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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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  • NIH syndrome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jherico (39763) <bdavis@saintandreas. o r g> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:45PM (#21858472) Homepage
    This is a retarded sentiment. I'm a developer and I understand the call of the wild, the desire to reimplement everything from the ground up using 'new technology' but this really falls into the trap of thinking that new is automatically better. The older software is, the more mature it is and the fewer bugs it has. Sure, if there's new hardware to take advantage of or some new radical shift in methodology then there might be a reason to go back to the drawing board, but 9 times out of 10 if you're implementing something in closed source, you're duplicating something that's already available in open source and more mature to boot. My own company is having a difficult moving away from an entrenched custom build system, and an entrenched web based page navigation framework and UI framework and data access layer that is all homegrown and closed source and we're spending more time doing that than we would have if we'd just gone with Struts or Spring or Hibernate in the beginning. Not only does closed source end up making poor copies of open source functionality half the time, but one of the number one reasons to use open source is that you can hire people off the street who have extensive experience in whatever you're using. Try doing that with closed source technology.
  • What came before (Score:5, Interesting)

    by leereyno (32197) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:54PM (#21858532) Homepage Journal
    Everything that has been created is build upon what came before.

    The Roman alphabet is far from ideal when it comes to reading and writing English, but we use it anyway. The spelling of many words in English is far from phonetic, but we continue to spell them that way just the same. The benefits of moving to a different set of symbols or a different spelling of some words are vastly outweighed by the costs involved.

    This is what is known as a path dependency. The grass may be greener on the other side, but the price to be paid for moving there is profoundly prohibitive.

    The same is true when it comes to computer science.

    A reinvented wheel may be better than what it replaces, but the cost of its development does not justify the effort, assuming you can get anyone to adopt it.

    It is easy to be creative when you don't have customers. When you don't have people who have come to use a particular product, or work within a particular paradigm, change is easy. Without these other people clogging up the way, it is easy to jump to a new way of doing things.

    If no one used the Roman alphabet, finding a new one would be a snap! If the spelling of words wasn't standardized then implementing new phonetic spellings for things like "knight" would be easy.

    Needless to say, this isn't going to happen.
  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:14PM (#21858682) Journal
    Where does the value of creativity come from?

    a) The creation of something novel
    b) The exploitation of something new

    The area that Open Source shines in is B. Now, it may be that you can achieve greater speed of deliverable in the A part by getting a bunch of antisocial bastards together to work hard on something so they can use it as leverage on the rest of us. But, at the end of the day, that leverage reduces the value of that creation.

    If I invent something new, but you're not allowed to use it, there's no value created. The best thing you're allowed to use is the thing with the most value.

    This is a fundamental principle behind invention and innovation. The reason openness is winning is because it empowers people more. All value comes from empowered individuals.

    The fact of the matter is, if we can't use it, we don't care if you created it or not. It's irrelevant, and therefore meaningless.

    In this new world order, you can achieve celebrity. Not "I've seen them on TV over and over, they must be a famous celebrity.", but "That person is a treasure of humanity, and we celebrate their existence and would like to support their future endeavors."

    This is how you achieve power in this realm.

    The old ways, of achieving power through leverage, those ways are on their way out. There will be a lot of blood and tears spilled over the coming years putting a stop to such evil conspirators as they attempt to wield their financial might to maintain the status quo, but at the end of the day, people who destroy the value of their own finest creations are doomed to failure.

  • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip...paradis@@@palegray...net> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:45PM (#21858956) Homepage Journal
    Here's another thought for you. How many universities run supercomputing clusters based on open source operating systems, with open source clustering tools, open source compilers, open source visualization suites, and open source analytics tools? Lots of good research comes out of these setups, at a fraction of the cost it would take to implement them using closed platforms.

    Also reference projects like Folding@Home [stanford.edu]. Although their core engine isn't open source software, virtually everything that supports it is. Additionally, their plugin engine is written specifically to encourage open source addons. No innovation there, of course...

  • by bigpicture (939772) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:58PM (#21859068)
    Maybe there are some things that cannot easily be changed, so they are compelled to follow what went before. The model T Ford had 4 wheels, an engine, a fuel tank, a steering wheel, some seats and some pedals. A hundred years later we have the Ferrari or the Lamborghini, very sophisticated bleeding edge automobiles, and "dam" they still have 4 wheels, an engine, a fuel tank, a steering wheel, some seats and some pedals. How "uncreative" is this? (apologies to the bleeding edge automobiles that I didn't name.)

    Maybe it is because that if they were radically different, there would be a whole lot of other stuff (like a whole road and fuel support system) that would be obsolete. Or there would be no infrastructure at all within which they could operate. Example: Hydrogen cars, technically viable, but where is the supporting infrastructure? Now even before the automobile there were horse and buggys, but these still had wheels and needed road systems. So although automobiles were a "creative" advance, they were still a natural progression from what was before.
  • by Michael_gr (1066324) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:19PM (#21859240)
    Sorry, but I think you're being close-minded. If we take operating system for example, ther's one big glaringly obvious idea that has been much talked about but never fully implemented system-wide - the idea of a virtual file system that would replace the file/folder metaphor with something resembling the filing system of email clients, with virtual folders, tags, etc. Object in a computer - single emails, files, whatever - should act the same. Why can't I file my pictures of cousin Larry along with my emails from and to cousin Larry in the same place? The entire desktop metaphor should also be ditched in favor of something else and serious improvements are required in the area of error recovery - for example, why won't the OS auto-save each document I'm working on every 1-5 minutes so I can recover from mistakenly overwriting a file or saving it when I intended to discard changes? Why can't they put an undo button on the desktop and file manager? Microsoft tried to do some of it with WinFS and failed. OSX now has "time machine" to recover files but they could go further. There's this innovative Linux-based project, Symphony OS, but it suffers from lack of volunteers. Anyway the OS has a lot of places where it could improve and I bet other apps could too.
  • by monopole (44023) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @05:30PM (#21859312)
    Basically Jaron Lanier was a "cool" "hip" guy from the mid to late '80's who hyped Virtual Reality as the next big thing. He claimed to have coined the term (which he didn't) and hyped VR as the second coming, with holodeck level VR anytime now (back when 486's were hot stuff). His company VPL cratered and Thompson Capital grabbed everything. In a last ditch effort to keep VPL he announced that we had to keep VR "out of the hands of the military" despite the fact that the DoD and NASA had developed the basic tech ages ago.

    So he's a has-been shill from the '80's who was notable for putting his face on a new trend and crashing badly. And he wears dreadlocks. Vanilla Ice. (apologies to Vanilla Ice who has aged better and is still memorable enough to merit disses from Emimem.)

    As for the remarkable innovation of the iPhone, basically it's a less capable spiffy implementation of the Palm TX with massive hype.

    As for innovation in open source, when FOSS innovates, it is either dismissed as "requiring retraining" or the subject of innumerable lawsuits. The fact that you can mix and match just about any interface or software in Linux is usually put forward as a failing point.
  • by AJWM (19027) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @07:22PM (#21860158) Homepage
    Look at malware for one. Look at how many jokes revolve around software crashes of some sort, for another.

    These are certainly problems that Windows has, but I don't see the relevance to modern unix-like operating systems. A modern alloy wheel with radial tires isn't the same as an old wooden chariot wheel, but they're both round; that's the essential "wheelness". Microsoft still hasn't figured out that an array of spokes works better if connected to a rim, they're too busy trying to figure out what color spokes work best.

    As for the work you describe, it bears about as much relation to real-world operating systems as anti-gravity research does to wheels. Yeah, sounds wonderful, it'd be nice if it worked, but there are some fundamental reasons why it won't.
  • For the uninitiated (Score:3, Interesting)

    by obeythefist (719316) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @08:09PM (#21860492) Journal
    Me not being a kernel developer, how is the guy wrong?

    I'm thinking it's because while the basic concept of the Linux kernel is, well, the same kind of thing Linus put together all those years ago, based roughly on UNIX and all that, but he's wrong because the kernel code would have been completely replaced by now?

    How different is the latest kernel from those that have gone before?

    How does it compare to Windows, which has completely changed kernels (DOS to NT) through it's lifespan, adding 386 instruction support etc etc? Surely Linux has adapted to newer x86 hardware capabilities as they've become available?
  • by BrainInAJar (584756) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @11:51PM (#21861988)
    Java. MySQL. Qt.

    Particularly with the last two examples, sometimes a dual GPL/Proprietary license helps things. The GPL is viral, so if you're selling a library, you can sell it to people that want to sell things
  • by doom (14564) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Monday December 31, 2007 @12:34AM (#21862320) Homepage Journal
    Everyone really should read this article through to the end... he veers off into a discussion of a recent Freeman Dyson article that made comparisions between cellular evolution and the open/closed software issue and there are a few things about this that are interesting to me.

    One point: it's really weird that Freeman Dyson articles never seem to be featured on slashdot. I can only infer that the slash kiddies don't have any idea who he is.

    Another: it's by no means clear that this analogy between species differentiation and software does what Jaron Lanier wants it to do. For one thing, evolved, biological systems are famously, incredibly crufty: there's all sorts of crud in there that no sane designer would want to live with, and yet it does it's job well enough that there's apparently no great evolutionary pressure to remove the crud (first example that comes to mind: the human eye has light absorbers mounted behind the wiring, so the wiring interferes with some incoming light, hence the "blind spot"). I would argue that this is very much like the state of open source software, where we make do with some clunky decisions made with Unix and X Windows, because "starting from scratch" just isn't worth the trouble to fix the problems.

    The notion that "innovation" requires slower release cycles, or perhaps, a looser connection to external feedback is interesting, but here again it's not so clear that the closed-source world has such an advantage... yes, proprietary software typically has some deep pockets behind it, so that it can at least try to move quickly in a desired direction, but the (usually) volunteer open source projects also have some advantages in that they can move without having to demonstrate a business model, and can continue for years without much external encouragement...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2007 @03:47AM (#21863378)
    It's not about the kernel; it's about the entire design. The core concepts in use by Linux today were invented in the 1970s as part of UNIX. A lot of these concepts are outdated and horribly inefficient, stifling both progress and productivity, but no one seems to have enough drive to push something better. This is despite the fact that there has been a lot of research done into alternative systems -- although in most cases even the raw research is coming from closed groups!

    By "design", I mean things like userspace and kernelspace, syscalls, the way the filesystem is a layer, the networking APIs in use, the entire user/group/other security system, etc etc. There are other ways of doing such things, and many of them would be better suited to today's problems. However, the open source movement in general doesn't seem to be capable of that kind of innovation. Most of the push is coming from closed source systems that can be developed in isolation, without getting brainwashed down by "the old wise guy", and turned into money to drive development. Later on, the open source community might implement it too, but they seem to be forever playing catch up.

    It's an odd paradox; intuitively one would think that the inherent free idea exchange fostered by such an open community should produce the opposite result. Instead it seems that peer pressure is an overwhelming counter-force.

Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward.

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