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Reply to Joe McCann’s Forbes.com Article

Mark EdworthyMay 10, 2018, 9:06:49 PM

After reading the original article (entitled: Why Pay For Something When It’s Free, published at forbes.com – full URL provided below), the contents left me with a slightly bitter taste and whilst there are some valid points provided, the article produces some unfair and incorrect conclusions.

Joe McCann (the author of the original article) seems to be conflating OSS (Open Source Software) with “free” (ie. gratis) products that have been produced with limited support from their original development teams. Whilst this is correct as far as some of the lesser known projects, there are some large organisations and companies that are providing support for their own open source projects (as demonstrated within my previous article: What is Free and Open Source Software – URL provided below).

Companies including Red Hat Inc, Suse LLC, Canonical Ltd and Oracle Corporation produces, supports and distributes their own software, operating systems and framework platforms. These companies also further contributes to the wider open source community and allows for the further modification, fork and redistribution of their various projects.

Many of these companies also provide commercial support contracts for their own products and allows their users to choose from either paid or free products. Over the last couple of years, I have been supporting and contributing to Nethserver (a project that focuses on providing open source server software solutions aimed at small and medium sized organisations, which is also intended for use by users that have limited experience of using Linux based server frameworks). Nethesis SRL (the providers and main developers of Nethserver) produce both a commercial and free solution of their products, both of which provide varying levels of support from not only Nethesis but also from their growing user base.

Whilst it is true that some OSS projects do provide and have provided limited support (or in some cases, no support at all) not only from the original developers but also from the wider community, this can also be true of various proprietary, closed source projects. Over the past several decades that I have been following software developers and their projects, I have seen many companies (both large and small) which have produced products that have provided very limited support, no support at all or (worst of all) have stopped providing support with out suitable warnings to their own users and customers.

I noticed that the original article uses terms such as “paid software” as a sort of shorthand for closed source, proprietary based products and also suggest that with OSS, “there are no central bodies or vendors to ask for support when there is a major incident”. As demonstrated above, this is not only untrue in many cases but also further shows a biased and disingenuous view point which has been provided by the author of the original article.

The example that was provided within the original article suggested that the outages surrounding the Coinbase cryptocurrency was due to the fact that framework was based upon open source principles and further suggested the problems was with the lack of technical support (whilst at the time, amusingly stating that Coinbase “support teams were working hard to remedy the problem”). When in reality (according to various articles and some Reddit posts), the real fault was due to bad infrastructure decisions, a lack of initial planning and foresight.

In recent months (with the publication surrounding the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities), companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft have released closed source “security patches” which have been suggested to have attributed to the slow down of various devices. Apple have claimed that they had seen ‘little to no performance hit’, whilst users of Apple devices have suggested that has been slow down of these devices, which has been attributed due to the patches (note: due to the prevalence of various class action suites being submitted to courts by Apple users, this issue is still being argued and I suspect that these arguments will continue for the next several years).

Also, over the last couple of decades there have been suspicions that there have been various security based backdoors, deliberate security exploits and insidious hidden “features” have been included within various closed source, proprietary software and frameworks (ref: Computerworld UK article which examines security issues surrounding WhatsApp and various examples of Microsoft owned Malware – URL provided below).

Unlike closed source, proprietary software, the various license agreements that are included with OSS allows for users to dissect and analyse the source code of the software, which allows for a transparent and open environment. This examination of the source code furthers allows users and companies to provide further support, suggestions and improvements for various open source projects.

I also find it amusing that the original article has been written by Joe McCann, the CEO of Nodesource Inc. A company whose main focus is to supports and produce products that primary incorporates the open source Node.js runtime library as part of their frameworks. A company which, according to their own website, is “the premier vendor for companies rapidly adopting Node.js, an application runtime that is the fastest growing open source project on Earth” (URL provided below).

Using the logic which is provided within the original article, Joe McCann is sort of implying that due to the usage of an open source runtime library, Nodesource does not provide any further support for their own products (which is ludicrously untrue and I suspect that this idea would offend some of their own development staff. As well as further disenfranchise support from their own customers).

In conclusion, as long as the community which surrounds a project is large enough and is dynamic, open source projects and developments not only allows the original developers to provide solutions but also empowers users, organisations and other groups to provide their own bug fixes, improvements and further support packages for these various projects. Some of these extra improvements and fixes may be provided quicker rather than being left to the original development companies.

Open source can provide a transparent and open environment in which anybody can provide suggestions, fixes and include their own contributions to.

References & Other Resources:
* Why Pay For Something When It's Free? (Original Forbes.com Article)
* Nethserver Website
* Nethserver Forum
* Coinbase Reddit Thread
* Computerworld UK Article
* Microsoft Malware
* Nodesource About Page and Corrosponding Statement
* What is Free and Open Source Software
* Technology and Open Source Blog