Open source? Really?

continuing on from this post

The question of providing source to customers is touchy on a number of levels. If the concept is by bearing all we are forced to be honest, one would have to question how that would apply to the rest of commerce.  For example, if you were present during all of the steps involved in delivering that tasty prime-rib to your plate, would you be able to stomach it?

I think the issue here is whether there is an assumption that the only reason we do not provide source code to clients is out of a sense of dishonesty or deviancy. Leaving aside the fact that as consultants we regularly expose source code, one has to consider the capability of those not intimately involved in the development of the source code and the product in general to truly, and fairly, judge its relative merit. As a previous developer, I find it the height of arrogance to judge another’s source code without having been involved in its development, and privy to the tradeoffs that are associated.

Another critical point, in my mind, is whether there is value in the exposure of the source code. Take a product like Windows with millions of lines of code. It is unlikely that someone would choose to review the codebase prior to a purchase decision. The effort involved is unrealistic, and the depth of knowledge required to effectively evaluate the code would suggest a more appropriate course of action would be to write a new operating system! However the value in reviewing the code for competitive advantage is immense. Those requesting access then would have to be questioned as to the motive of their request; altruistic vs. competitive.

A question arises in all this as to whether the production of code is a social benefit or business. The answer, in my opinion, is it can be both. If you are involved in a project at home to develop a better word processor to gift to friends and family, development obviously carries an altruistic badge. But if you are being paid to work for a public company, then business is a reality to be accepted.

Now I certainly agree that the Patent Office is hardly a bastion of human endeavour or provides transparent protection of true innovation. And it is certainly the case that most companies will over inflate at times the value of their particular offering to ensure they win contracts. It is a ethical issue that often appears. If we all are aware all companies involved in a bid are involved in inflating their relative merits and we truly believe that our solution provides the best value to the client, what is the best course of action? Play the same game or refuse to play and loose the contract? At its heart this is a business not technical issue. Just as most process problems are not solvable through technology, I firmly believe that people or business issues are primarily issues to be resolved outside of technology.

I think my question back to you is this;

Does open source truly mean that users have a more informed and greater choice? Or is it simply another way of creating an illusion of choice given that users are unlikely to have neither the time nor skill set to truly evaluate the relative merits?

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