Friday, April 8, 2011

Open source vs. closed source

In response to Jon Stokes' opinion piece on Facebook's open-sourcing of its datacenter design, I found a strikingly insightful comment from user "brentbordelon" on what really distinguishes an open-source project from a closed-source project.
"Open Source" is really little more than a PR stunt. There's very little difference between open source systems and their outcome vs. closed source systems.

In successful examples of both you have a few brilliant people doing the huge majority of the things that makes the venture successful. The difference is really only concerned with the "tagalongs":

In the closed-source world, a tagalong is a yes man or some middle management person who wants everyone above them to think they play a significant role in the success of the venture. In reality, they usually do more to hinder progress than help. Eventually, they end up losing their jobs as it becomes increasingly evident that they are not adding any real value.

In open-source scenarios, the approach to tagalongs is very different. Anyone and everyone can say, "...and I helped!", even if all they did was git some code and look at it. Instead of one or two people getting in the way, you have a multitude. Many of which submit actual code. Unfortunately the majority of code is either novice crap or is so laden with someone else's totally different vision as to be useless. Fortunately, with a few key players being able to decide what ACTUALLY gets accepted and what doesn't, an open source project can progress.
More of the tagalongs are helpful than "brentbordelon" admits, but his main point holds true in my experience: it takes a core of dedicated, motivated, creative, and effective people to make a successful project.

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