Re: On illegal software in an academic assignment ...

Subject: Re: On illegal software in an academic assignment ...
From: Richard Wentk (
Date: Sun Nov 13 2005 - 12:21:56 EST

At 16:29 13/11/2005, you wrote:

>It's too simple to say that either open source is always better or
>commercial is always better. I know (having used both) that Microsoft
>Office is superior to OpenOffice. I know that Python, PHP, MySQL, and
>Apache are excellent because I have used them (and I have also used the
>Microsoft .NET platform and Internet Information Server). I suppose it is
>true that Max/MSP is better than PD, though I've only used PD.

Well, the problem with OpenSource is that most of it is by geeks, for
geeks. Which is why it's fine for things like web servers and programming
languages, but less appealing to people who think that compiling source
code isn't necessarily a fun or productive way to spend an afternoon.

>However if one's goal is simply to write software, open source is a better
>way to go because one can leverage all other open source software without
>cost. This is a positive feedback situation. I think in the long run open
>source will displace much proprietary software, especially in research,
>artistic, and nonprofit situations.

No, it won't. Not ever. Because geeks don't think how other people think,
and - worse - have no interest in how other people think. Geeks think using
a command line is fun and 'powerful'. Everyone else thinks using a command
line is ridiculous.

The moral high ground claim of Open Source doesn't work because it's not a
real alternative. Feature sets are poor, reliability is low, and ideas are
hardly ever truly original or innovative. Most are either developments of
existing ideas or knock-offs of mainstream products. I suspect this may not
be a coincidence.

Overall, the claims don't live up to the hype. There's a point at which
'Hey, we're not Microsoft, so that makes us cool, right?' stops being a
viable excuse for producing sort-of-working crap.

>If we as a society wish to reward innovators and foster innovation (the
>stated legal justification for both patent and copyright law), then we
>need to deal with a situation that has radically changed thanks to the
>perfection of digital copies. We are not doing this, but we need to.

Well, yes and no. I think perhaps it's the universities that are missing
the point here.

There's clearly a need for cheap student software. There's also a need to
give student programmers experience designing products that will be used by
real people. Is it too trite to suggest that those two problems could be
solved by getting one group of students talking to the other group, with
some academic management to keep projects on track?

This could be a huge win for universities because they could develop
licensable IP with a captive market funded by heavily discounted versions
for students and full price versions for outsiders. Student scavenging
would become less necessary than it is today, and student programmers would
get some much needed experience of dealing with user feedback and design
input, rather than designing in a vacuum as still seems to happen rather
too often.

This is only a minor twist on existing development models that are used in
physics, chemistry and other kinds of engineering.


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