Is Open-Source going out of fashion?

Open-Source seems to be going out of fashion, and the open movement ls losing the trendy image it once had.

The Senior Technology Editor at the leading business technology news service, ZDNet, observes current opinion among developers and within enterprise IT operations, in his article this week, "Why I'm smarter than an Open surrender monkey". Another well-connected technology commentator, Adrian Kingsley, echoes same trend in his recent article, "Why I don't really care about open".

Perhaps Open-Source is losing support because it often doesn't work. There are many high-profile examples, like the recent OpenOffice fiasco. Open was trendy years ago, but like communism it failed to win the ideological war. Perhaps communism is a good analogy for Open-Source in other ways, too. The trendy young start-up and mash-up merchants who loved Open (not least because it's free and they were just starting out) are are not so young any more. Facebook famously used MySQL, which has been popular among Open devs, and running on that technology has been described as "a fate worse than death".

I know from my own experiences both as a developer and as a user of open-source projects that it can work extremely well for utils and smaller simpler projects. (Closed-source works extremely well for utils and smaller projects, too.) I use LInq2Twitter on the homepage of this very website -- a great example of a good small open-source project. Perhaps open-source is sometimes less desirable for larger projects and business-critical systems. There are various issues associated with open-source, including human resources, commercial considerations, and security. (For example, do you really want to share intimate details of your systems with hackers? Anecdotal evidence points to the fatal vulnerability exploited in the recent series of hacks against Sony's PlayStation systems, in which millions of customers had their bank details taken and PSN was shut-down for an extended period, being open-source software running on public-facing servers -- ranging from security vulnerabilities in web servers running Apache on Linux to perhaps the Asterisk telephone system.)

Ironically, one corporation that would like to be seen as the great champion of open has in fact undermined the cause. Google has tainted open-source by routinely wielding it as a weapon with which to bash its competitors, with some success. Of course, Google really only advocates open-source as and when it suits their own corporate agenda -- usually when attacking Microsoft. Google isn't going to hand-out a download link for the source-code of their search algorithm any time soon, or indeed their other key tech assets. And their mobile OS, Android, is plagued with potentially ruinous legal issues. Thus, Google, the corporation posing as the champion of open may ultimately provide the most famous example of the dangers of open-source.

The transient popularity of Open has had some beneficial side-affects. In particular, Microsoft has enjoyed a fantastic renaissance over the past half decade, transforming into a completely new type of company with much more exciting products and services -- and some of the changes have happened as direct responses to criticisms raised first and most vocally by Google as well as feedback from customers.

13 July 2011

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Tim Acheson (19 Jul 11, 09:34)

Related: How LulzSec hacked the Sun's website (THe Guardian)

The latest high-profile hack attack exploited, you guessed it, a popular open-source platform (Solaris, a Unix OS owned by Oracle/Sun). Most of News International's websites are written in Java on Apache.


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