-goggles virtual reality. I tried his original VR system back in the 1980s (novel concept, terrible lag), and met him back then. Lanier tries too hard to be cool, but he has done real work.

    He does have a point about the Unix/Linux/open source ecosystem. Face it, Linux is pretty much like Unix, which dates from the 1970s. The Berkeley stuff from the 1980s (notably BIND and Sendmail) is still in use, buried under layers of cruft and still breaking. C programs are still crashing all the time. C++ didn't help much. X-Windows, which was never very good, has survived all its successors.

    I never dreamed when I started using UNIX in 1978 that thirty years later it would still be a major system. I thought the future of operating systems would be more like Multics, with rings of protection, on cheaper hardware. Or like Tandem, a transaction processing system where the mean time between system failures was measured in decades. Or like UCLA Locus, where distributed processing really worked. But no. It's just minor variations on UNIX, forever.

    That's what Lanier is pointing out. We have roughly the same problems at the bottom we had thirty years ago.

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @06:26PM (#21859758) Homepage

    You just made the authors point for him, bravo.

    To say that UNIX is a "wheel" is garbage. UNIX (and Windows, which is based on similar concepts) is a moth eaten dirty piece of cloth. It's got giant problems. Look at malware for one. Look at how many jokes revolve around software crashes of some sort, for another.

    Before claiming that UNIX is like a wheel, go read up on modern operating system research. Seeing as you have a low opinion of Microsoft, might as well start there - try reading Singularity: Rethinking the software stack [microsoft.com] from Microsoft Research. They describe an operating system that, amongst other things, operates in a single address space without using hardware memory protection. There are no traditional processes, or syscalls. Instead the basic unit of software is a "Software Isolated Process" or SIP that is statically verified and compiled to machine code at install time. SIPs cannot be arbitrarily modified after installation. The whole thing is a single address space microkernel, except without the performance problems that scuppered previous microkernel attempts (because there are no context switches). A new security model based on verifiable type systems, state-machine based messaging and pre-declared intents allow for the construction of systems that are far more resistant to malware and unstable 3rd party extensions than today.

    And they only just got started.

  • by Sancho (17056) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @06:33PM (#21859800) Homepage
    I imagine that the thought being put forth is that without the ability to make money from software, investors are unlikely to pay for someone to create GPL software. Without that ability, it's hard to get someone with vision to step up and say, "Hey, this is the direction we're going, here's a release schedule, here's our target market, etc." Innovation won't occur--instead, OSS will just copy the competition.

    I think there's some merit to the idea. Many open source projects don't have a concept of a development cycle. They do awful things like mixing security patches and new features (rather than having a separate security branch that can be tracked.) The products are often constantly evolving and changing functionality, even in minor releases. It's really quite a mess.

    If the projects were more thought out, planned from the beginning with target features for the specific release, and with security fixes released for that milestone without having to add new (and potentially buggy) features, I think that the world of FOSS would be a much better place.
  • by notabaggins (1099403) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @07:00PM (#21859980)
    His actual complaint is computer science is maturing. In all science and engineering fields the big, dramatic changes and gains are in the early days. When any science matures, you start seeing the incremental, not the revolutionary.

    Is he also upset that other than cosmetics as new materials become available, bridge design hasn't changed much since the Romans? Is he upset that thousands of years later, the wheel is still round? Wonder if he's noticed we're almost all still stuck on the x86 archecture that's, what, a quarter century old or so?

    I see the Wiki says he's a "pioneer" in "virtual reality". Oh, yeah, that's a hot field.

    (not)
  • by dangitman (862676) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @07:01PM (#21859988)

    Right, you only list a handful. Only two of them are actual desktop productivity software, and only one is widely used. The rest are back-end stuff, and a protocol. The bittorent applications that people actualy use are often closed-source. I'm not sure by what definition bittorrent itself is an "application."

    Firefox is the only one that is widely seen by end users. Poen Office is not widely used. Or perhaps your fingers are too tired to type out the names of the FOSS applications that are used as much as Microsoft Office, iTunes, Adobe Photoshop and Acrobat by the average user?

  • by poopdeville (841677) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @07:07PM (#21860038)
    I think this is exactly the point of the article- 30 years of "best practices" and the best open source can come up with is a Unix clone (cloning a 30 year old OS model)?

    The phrasing here is nearly flamebait. I don't particularly care, but it shows your bias. Linux is a solid kernel that performs its job well.

    Operating systems are just scaffolding. Once they've reached a certain level of flexibility, there's no point in changing their external programmatic interfaces, since at that point they can ALREADY RUN ANY CRAZY EXPERIMENTAL COMPUTATION ENVIRONMENT YOU WANT. Squeak? KDE? Dr. Scheme? Gnome? Haskell? Cocoa? They're all just ways to tell your computer what to do. Their internals might be tied to the Unix model, but their external interface (the one you see) certainly does not have to be. Some of them were borne from academic research, including Squeak, Lisp, and Haskell.

    OS X is a Unix, and it's innovative. Why? Because NeXT came up with an interesting programming environment and sold it to Apple. OS X would have been just as innovative using the NT kernel. It isn't the kernel's job to make a computer awesome.

    Linux is essentially irrelevant to the topic of open source innovation. Indeed, it is a red herring.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2007 @07:16PM (#21860112)
    Static linking isn't always bad. It's a balance. It would be an easier choice if a large percentage of library authors would learn how to version and manage a stable ABI. See, that's where the "Oh but you only need to replace one library if there's a security hole" argument starts to fall apart: most library authors couldn't keep the ABI stable if you held a gun to their head, so what actually happens is that existing software doesn't use the new library because the version has changed. You may as well be static linking in these cases.

    It would also be easier if software authors got a grip and stopped creating huge and unwieldy dependency trees for every little feature they add. Do we really need to ship a shared library for libquxblortsnort when it's all of 10k and used by exactly three projects in the known universe? Perhaps the author should just include the library with their source and link it statically.
  • by daviddennis (10926) <david@amazing.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @08:27PM (#21860618) Homepage
    This seems to escape the whole point of the article.

    The question is not whether there's open source software, but whether it is creative or original.

    KDE was designed as a copy of Windows. If you use Windows, you've used KDE and vice versa. I hated it from the start; I want something that's at least an attempt to provide a fresh experience.

    OpenOffice is a blatant copy of one of the previous versions of Microsoft Office. It is distinguished only by the fact that it's free, on the good side, and that it's unoriginal and drab as Office 97 was. Whenever I've tried it, I feel like I'm back in 1997.

    Consider Pages and Numbers, made by Apple. They are both bursting with original ideas, design innovation and creativity. I use them all the time and prefer them to both the Microsoft versions and Openoffice.

    FireFox is a special case, since it was started as commercially funded development. Still, tabbed browsing, which I've always associated with it, was actually introduced by Opera, which is a commercial product. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features_of_the_Opera_web_browser#Tabbed_browsing [wikipedia.org]

    MySQL has innovated, but it seems to be a largely proprietary product developed by a fairly small team - i.e. open source in name, but closed in development. The have a hybrid model where they license special versions and provide pay support. Alas, I have to ignore PG SQL since I have no experience on it.

    Certainly nobody is going to argue that Apache configuration files are particularly user-friendly in this point and click age.

    On the other hand, take Apple. The dock, coming from NeXT, was new and different compared to its forebears. Apple then put a lot of effort into reworking it to become more "Apple-like". KDE and Enlightenment, on the other hand, both have obvious copies of the Start menu.

    The iPhone has an interface almost completely unlike any other phone, and of course it came from a commercial team determined to produce the world's best design. They were not trying to copy a HTC phone; they blazed their own path, in such a dramatic fashion that my jaw dropped when I first saw it, and now, despite its high cost, it's on my desk right now.

    In conclusion, innovative software does seem to come from private companies. People who develop open source software are people who had a need for something they could not afford, and created a copy of their own. At the time Linux was developed, a SCO license cost $1,000! That kind of enterprise is something to be proud of, especially when done successfully. But when it comes to developing interesting and original products, the open source world is way behind.

    There's nothing wrong with open source; I use a lot of it, and enjoy the fact that I can compete in the world without having to pay $10,000 for a Unix operating system and SQL database. But that doesn't mean it's interesting or innovative.

    It would be nice if it was.

    D

  • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo@nospaM.gmail.com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @08:53PM (#21860814) Homepage Journal
    DISCLAIMER: I am an OS X user, though I can fully understand how Apple obviously takes the path of "good and fast" by throwing "cheap" out the window.

    I understand now. Throughout this discussion, I just thought you were an idiot. Now I see that you're a fanboy.

    There are so many truly innovative open-source projects I couldn't name them all, but most just don't get much support because ... wait for it ... they're too innovative and different. Look at SymphonyOS. Heck, look at bittorrent. You think that didn't innovate?

    It's just a lot easier to build a new OS that can leverage 30 years worth of programs, so people try to make sure the GNU set will run on them. Even Apple took a bunch of open source tools as the base of their operating system.

    By the way, Apple didn't innovate with the iPhone. That kind of shit has been in Japan and Taiwan for a couple of years now. Just because you haven't seen it, doesn't make it new.
  • Not quite (Score:3, Insightful)

    by einhverfr (238914) <chris.travers@gM ... com minus author> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @09:49PM (#21861148) Homepage Journal
    UNIX was open source from the beginning (and quite innovative for its day in terms of simplicity) because AT&T was forbidden from making money at it due to their consent decree.

    At the same time, we haven't seen any really innovative ground-up OS's be developed lately because the market can't support them. What ever happened to AmigaOS anyway (the original version, not the new attempted reincarnation)? Hence we are stuck with largely incrimental developments from three old operating systems: CP/M (-> DOS, Windows95-ME), UNIX (Linux, AIX, etc), and VMS (Windows NT, XP, Vista). To be fair there have been attempts at innovation in the systems world (HURD, BOB, etc) but they haven't been successful for market and/or organizational reasons despite bringing really creative ideas into the field (sometimes, for example re: BOB, that creativity really should have been bridled-- but hey, Malinda the project manager came out ahead).

    As for FOSS development-- it works as does closed source development by attacking real world problems. My job as a leader in the LedgerSMB project isn't to hold a can of food, but to get other users to do that so that there is more work to go around. I then get to help people coordinate and structure their contributions so they can get it in.

    From a creative invention perspective, the *vast* majority of software, closed or open, brings little new to the table-- software engineering in any environment is usually a matter of paying attention to the details and trying to solve well understood problems a little better than anyone else. However there are exceptions. I would suggest that Asterisk and Bayonne as telephony application servers are innovative in the sense that they provide an open framework for telephony application development. I would suggest that PostgreSQL is innovative in a large number of ways, but then it was originally designed to be a research platform.

    Being able to make useful new inventions is a rare trait. I don't believe that FOSS will kill that off. Instead I think that it just changes the economic rules of the game.
  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @10:10PM (#21861294)
    That's not really true. Dos was a clone of CPM, but the 16 bit Windows VxD architecture which runs underneath it was original. And the Windows API was too. You could argue that the 32 bit Windows kernel architecture was heavily inspired by VMS, but it's actually changed a lot since then. And the reason Microsoft do all this stuff themselves is because they want to lock people in to something which is not available anywhere else. If they used a Unix like kernel, Posix and X Windows they'd be commoditized to death, since people could easily migrate to a free alternative.

    There's another advantage to being orignal too - Dos and Windows ran for ages on hardware that wasn't really up to running Unix - e.g. 8086 and 80286s with no MMU, horrible graphics facilities and only a few megabytes of RAM. You'd be hard pressed to run X Windows and a Unix like kernel on that but Microsoft stuff was designed to only run on it, totally ignoring high end workstations. Which is another lock in producing situation - once people started to use Windows and bought Windows only applications, it was hard for them to move to Unix later.
  • by jthill (303417) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:03PM (#21861634)

    I've been unable to find any anti-GPL agitators who were actually prevented from selling their own work.

    All the ones I've found want to sell *other people's work* and keep the money for themselves.

    And they complain that the GPL prevents them from doing that.

    </world's smallest violin>

    It's real simple: either the fraction of GPL code in this putative product that the GPL is supposedly denying to the world is significant, or it isn't.

    If it's a significant part, then they're thieves.

    If it's not a significant part, then they're just lazy whiners.

  • by philwx (789834) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:05PM (#21861642)
    Well you could say that Open source includes the innovation of a free software paradigm. One that despite criticism keeps getting better. But beyond that, I'd say the most impressive stuff in OSS is in the linux OS and GUI's. You want to talk about copying, Windows Vista now asks for a password when making control panel settings. Where have I seen that before? For years? As well a lot of the Vista "special" effects were available as options in gnome for some time now. Firefox was successful enough to "force" Microsoft to update IE. Firefox still has better security, not arbitrarily installing things without user interaction; even waiting 3 seconds to make sure the user has time to think about what they are installing. If IE doesn't do that now (I don't use IE 7), then it probably will in a future release. Tabbed browsing in IE7? What an amazing innovation.
  • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo@nospaM.gmail.com> on Monday December 31, 2007 @12:01AM (#21862074) Homepage Journal
    So basically, you're saying that the community doesn't support truly innovative open-source projects, causing them to die for lack of volunteers? That's pretty much my point right there.

    No, I'm saying that radical ideas almost always fail in the marketplace. There's a business rule which says something like "Never be the first to market with a new concept. Let that company fail and use what you learn from them to succeed in the market." The market generally accepts what is tried and true. That's true for software. It's true for movies. It's true for music. And ... shock ... it's even true for OSS. Welcome to society.
  • by jythie (914043) on Monday December 31, 2007 @04:00AM (#21863456)
    OK, I didn't know that. So why did it take until the impending release of the iPhone for some OSS coders and hardware hackers to look at such a neat technology and say, "Let's do that, but with freedom!"?

    I can answer part of that. Price and availability of multitouch devices. One can code all one likes but if the hardware to play with isn't easily available then it is kinda pointless. Most small touchscreens you can get in the states (that don't come from some shady website in broken english) are single touch only.
  • by thethibs (882667) on Monday December 31, 2007 @12:28PM (#21866600) Homepage

    Java. MySQL. Qt.

    None of them are innovative and Java wasn't developed in an open source context. Java is a poorly designed rehash of Pascal, MySQL is just another relational database, Qt is just a kit for building GUIs that have been around (though incrementally enhanced) since the seventies.

    Back to the drawing board. Surely there's at least one white crow—some ground-breaking app that was conceived and implemented in open source? I can't think of one, and no one here seems to be able to either, but that doesn't mean none exist.

  • Re:bullshit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2007 @02:55PM (#21868482)
    Eclipse is the bloated sucky ide tool to programming like microsoft word is to document creation.

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

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