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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.
    • by rs79 (71822) <hostmaster@open-rsc.org> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @03:47PM (#21858480) Homepage
      Apache.

      • 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.

        • 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?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mrsteveman1 (1010381)
            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 Sique (173459)
              Huh? Which expensive purchased software is GPLed?
          • by Malevolyn (776946) *
            Yes, but Linux exists because people had a strong desire to run Unix, but not to pay for it. While it may be a copy, it's most certainly a great triumph of community function and I'd say it has now surpassed Unix.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by bberens (965711)

            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 breakth

            • 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.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Daengbo (523424)
                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
          • Not quite (Score:3, Insightful)

            by einhverfr (238914)
            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 (-
        • 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 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 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 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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShieldW0lf (601553)
        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 n
    • 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.

      Or perhaps you should refute his points with some gold-standard examples of Open Source innovation. Unfortunately, there really aren't any notable examples. Sure, there are *popular* examples, such as Apache. But popularity doesn't mean innovati

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hognoxious (631665)

        But there's nothing in Apache that makes you stand back and say, "Wow! That's absolutely brilliant thinking!"
        Whereas for a closed-source equivalent one only needs to look at clippy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rdean400 (322321)
        I think it's a fair assessment that open source spends a lot of time reinventing the wheel for the sake of having OSS coverage, but that's not to say the realm of OSS is devoid of innovation.

        To be honest, the only piece of innovation that's really given me a "Wow!" moment in Open Source is the Mylyn project from Eclipse.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by poopdeville (841677)
        Sure, there are *popular* examples, such as Apache. But popularity doesn't mean innovative. Apache was simply one of the first web servers, which caused it to get hammered on until it was useful. But there's nothing in Apache that makes you stand back and say, "Wow! That's absolutely brilliant thinking!"

        If you're cynical enough, you could say the same thing about any software. On the other hand, Apache was innovative. And the Apache Foundation continues to found and fund new projects, including SpamAssass
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          In any case, Haskell is open source. So is Erlang.
          Perl too? Though if the interpreter's anything like what it interprets, maybe it doesn't make much difference [/me ducks for cover].
      • by peragrin (659227)
        On that same page there is really nothing inventive in Windows, because talented MSFt engineers just keep bashing more and more bits of it together until it will become useful. Popularity doesn't mean innovative.

        yes MSFT has Very talented Engineers. Anyone who can keep windows running has to be a genius.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dbc001 (541033)
      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-sour
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by semiotec (948062)
        Bollocks!

        Going from "is my work really outdated?" to "How can I keep my work from becoming outdated?" and implicitly assumes that the work _is_ outdated. Wasting time considering how to deal with inane questions from clueless intellectual artiste is just stupid.

        Would you ask your plumber how to improve network design just because some guy thinks the Internet is a series of tubes?

        Sure, it's important to have constructive criticisms and developers certainly should be open to such, but it's just as important t
    • Perhaps he should define his position more, and say something like "Open Source interfaces aren't creative" or "Gnome isn't creative,"

      Or perhaps he should start by defining what's "creative". Is it making something better, or is it making it just different from what already exists? Let's say, like square wheels? That can be later "improved" to "triangular wheels (C)(TM), ONE LESS BUMP PER TURN"?!...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bigpicture (939772)
      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
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721)
      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
  • 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.
    • Having used all of the above, what's especially innovative about any of them?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ShinmaWa (449201)

        Having used all of the above, what's especially innovative about any of them?

        Okay, I'll bite back. I can't speak to Hibernate or Spring, but I will speak to Eclipse.

        Eclipse is a fully mature, OSGi-compliant tools platform that just happens to be, in its default form, a self-hosted Java IDE. However, Eclipse itself can be transmogrified [eclipse.org] into anything you want it to be, including application servers, games, smart clients, and software that helps run both the Dutch railway and NASA's Mars rovers. That seems pretty innovative to me.

  • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@NoSpAm.palegray.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 Anonymous Coward
      Long Live Closed-Source Software!
      There's a reason the iPhone doesn't come with Linux.
      by Jaron Lanier

      If you've just been cornered by Martha Stewart at an interdisciplinary science conference and chastised for being a wimp, you could only be at one event: Sci Foo, an experimental, invitation-only, wikilike annual conference that takes place at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. There is almost no preplanned agenda. Instead, there's a moment early on when the crowd of scientists rushes up to bla
    • by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101&gmail,com> on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:19PM (#21858726) Homepage Journal

      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!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by palegray.net (1195047)
        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 ab
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by palegray.net (1195047)
        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
  • This is a new one. "You know what's wrong with Linux? It's old." Linux bashers must be getting desperate.
    • by Forbman (794277)
      Yep. I work in a crowd of people who say the same thing. "*nix is so old tech"...

      It's rather depressing, actually. Just like MySQL fanboys being oh-so-happy when "features" get added to it that are in just about every other RDBMS, including MS Access. Or SQL Server fanboys being happy when stuff gets added to it that has been in just about every other big iron RDBMS since...forever.

      *sigh*
      • I have seen a lot of criticism of the old. If anything, this business has too much novelty. There needs to be a focus on making existing systems work better than they do. UNIX is over 30 years old. The reason it's still in use, is that it's built on solid design and still works well. If something newer worked better, UNIX wouldn't still have the foothold that it does. If anything, the number of people using variants of UNIX is growing.
        • by mikeb (6025)
          A previous poster likened Unix to the wheel and I think it's a useful, though flawed comparison. The wheel is completely obvious and almost impossible to improve upon, being one of the simplest geometric shapes. For me the obviousness makes it the wrong comparison.

          If obliged to produce a parallel, the nearest I've found is the internal combustion piston engine. It's complicated enough to be non-obvious, yet in a hundred years very little has been found to be better. Yes of course you get superchargers, fuel
    • by haeger (85819)
      As seen on a tagline on this very site.

      "There are two types of fools, one that says 'This is old and therefor good' and the other that says 'This is new and therefor better'."

      .haeger

  • 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?

    • 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.
      • 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?

        You're inventing a lot of history here. Torvalds didn't set out to challenge anything. He just wrote software. Torvalds in fact has mainly reimplemented what other people did in the first place. Which is exactly what the article was about.

        The fact that he threw a tantrum when someone said his design was out-dated doesn't indicate that he was trying

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

      And exactly what is innovative about BSD? Hint: The innovative part of the iPhone is not the kernel.

      No one said OSS is not useful -- the claim is that OSS does not innovate anything. And that's a perfectly valid criticism.

    • by JeffTL (667728)
      For that matter, the iPhone itself runs BSD!
  • NIH syndrome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jherico (39763) <bdavis@sai[ ]ndreas.org ['nta' in gap]> 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.
    • 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

    • by samkass (174571)
      I actually mostly agree with the author of the article. The FSF is virtually defined by re-implementing stuff that closed-source companies innovated, and most of the most popular open source projects are of the type that starts with "I wish there was an open-source version of [closed-source] product X". I do think there is immense value in making sure there's a "lowest common denominator" open-source version of everything so that the state-of-the-art can never again fall below that point regardless of who
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jcaldwel (935913)

      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.

      From the sounds of it, Jaron Lanier really wants to start from scratch. A quote from an interview with Sun: [sun.com]

      Interviewer: Maybe we need to go back and start all over again?

      Jaron: That's what I've been thinking lately. Tracing the history of programming, we can see places where it went wrong, based on the limited experiences and metaphors tha

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Angst Badger (8636)
      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 wou
  • 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 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.

      • by redelm (54142)
        He can come back from wherever he likes, and be as satisfied or dissatisfied as strikes his fancy. However, when he wishes to convince other people, he needs some rational arguments they can accept. Not merely his feelings or impressions.

        When he criticises OSS for a lack of creativity, by implication he is praising closed-source. Frankly, I see even less creativity there. It would be tempting to blame the omnivorous monopolist (Microsoft), but I'm not sure this is accurate either.

        I think there is a more

  • 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.

    • Attaching open source to these statements clouds the issue.

      No, attaching open sources makes a lot of sense because of the nature of the beast. It's all done in public, debated, developed by consensus. You get an effect almost identical to american idol. Your "stars" are the most generic, baseline product that sit smack in the center of the comfort zone of the majority of people involved. Many of whom are not particularly well educated or tremendously intelligent, they're average. So you end up with average

  • It would be easy to point out projects that are not only attractive, but used by a large number of people. The problem with this guys reasoning, the stuff "from the 70s" that the OSS people follow is the stuff you want them to follow. You know, the tested technologies that lead to very high stability. Microsoft is currently the only living vender that I know of that tries to reinvent the wheel as if somehow magically of the mess of code they have will rise something so stellar as to bury all competition.
  • 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.
    • The grass may be greener on the other side, but the price to be paid for moving there is profoundly prohibitive.

      As good a way of restating Guilder's Law as any. He puts the price at about a factor of ten, historically speaking, before it's worth making that investment.
  • 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)).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wytcld (179112)
      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 pre
    • 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 basi
  • Stupid phrasing (Score:3, Informative)

    by JamesRose (1062530) on Sunday December 30, 2007 @04:04PM (#21858618)
    Obviously thats just not true of all open source software. However, with some OSS, like Open office, I just can't be bothered, because they're trying to replace closed source software, not making it in their own right, just copying it, no creativity just coding for the sake of it being open source and giving them a warm fuzzy feeling inside. For me, using Open office at the moment is like stepping back to ms office 10 years ago, why would I do that- ms office came with my PC so it hasnt cost me anything (it did, but not directly) and more importantly in businesses the users aren't charged anything- it's just an office expense. The guy does have a point though: it's no longer enough just to be open source, to be accepted you MUST be open source and useful. I think it's a step that was missed when the OSS developers started looking for larger distribution to people who weren't intereseted in computer ethics.
  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DevStar (943486)
      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.
  • ...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 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 ?
  • They are still using *round wheels*. They are bound to the philosophy of millenia ago. A superbly polished copy of the original wheels, shinier, but still defined by it.

    I think it's really not intelligent to argue that using old concepts is bad *especially* when citing Apple as a shining example of what's *good*, considering they are using a BSD at the core, with an evolved Step based API/interface. The innovations of the GUI have nothing to do with what Linux copies of long ago. What Linux copies from
  • FTA: I seem to hold a minority opinion. I've taken a lot of heat for it!

    I think that's because the argument doesn't make any sense. The author is saying that open source projects suffer from some sort of ADD, and therefore they don't (implication: can't) focus on one idea long enough to make it good. The thing is, open source is an enabler; it allows for the free exchange of ideas. However, it is not a source of inspiration in and of itself. It's just a methodology. A jigsaw isn't going to help a person wit
  • One: software doesn't exist in a vacuum. Software development must respond to market realities. The reason people work on developing Linux and BSD is because they are usable, today, with a world of current open- and closed-source software. I'd rather have something good, that works, now, than wait forever for some magical thing and have nothing in the meantime. In other words, I'd rather have a nice, refined, working car now, than walk for 20 years while I wait for the helicar to be usable.

    Open-source doesn
  • I'm sorry, Pulseaudio [pulseaudio.org] fucking rocks. I love having every application being able to have a different volume setting. And that's just what tickled me most recently. This asshat believes that innovation comes from economic stimulation because he defines innovation as that thing that Microsoft is doing.

    If you instead note that Microsoft has seen greater economic benefit by holding back the state of the art, it becomes easier to see this idea as a load of horseshit, or is the author still waiting for Cairo and L
  • What has Jaron Lanier produced? Is this fellow famous for being famous or has he actually done something closed source against which we can compare our efforts?
    • According to his Wikipedia article, no, he hasn't done anything. Taught a few courses here and there. Recorded an album. So, basically, he's an intellectual, come to tell us ignorant sluts who are actually DOING THINGS how to do them correctly. Feh. Intellectuals are the death of every civilization.
  • Of course he's wrong, but at the same time he's justified in his conclusion if that conclusion is based upon the most popular and useful projects out there. The problem is that the most useful projects out there are the ones that do what's always been done because those projects make it easier for people to transfer to "newer" technology (faster processors, more memory, etc.)

    There are innovative and creative OSS projects, but one does need to do more work to find them because they are not going to be popul
  • To think I was once a subscriber. Recent years they've been big on the creationism "controversy", had "Why Kids Love Big Brother" as a cover story, and interviewed Newt Gingrich and the "end of science" guy at length. Their editorial policy couldn't be more clearly directed toward driving the magazine into the dirt.

    So getting dissed by Discover is _good_ advertising taking the source into consideration.

  • 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.

  • 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 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...

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