I just wrote a column for Charles Arthur about how I had celebrated Firefox day by switching back to Opera and this thought didn’t quite make it in.
The organisational division between the users and producers of software should follow its patterns of use. Open source software is predicated on the idea that users ought to become producers too. Most of the time this is simply false, and when it is, commercial or at least closed source software will work better. The clear organisational distinction between producers and consumers corresponds to the reality of function. That is why Opera is better than Firefox. With the great open source success stories — LAMP, essentially — there has been a more permeable barrier between users and producers precisely because the user/customers are themselves producers of software to start with. Even then, the successful projects are run as despotisms.
The half-failures like OpenOffice have failed to understand which side of the barrier they are on, and to organise themselves accordingly. Actually I am inclined to think that OOo ought to be open source. There’s certainly no commercial justification for another disk-based office suite. But in that case the distinction between Sun as the inner oligarchy of producers, and everyone else as more or less favoured consumers simply won’t hold. The balance, difficult and unpleasant though it clearly is for Sun to understand, is not between professional engineers and happy, laughing amateurs with their intoxicating natural rhythms, but between the Sun-salaried workforce and their competitors from the real world, at IBM and the various Linux companies. The end-users are wholly irrelevant.