Microsoft: Open Source Not That Open

This article is about a presentation that was made at the OSBC. LQ was a show sponsor and I had hoped to attend, but that didn't work out. Jason Matusow, director of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, claimed that Open Source is really not all that open. He bases this on the following:
Red Hat issues patch updates for its premium offering, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and keeps customers' IT infrastructure secure.
“But if a customer modifies the source code, [Red Hat] can't help you [without charging you extra]. They have to lock things down to provide value,” Matusow said. “As open source becomes commercialized, it becomes less open.”

Sound reasonable right? No, not at all. He's missing multiple points and is trying to create FUD (or is misinformed). First, you can make all the changes you want and still get support from Red Hat – as long as you can prove you didn't cause the breakage. This just makes sense. Change some Firefox code and have a kernel problem? The kernel would be 100% supported by Red Hat. Change some kernel code and have a kernel problem? Obviously you'll need to recreate the problem with a stock kernel or diagnose the problem yourself. That's not less open, it's common sense. In fact, it's the way many many industries work (Change the tires on your car and have an engine problem, Ford will help you. Change the engines internals and have an engine problem, you're on your own). Beyond this though, he misses one of the main benefits of Open Source from a client perspective. You avoid vendor lockin! Don't like the kernel support you are getting from Red Hat? What if they discontinue support for a product you use? Go to Novell, IBM , Progeny or one of the other myriad support services that will be happy to help you. You can even hire a whizzbang kernel guy and do it in house. The choice is yours. Have that same problem in a closed shop and your options are 0. Once Microsoft abandons a product it is 100% unsupported…and worse it's 100% unsupportable! No code upgrades, no bug fixes, no security patches – ever.
One final thing that I found amusing was the following comment: We are building intellectual property into software and trying to sell it. We throw code over the wall for the community to build on it. Throw code over the wall?? Seems like an odd choice of words to me, almost condescending. And he said this in a room full of Open Source people, which means that statement made it past the PR people! Do you really want a vendor that not only talks that way, but thinks that way? The choice is yours.
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–jeremy

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One Response to Microsoft: Open Source Not That Open

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like the arguements you make for Open Source Jeremy. They are to the point and often the simplist arguement you can make but it is easy to loose track of the reasons why Open Source is so good when you have FUD such as “As open source becomes commercialized, it becomes less open” being made. It is such a badly thought idea, one that is looking from one side of the fence and completely wrong! Shows a fundatmental lack of understanding of what Open Source is.

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