Originally Published: Saturday, 2 December 2000 Author: Grant Robertson
Published to: daily_feature/Linux.com Feature Story Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Open Source vs. Commercial Software Development

Grant Robertson spends most of his day slaving over a hot processor coding for a commercial software company. When he comes home at the end of a long day, he can't wait to start playing with his Linux machine. Grant is the Project Manager for Linux.com's LUG section, but he's taken a break to tell us why working with Linux is so important to him. Read on!

While taking a quick shower after an 18-hour day at the office last week, I thought about the real difference between open source and commercial software. In the land of commercial software development you have deadlines: hard, aggressive, sometimes impossible deadlines.

Deadlines can be good. I've seen amazing things happen under the pressure of an unrealistic deadline. I've seen software that couldn't make it half way through Q&A without causing testers to become physically ill. Suddenly and miraculously, the software would make an acceptable, if painful, trip through the cycle. Excessively long days by dedicated developers can make such miracles happen. Those developers usually expect a reward of some sort at the end. Often, they remain empty handed.

Under the philosophies of open source development, things like this rarely happen. There are no real Q&A cycles, although we have the largest quality assurance team ever recorded. We arguably turn out quality software in less time than ever thought possible. We achieve this with only dedication and a desire to see software that works. There is no pressure to go public, or attract investors. There is no reason to prematurely give something a 1.0 or even 2.0 moniker. There is no reason to include features that don't make sense. Corporate civilization frets over the thing that makes us great: we simply don't care.

We don't care if our software is still somewhere south of 1.0. Enlightenment, arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of open source software, is still in 0.16. While far away from a 1.0 release, it's more stable, feature rich and usable than many commercial products. Enlightenment's age and the fact it hadn't been through a 1.0 release and wasn't available in retail would be considered a dismal failure. The product development manager would be summarily shot by the CEO whose fortune would have rapidly depleted as investors jumped ship like rats from the Titanic.

Why do you think we frighten commercial development so terribly? Because what we do works. We don't meet deadlines, we don't court investors; we just make good software. Really good software. The kind of software your mother wouldn't understand and the 15-year-old kid next door would drool over. Software for the rest of us. While they're busy designing and building wizards and aids that make the Internet easy enough for your grandmother to love, we're making the future. We could really care less if the world comes along for the ride.

Why do you think there is such a push to make incredibly easy-to-use software on the Windows platform? It's simple: to expand the market they must reach people who've never had a computer before. Without an ever-expanding market, they cannot hope to achieve the growth figures that stock market analysts so casually throw out while chatting away on CNBC. What they've all missed is an ever-shrinking market segment. One day we will replace those people, and when we do, what OS will the world run?

We are the children of technology. We are the ones who vaguely remember a day before compact discs but cannot remember what we ever did without them. We are the ones who for reasons of necessity learned a platform is what you make of it. We are the children of Pac-Man and Wargames and TRON and video arcades. We lived fantasy while there was nothing else. We wished it so hard that, one day, it just came true.

And what do we make? Software for those who grew up with computers. Software for people who hate wizards, and plug and play, and lack of control. Software for people who can see the beauty of a properly working system. We make software for people who love choice. We make software that works, even when hardware manufacturers won't pony up the documentation, even when we have to reverse engineer things that should be publicly available, we make it happen.

These are the things that make open source great. This is why even after an 18-hour day, I still have the desire to settle down at my Linux box. This is why I work all week in commercial software and still look forward to a weekend of uninterrupted time to catch up with my own development projects. This is why I'm here, and why I'll continue to be here. This is what open source is all about.

Grant Robertson is the Project Manager of Linux.com's LUG section. He can be E-mailed at telehodai@linux.com.