A simple thought on the management of software

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.

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6 Responses to A simple thought on the management of software

  1. firefoxisbetter says:

    Firefox is better. Sorry

    I use 50+ add-ons – and FF isn’t slow. I won’t bother to sing their praises.


    Generated: Wed Jul 02 2008 13:48:42 GMT-0600 (Mountain Daylight Time)
    User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-US; rv: Gecko/20080623 Firefox/
    Build ID: 2008062306

    Enabled Extensions: [53]

    [list edited by acb]
    * Adblock Plus
    * Adblock Plus: Element Hiding Helper 1.0.5
    * TableTools 0.24
    * Talkback
    * Youtube Alternate Player 1.4


    That list was generated by a – (np) surprise – add-on: MR Tech Toolkit (formerly Local Install) 6.0.1

  2. Tony Scott says:

    “Actually I am inclined to think that OOo ought to be open source” – do you not mean closed source?

    Don’t agree BTW if that is what you mean!

  3. acb says:

    firefox booster: so what? How many of these 53 add-ons offer anything useful to a normal user of Opera? Give reasons. Do not use an add-on to generate your reply.

    Tony Scott: No — I meant open source. I don’t think there’d be any point in trying to charge for it, or to diminish the number of developers. In fact I would suspect both would be impossible.

  4. Mike Landers says:

    Came here following the link on the Guardian article. Spot on assessment. Firefox, in my experience at least, tends to follow Opera’s lead on UI stuff and not implement it quite as well.

    Every time someone recommends Firefox it is swiftly followed with “and then you install this extension and that extension…” which misses the point of downloading a browser entirely.

    (However, Opera 9.5 does have a bug with uploading to Flickr. And the Mac version has a problem with timestamps on Blogger.)

  5. James says:

    “Open source software is predicated on the idea that users ought to become producers too.”
    Open source software is predicated on the idea that anybody can contribute code if they want to, and that, even more importantly, any body can examine the code to ensure it doesn’t contain malware.

    But it’s not a question of which is the better of Opera or Firefox: each is better in some ways, for some people. Indeed, I would not be commenting if I didn’t agree in preferring Opera to Firefox, though for quite different reasons: Speed dial, the ease of blocking content (though Opera is less flexible) and Wand, especially handling of uids and passwords, keyboard shortcuts (for the mouse-averse).

  6. acb says:

    James: thanks for commenting. Dopn’t take my remarks amiss, but yours is a curious use of “anybody”, since in practice the number of people qualified to examine code for malware is even smaller than the small fraction capable of improving most open source projects. And the fraction of those capable of doing this who actually bother is even smaller.

    The recent “Debian key signing kerfuffle”:http://groups.google.com/group/mozilla.dev.security/browse_thread/thread/b2cda44a0e6c4d5c shows that really important security holes can go un-noticed for years even in security-conscious open source projects with large numbers of contributors and — in the case of some Debian derivatives — real ambitions for corporate adaptation.

    If you react to this point by saying that, well, people _ought_ to check these things out — well that’s rather what I was saying when I said that open source software was predicated on the users’ obligation (duty, if you prefer a weaker term) to become producers too. That is clearly regarded as morally superior within the open source world. I think this social “ought” is at least as important as the technological fact of source code distribution.

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