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back to article UK is a closed source 'stronghold'

The UK lags behind the rest of the world in deployments of open source software. Steve George, vice-president of business development at Canonical, believes this is a mistake that compromises not only our economy but also our global competitiveness. In China rural communities are receiving millions of PCs running Linux. In India …

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Non-story

Someone with a vested interest in promoting FOSS says we should have more. Big deal.

A lot of the places he mentions (I don't know about the french police) also have a larger proportion of donkeys used for transport than we have in the UK. Should we therefore be concerned about that, and push for more people to ride to work on one?

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RE: Vested interest promoting FOSS - you're so right!

Pete2,

You're so right, I'm a vested interest, the worst short a nailed on, believer! I know, I believe in it so much that it's the area of work and something I inject massive amounts of my energy!

Seriously, it did cross my mind as I talked about my views that it would come across that way. But that's the risk you take - you might enjoy a bit of a blog post I wrote covering the idea a bit more:

http://slgeorge.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/uk-innovation-and-open-source/

Steve

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Why do I need a title to reply to a post?

Shouldn't you be writing this in The Mail?

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Anonymous Coward

FUD

In my company, we responded to a software RFP last year from a major UK building society where, in addition to their requirement that, "The solution must run on the Microsoft operating system," they also said, "Your product must not utilise or require any Open Source components to be installed."

It sounded to us like the MS sales team had done a job to stir up some FUD about the use of open source.

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Or perhaps...

...the building society didn't want the source code for it's financial systems to be public knowledge, even in part? Either as a security measure (and feel free to parrot the old "security by obscurity" line, but if that is one of say eight measures taken it is more effective than simply taking the other seven) or because the formulae and methodology they use are proprietary in and of themselves.

Or maybe they are a completely MS shop, and don't want to have to deal with anything else. Whether you are MS or Linux, you can't deny that having all the boxes running the same thing makes your job easier from an administrator's point of view. I have worked in places that were all MS, and a mix of MS, Linux, ESX and crusty mainframe. The All MS ran a lot smoother, not because it was MS, but because there were no interoperability problems and the daily overheads for patching and troubleshooting were lower.

As to the story, it isn't the OS you run that determines your innovation. First you need ideas, then you need funding. We have ideas, but trying to get funding in this economy is a nightmare.

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Anonymous Coward

Mabye but...

Our software is mostly closed source and runs quite happily on Windows, but links to a library licenced under the LGPL, without which it wouldn't run at all. So technically we could have been eliminated from the running (although in the end we won the deal). I suspect that many other specialist software vendors will use some open source components or libraries to a small degree.

And there is nothing that says that the building societies systems would become public knowledge, as they are under no obligation to tell the world what software they use.

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@Peter Jones 2

How would having open source somewhere on a (probably unrelated) system cause even the slightest bit of their financial systems code to become public?

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RE: Or perhaps

Peter,

In fact, in your building society example the code would be their own since it's the heart of their business. That still gives local technologists the ability to build and develop solutions, and then to form innovative companies on that basis. Since the first part of my argument is that the UK should be talking about the technology innovation it does have, and I wouldn't deny that there's lots of it in financial services!

I'd argue with you much more about your examples of running infrastructure on proprietary systems. To be absolutely clear, I wasn't only talking about the operating system layer, though it's true that I work for an operating system vendor. I believe that Open Source throughout the stack is a way to get much greater innovation and enable local technology companies to flourish.

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Megaphone

It's perfectly simple

We stifle curiosity by design in the UK because curious people are harder to sell (lie) to.

Case in point, it only takes a few criminally lame TV ads and suddenly everyone loves Windows 7. Are any of these people really getting more work done faster? No of course not. But they were never curious enough to ask themselves.

We have also been conditioned to accept criminally incompetent tech support staff as a new kind of post modern religion, where no one can ever help you with anything and it will be at least an hour before they answer your call.

UK IT is about as flimsy and impotent as a house of cards suffering from erectile dysfunction. And we all fucking love it that way.

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Gates Horns

Don't forget-

The decision makers in the UK are easily bought.

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God, I feel old again

Some of us were worried that this might happen when Standard Telephones and Cable took over ICL and started to wind down the R&D. Maybe, however, that missed the point.

While the O/S is important, it isn't the be-all and end-all - you can innovate regardless of platform. Despite the blatant superioity of VME for industrial-scale processing [/bias], the O/S war took place without us and moved onto a diferent battlefield (the desktop) before shifting back to the back-office then off onto the handhelds. This does not preclude innovation; there is still a base level of innovation going on in Britain, but we haven't had a major success outside the games industry for so long that it sometimes looks as though it's dead and buried. Whatever the missing spark is, it isn't anything anything to do with the platform, it's the right people having the right idea and finding the right backing, however they choose to implement it.

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RE: God I feel old again

Admiral Grace,

Absolutely take your point that the platform is not the main point. While I obviously believe that Ubuntu (as an OS platform) is important that wasn't the point I was trying to get across. My opinion is that we want curiosity and a focus on building great technology, I think Open Source (all through the stack) is a great enabler for that. You couldn't have had Google without Open Source, because a little start-up wouldn't have had the leg-up to run a major web platform without Apache. So I see Open Source as a way to enable curiosity, I also believe it's a fantastic way to accelerate innovation.

Steve

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Platforms

Fair point, Steve, thank you for your gracious response. I have no axe to grind about FOSS, I too think it's a good thing as a general principle, but having been part of innovative schemes on all manner of platforms and in all manner of environments I worry about people getting hung up on platforms and environments, whichever they may be.

Without knowing the folk involved I am making as assumption, but I guess that anyone as driven as the Google guys wouldn't have been hampered by the available platforms if there had been no open platforms around at the time; that there were was an advantage to be sure, but not the major factor in their success. Equally, the presence of FOSS systems hasn't accelerated my career beyond that of a corporate drone, but that's my issue, not the platforms on which I work.

Hey ho, let's all play nicely now.

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Stop

Hard evidence, anyone?

'Canonical is involved in a project to ship millions of PCs pre-installed with Ubuntu out to rural communities....“Who knows what the people who get these machines will do with them,” George says'.

Well, instead of asking "Who knows", get back to us in ten years and let us know. Better still, since Linux has been around for twice that long, please point out the persuasive examples which show clearly the fatal error of depending on "proprietary" software. Instead what we hear is mere speculation.

It seems more likely that proprietary software does well in the UK because we can afford it, while the "Chinese rural communities" cannot. Using "open source" software might not put them greatly at a disadvantage, but neither will it turn them from necessity into soaring eagles of computer technology, any more than the quirks of my car will push me to redesign it and hence forge a new automobile industry to rival Honda, Mercedes and the rest.

On this PC I use the latest version of Open Office, but it is, frankly, inferior to Microsoft's Office 2003 which I use on another. As someone who has done little but work in software for 30 years, am I tempted to take out the Open Office gearbox and change it to suit my needs? I am not. Microsoft Office and Open Office are just tools I use on the way to somewhere else. They both have faults, but I am no more tempted to fix one than the other, simply because I have access to its design information.

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Stop

We can afford it?

You sure about that, last time I watched the news the country is in an economical plight, companies closing down everywhere, redundancies, rising unemployment, high inflation etc...

Just think how much a small business would have saved if they didn't fork out for say windows, MS-office and say SQL server. In quite a few bankrupt cases the difference would have kept the wolves away for a bit longer giving them a fighting chance. Now multiply that to the level of a local authority or government department and you've saved a new hospital build form been cancelled or knocked a penny of employee paid NI.

And before people mention support, who do you know actually gets support from MS, and of those who gets anything useful, if you want support for OS software buy it!

And as for familiarity, people on here would probably be surprised to know not everyone knows how to use Word/Access etc... And most people learn anything more than the very basics on the job, and of course relearn it with every new release.

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Whoosh...

... it went straight over your head didn't it ? The point of the article... you just didn't get it at all.

"As someone who has done little but work in software for 30 years, am I tempted to take out the Open Office gearbox and change it to suit my needs? I am not. Microsoft Office and Open Office are just tools I use on the way to somewhere else. They both have faults, but I am no more tempted to fix one than the other, simply because I have access to its design information."

It doesn't matter that you're not tempted to take out the open office gear box, and change it to suit your needs. What matters is that you could. You couldn't do that with MS Office 2003. So when we educate children we should be using code that makes it possible for those who may be tempted to 'take out the gear box and change it to suit their needs', to do so. That won't be every child, some of them will only be interested using the office suit just like you are, but it will be some. Those some could well be the next generation of innovators of technology such as office suits.

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RE: Hard evidence

Mike,

In fairness, the point of the article is speculation - the point was to offer an opinion on what would help the UK technology sector!

If you haven't been to China I can heartily recommend it, it may well change your mind on whether we can "afford it" because you'll see a society that is expanding rapidly and everyone you meet is utterly focused on improving their position and lives. All of our children today stand on a global stage, they're not competing with the kid down the road, or in the next town, it's a global village now - with all the benefits and challenges that brings.

Even if you don't agree with me that Open Source is an important part of the mix, I hope you can agree (as someone whose been in the technology industry for 30 years) that we have a strong technology sector and that we should do everything we can to enhance it.

Steve

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car analogy

I like your car analogy and take it further.

An open source car is like a car in the 50s yes it would be eaiser and cheper (once learnt) for me to maintain if it had the simple mechanical parts of yesteryear.

However I drive a modern car as it has better fuel economy and is more reliable with less inteference from me. However I take the hit in the fact there are no user servicable parts in the engine and even to change a headlight virtually requries a mechanic to access it.

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Britian doesn't do technology?

ARM Holdings plc are based in Cambridge and their processors designs are used in 90% of the worlds mobile phones. Id say thats pretty sucessful for a country that doesn't do technology.

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Anonymous Coward

Sigh...

....can you go back and read the article, please, pretty please.

Tell you want I'll do the hard bit for you:

"One reason is a wrong-headed belief that the UK doesn’t do technology"

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Poppycock.

I learned 6502 and 680x0 at home, despite mainly using MS-DOS at work. That was because I was interested in technology for its own sake, and I made the time to study it. At the time, I could see it was worth my while, because I could see where technology was going (compared to my GCSE mathematics teacher, Mr. Shrubbs, bless him - who told me "Computers are just a passing fad.")

Are you really trying to say that trying out a Ubuntu CD at home is beyond the wit of Britain's yoof? That is what you're implying: That, somehow, if they're not gradually force-fed it at work or school, the poor dears will never ever learn it.

What the UK needs to do is show engineers that they are valued, and their jobs will not be shipped to India or China at the soonest possible opportunity. The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates may well be in Britain, just like Jonathan Ive was, but as soon as they realise what a shithole the UK is in comparison to the rest of the world, they'll emigrate and pay their taxes to another government.

The problem with engineers is that they tend to be rather clever people, and clever people usually don't opt to live in third world countries if there is a better alternative. If the UK wants to attract the best and brightest, it needs to work on making itself a country that decent people WANT to live in. It's really that simple.

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Pint

Exactly.........

Rather than make it a country where lots of creative productive people can't wait to leave.

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WTF?

A New Labour shaped hole

Maybe the obsession with closed source flows from the top of business and government; a culture extremely averse to the risk of trying anything new because they simply don't understand the 'why' - or indeed even try to. The only interest is in what works today, out of the box and without any extra staffing, not what might have better legs in the longer term.

Always easily impressed by big numbers, the New Labouryears also firmly established a culture where 'doing IT' could only be entrusted to large businesses with slick marketing, closed source products and eye-watering support charges.

In a business culture where most jobs entail making the person above you happy without rocking the boat, by any means and at any cost, we probably get what we deserve.

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UK management have long been devoid of vision.

But I do not think you can ascribe that to New Labour - as much as I hate them, I think it has been a generic British thing. Yes, New Labour helped out in certain ways (IR35, for example) - but I think the UK would not have been much better off under the Conservatives - or any other government, for that matter.

There are simply not enough UK managers who have come from an engineering background - people who possess that unique and important trait - curiosity - that is so important in driving a technology business forward. Many are still distrustful of IT, so much so that IT has become a dirty word in many management groups - and management want to be seen as having distanced themselves as much as possible from IT.

In computing terms, I have long thought of the UK as being a "read-only" nation. They love shiny Apple products and Sony PlayStations, but have zero interest in learning how to make something better. It seems that many in the UK still regard technology as something to be played with, rather than something that is actually worth learning about. This is why inventors will continue to flock to other countries, where their technical knowledge is actually taken seriously by the people with money.

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What a load of balls

We may not be sticking Ubuntu on every desktop, but open source is not ubuntu. Open source permeates right to the heart of all parts of UK biz, from the financial house using RabbitMQ, to the plethora of web developers in the UK using a variety of open source frameworks, often for very small businesses.

What we tend not to do is spend money for the sake of spending money. Putting people trained in a lifetime of windows in front of ubuntu costs money and productivity, and besides, every computer comes with windows anyway. Its more hassle and cost for an IT dept to request linux, or receive rebates on MS licences or deal with the deluge of user support queries, than it is to just accept the cost.

Its not ideal, but MS have a good grip on the desktop.

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RE: What a load of balls

Tom 38,

You're RabbitMQ example is a really great one. A lot of the work done on AMQP has been done by technologists based in the UK finance system, and RabbitMQ was British based (not sure now as I'm a bit out of touch).

To be clear my point was not primarily about Ubuntu - sure I'd love it if there was more deploying of Ubuntu everywhere. My main argument is that Open Source in all sorts of places in the stack enables innovation - and AMQP is a great example of this!

Steve

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Elephants, mosquitoes and the Corporations

As El Reg repeatedly points out, many IT-related breakthroughs were born in the UK only destined to die soon after. It still fills me with awe that the first ARM processor (and the first widely available RISC architecture) was designed on humble BBC Model Bs and in addition the first prototype chip did actually work. This for me represents a triumph of British technology (not to mention the Spectrum and BBC micro revolutions).

My relevant to the article point is that these platforms allowed literally everybody to produce open source (or open BASIC listing) code that was readily deployed in schools, research facilities (if you browse scientific journals of the 80's and 90's you'll see a lot of research done with BBC micros), even administration (first era of word processing in the UK). Since the advent of IBM-compatibles, the game was lost to The Corporation.

Unless UK administration (and any country's administration at that) sets effective financial disincentives and/or limits to IT-related infrastructure budgets in all public sectors, the UK will be bound to proprietary closed solutions forever. Why should a kid in school use Windows 7, Office 2011 and Photoshop CS5 to write a 1-page lab report? Why should a public service secretary use the same for writing a letter or printing an envelope? Why should a small company use Excel to just add 50 numbers for a bill of materials? And why should all of the above spend endlessly sums of money for antiviruses, updates, and repairs?

Everybody, especially the public sector, should use tools adequate for the specific job at hand, with the minimal long-term cost possible, and not use elephants to kill mosquitoes.

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FAIL

I got this too

"Why should a kid in school use Windows 7, Office 2011 and Photoshop CS5 to write a 1-page lab report?"

At the school where my kid goes, they wanted something to do the school year book with.

I suggested Scribus as a good-enough tool and free and I demonstrated it's effectiveness by mocking up some of the previous year's book in a few minutes.

What did they do instead? They decided to buy CS5 because one of the teachers has used it before. I kinda get the point, but for a cash strapped school, they will assume that "professional class" tools are the logical answer to every problem no matter how simple, and free (as in beer and freedom) alternatives are not considered.

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Grenade

You get what you pay for

Maybe flogging a dead horse to you freetards out there but...

"“Proprietary software is the opiate of the people,” he says. “If you click on the box and it doesn’t work, that is the end of the process. Even if it occurs to you to wonder whether you could improve things, you have no way of doing so. With open source, you can inspect the code, look around, maybe find a better way of doing something."

If you've paid for software and it doesn't work, then you shout down the phone till someone fixes it. With typical support scenarios, they will. However, chances are, because there's paid programmers working on the software, the box you click on will probably work anyway.

If you've paid nothing for your open source rubbish, then the chances of that box not working when you click on it are so much higher. Or even, the box just isn't there yet to click in. So you have to have fix it yourself. Unless you're a programmer living in a dark lonely hole with nothing better to do, you don't want to spend all your time fixing other's code and putting in the features nobody else could be bothered to do...

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Anonymous Coward

"software and it doesn't work, ..... down the phone till someone fixes it"

Yea, right !

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FAIL

You get what you pay for

Lol the last time I tried yelling down the phone at some VERY expensively bought gear, and I have had my company director, breathing down the neck of the software provider.. All to no avail.

(if you read the licensing conditions of ALL purchased software, it says something like "we are not responsible for any data loss that using this software may cause, nor are we responsible if the software misbehaves" - or variations up on that, thus you have accepted the usage conditions, which means you have removed all liability from the softwarehouse to your self - in other words you are no worse off with free software than with propriatory).

Here is a few cases I've worked on.

The problem was that a client could crash very expensive piece of server software, we were developing the client.. What was their response.

1. We don't support that version of Java you ar using, so you're the reason the server is crashing.

2. The server is used by 100's of other people who do not have any problems, thus you must be at fault.

* Conclusion we won't fix.

My arguements were.

1. If my client can crash your server, then any malicious programmer can bring your product down.

2. If a client can crash the server software, said software has a massive problem.

Another time, we spend 12 months locking down a bug in a compiler library, because the producer of the compiler claimed, their compiler did not have a bug, and millions of users did not have the problem we had, thus we were the problem.

lol in the end, we could prove a memory leak in the produced code, using nothing more than 2 calls to their compiler libraries (we even determined where in their code where the race condition was). And after 12 months they conceeded there was a problem, but go-away we won't fix. (we replaced parts of the compiler system to work around the problems, cost us months of work, but fortunately it was a small part, and we had part of the code).

Another time, I had some desktop software that was barfed, I could consistently describe how to crash the program, very simply, it had a habit of going down, when ever you had done a significant amount of work and thus had cost the company a lot of money in lost work, when the users had problems.... The software company's answer - How much will you pay to have it fixed ?

Lol, all bugs i have found in open source software, has either been fixed within 1-14 days by the developers, a workaround has been provided by the community, OR we fixed could easily fix it our selves..

Yeah mathematically I'd say it's.

You get 1/(what you pay for) in service.

lol.

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Troll

Naive, or deliberately trolling

"If you've paid for software and it doesn't work, then you shout down the phone till someone fixes it."

Or until you shout yourself hoarse, maybe. The vast majority of *all* software sucks. Whether open source or proprietary. There are big wins with the open stuff, though, including:

1. typically you've not just paid a fortune and locked yourself in to it;

2. even if *you* can't fix the code yourself, it's possible to find somebody else who *can* if the original vendor can't / won't / goes bust

But as you're yet another person who seems to claim / believe that open source == free in cost and therefore worthless, I doubt you'll even understand the argument here.

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mrd
FAIL

FOSS users fixing their own software

I really love that line that gets brought out to play by certain FOSS advocates about being able to go into the source and fix things if you don't like how they work.

Really I guess they *are* tailoring their message to their userbase with that comment because I would bet that no more than maybe a few tens of thousands - if that - of computer users around the planet would ever - because something isn't working the way they want and not because its something they're involved with - go and open the code to try and fix and recompile an errant program.

Seriously. That comment and argument should be buried until people forget it rather than trotted out repeatedly. It's awful.

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Linux

Yes, normally, but read the next paragraph

It's a silly argument if you think mom and pop are going to be recompiling the kernel in their phone when it breaks.

But he's specifically talking about innovation in Britain and how it could be the 1 or 2 percent that are starting the new tech businesses.

Clearly some small proportion *are* doing this. I could, probably, if I had the time, but I don't. But my phone *is* running a kernel recompiled by some other geezers (in the UK) who did. They (and/or others) also bundled various improvements from other such people across the world.

The magic of software means that you don't need everyone to fix themselves like a broken mug in your kitchen, the fix can be freely distributed. A few tens of thousands may be more than enough to overcome millions reinventing wheels in their little silos, and can already be shown to be so in numerous niches of varying sizes.

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RE: FOSS users fixing their own software

Mrd,

In fairness I wasn't arguing that a primary value of OSS is that users can fix their own bugs. As you know most Open Source users don't fix their own bugs, they have a relationship with a technology company who does that - though it does mean that they can choose the best technology company rather than being "locked in" to a relationship.

I believe there are real benefits for end-users, but in this case I was arguing that Open Source is a vast library of technique and software thought. So for those future developers and programmers it provides a way to learn and innovate.

Steve

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Gates Horns

Maybe we have good Windows admins here?

Maybe the UK has the world's highest concentration of cheap highly-skilled and effective Windows systems administrators, so Windows is cheaper and better here than in other countries.

[Declares an interest as an underpaid British Windows Systems Administrator]

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Anonymous Coward

"Proprietary software is the opiate of the people"

Get a grip.

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It's about presentation, not technology

The lack of curiosity is nothing to do with software being proprietary or not - it is about society today.

Home computers circa 1980-1990 : shipped with a BASIC manual in addition to program loading instructions. Computer magazines frequently included listings as well as reviews.

IBM PC circa mid eighties to early 90s : Shipped with a BASIC manual, OS included programming language.

Mac, circa 80s to 90s : included Hypercard

With a completely closed source operating system (Windows) it is possible to download free closed source development environments (Visual Studio Express amongst others) and develop any closed or open source application of your choice. In *nix, the compilers can be/are installed, the source code is available, your application can be closed or open source as you choose.

End result : no real difference. The primary focus of a modern OS is to run applications. The development tools are far better. The documentation is (mostly) better. It's easier to perform high level tasks than it used to be. A great deal of hardware operations have been abstracted away. There's never been a better time to develop.

Nevertheless, the OS are aimed at consumption, not creation even given the mass of resources and reminders in some magazines of the facilities available.

Perhaps this is not helped by the sheer scale of the computing community, where it can sometimes seem difficult to contribute anything in the face of some extremely impressive amateur/free efforts. Alternatively, maybe the fact things have progressed from programming from scratch to starting using a nose bleedingly high level of technology to construct a mod for a popular game has changed things somewhat. Neither does it help that whilst the base level of technology is fantastic, there is at times an extreme gulf between what can be created with a small team, and what is created by a very large software house.

In any case, it's not about open and closed source.

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RE: It's about presentation, not technology

Peter,

I think you're broadly right that the presentation of technology as something that is 'consumed' rather than used or created on is a problem. I was trying to make some points along those lines where I was saying we need to talk about the successes we do have and by extension enable kids and students to see software (and technology broadly) as something they should care about and that's it s a path to success (however you define that).

You might be interested in a blog post I wrote to expand, or perhaps just rehash what I was saying:

http://slgeorge.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/uk-innovation-and-open-source/

Steve

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Bronze badge

"... inspiring a generation of engineers ..."

Perhaps what's needed as much as open source, if the aim is to inspire youngsters, is a range of inexpensive measuring devices that plug into a standard pc or laptop, together with appropriate interface software: to record, for example, temperature, pH, current, voltage, magnetic field, humidity, wind strength, illumination, ...

Even if, as Steve George suggests with home computers, it's only a small proportion of youngsters who spend time playing with a DIY laboratory, this could significantly stimulate interest in science.

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inexpensive measuring devices

@David Pollard

Maybe start with an Arduino which is about £25 and you can add the extra sensors as you wish.

Easy to program and massively adaptable.

I have played with 1 and it's possible with very little effort to build the sensors you mentioned Giving the opportunity to have inexpensive measuring devices while at the same time having some techie fun along the way.

As an aside it is an Open Source design.

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Silver badge

Is greed a core competence now?

"...the UK should stick to what it does best, financial services..."

What makes those people think the UK has a monopoly on greed? There are plenty of people worldwide who can add up, have computers, and would like to have lots of money. What exactly is the UK's unique competitive advantage over the rest of them?

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FAIL

ZX-81 drove innovation?

I just don't follow the logic in this article, it doesn't make sense.

The ZX-81 was a closed source, proprietary operating system environment, so why does it support the argument that access to the source code of an operating system will drive UK competitiveness and innovation? Another example:

If Google are so keen on open source and its innovation benefits, why are they most famous for a closed source search product with proprietary ranking algorithms; ?

How about real world counter examples to the idea that open source = uniquely innovative:

The Apple iPad and Microsoft Kinnect are both closed source products, both from closed source companies, both innovative and both selling like hot cakes.

I'm depressed to read this muddled thinking - roll on the weekend.

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RE: ZX-81 drove innovation?

Hi,

If if it came across as muddled, that's annoying. Here's the key elements:

a. We need a rebalanced economy

b. Technology should be part of that - we do it a lot better than people think

b1. Detour into thoughts on why we don't talk about that enough

c. Government can do lots, but procurement is the main way over the short-term

d. Open Source should be part of the mix because it encourages local IT

e. If we want more innovation in the long-term we need Open Source because it enables innovation, it lets everyone understand and build on the technology - it's a vast library of software

Steve

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DR

the real problem?

there's too much open source. not not enough, all agenda driven by the people making it, with not a hint of an invest-able opportunity.

That's the headline, now here's what I mean.

How many variants of Linux are there? how many are actually needed?

how many forks do exactly the same as a different fork, but the developers didn't get along so they fork a project and both follow the same road map competing for the same users in the same limited space throwing confusion into the market?

How exactly is your average middle manager mean to pick the wheat from the chaff? how do they know which one to go with? what support arrangements are they getting? so many open source projects are brilliant but are written by only a few people.

What happens when project developers have disagreements and a project just dies? (taking a useful tool with it).

damn small Linux is a perfect example of this, a really nice fast tiny OS, that stopped development after the guys that were developing it had a spat and went their own ways.

yes the project was forked and went somewhere else, but that's hardly the point, if I'd invested my time specifically developing for this fork, and the new fork IS different then where does that leave me? wasted work, uncompleted project, no more time being spent helping me?

lets say I've embedded this software into products half way round the world, it's not like I can just recall and redeploy lots of devices...

sure I can follow the new fork, but what if the developers fall out again? where does that leave me now?

what if my CLI driven service suddenly gets a new developer who want's to move all the configuration to a GUI driven interface but I don't want that on my server, do I have to stop using the service, never update again, expose myself to all the risks that a new exploit will be found and I can't patch...

I say that open source is un-invest-able not from the point of view of investors funding the software house but from the point of view of people picking up the technology...

with no clear road maps given by the developers, lots of OSS being developed by people in their back rooms when they have the time, how do I know what the future will hold?

(to be fair this perhaps doesn't apply to Redhat, or Suse, etc) if the future of a project is uncertain then how can I ever justify to a CTO that we should go this route? what happens when the project folds for whatever reason? then your whole business is left out in the cold whilst you scrabble to find another OSS project that will complete your needs.

-note I'm talking about business using the software, not development houses.

how is your average accountant going to decide what OSS package to use?

I'm not saying that OSS is impossible, just without clear heavyweight winners in place it's difficult for the small businesses to decide.

I suppose the simplest way to describe what I mean is this.

hypothetically, I'm an IT manager in a school, what version of linux should I roll out as our desktop OS. plus what office software, what presentation software what art software? in the technology shops, what CAD software, etc...

that's before you've even got to the office side of things and looking at accounts packages attendance registers, server stuff to hold it all together.

The answer to the question is not important, what is important is that I could ask here (a magazine full of technical people who would know what they are talking about).the point is that if there were 100 answers they would all be different.

there is a phrase that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft either, because whilst it costs money, you can at least depend on them to be there to answer the phone and fix your problems, even if it does cost a lot to log a ticket.

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Re: the real problem

DR,

You make lots of good points. In many cases the answer is in your own words

"Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"

Well luckily, you can buy lots of Open Source from IBM, and a host of other technology companies such as Redhat, SUSE and even Oracle.

There's plenty of situations where the main thing you want is a stable base on which to build your own things. OSS is a methodology and a set of values, it doesn't mean you can't have a relationship with a vendor who can give you the insurance and assurance of someone to call if there's a problem!

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Flame

Office 2003?

That really sums up the problem with closed products. Our commenter is fine with his Office 2003, and so he should be, but unfortunately someone sooner rather than later is going to send him a document written with Office 2010 (or whatever its called these days). He'll find that this is where Open Office scores -- he'll be able to read it.

Microsoft's products aren't compatible with each other unless you're paying ongoing licensing to continually upgrade the stuff. Like another person commented -- people swallow the Win7 advertising and think they'll get a lot more done, faster. They won't; they'll (finally) get a system that's as stable and well behaved as a generic Linux implementation but it definitely won't go faster (unless they bought new hardware to go with it....).

I lost contact with Microsoft's development envrionment for decades because the MSDN subscription was way beyond what I could afford. Now I work with their tools I see how atrophied and idosyncratic they are -- all eye candy and obsurfurcation; its the same old stuff behind the curtain but a surprising number of today's developers don't even know the curtain exists. (NMAKE? In 2010? Who are they kidding?)

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Read more, write less

In a closed source world, everyone is use to blackboxes. They don't question how these blackboxes work, because they couldn't find out if they wanted to, and so don't learn. These developer then write their own blackboxes, in ignorance of how the other blackboxes work. This doesn't only make for a unstable system of blackboxes, but they are all writing more than they reading, no one can think this is a good thing. We had a head start in the IT because of the Spectrum and BBC Micro teaching so many to program, but that legacy is going and not being replaced. I think the BBC should do a fresh "teach the UK computers" crusade with *nix and open source to get the nation educated. I'm sorry, but in comparison to *nix and open source, Windows keeps you ignorant. Teach Python instead of BASIC, it's easy, free, powerful and cross platform, what more do you want? Well, may late night advanced episode that teach C..... ;-)

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Define success

A lot of Opensource success stories end up moving to Sillicon Valley as soon as they feel they are slightly commercially viable in order to get that, oh so important, VC funding. Take Springsource - founded in the UK (ok by an Aussie...) but moved to the US (with the major R&D arm still in the UK) to ensure future funding. That is fairly typical - maybe the reason there arent so many British successes is because the funding and biggest market for their products is state-side?

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RE: Define success

Horned-Devil,

You make some great points, I've seen lots of people talk about the difficulties of financing in the UK (Europe more generally) and it's certainly true that the US is a massive market. There's a certain logic to why people make that move.

But, let me make some counter-points for the UK. Generally the technologist base and the education system is very strong. The US market is very big, and culturally there's reasonably good cross-over - so you can market and work in the US market. Conversely, we're close to Europe and there's lots of understanding of how to do business there as well. Finally, London is a fantastic world-city with access to a swathe of skills an experiences from financial through to marketing - all that can help your business grow.

Steve

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