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3/31/2004
04:56 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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A Joke Which May Actually Have Very Little To Do With Linux

A vendor is trying to sell an IT manager on buying new software. "The upgrade will be perfectly transparent to your users!" says the vendor. "Yeah," says the IT manager, "just like helicopter blades before you walk into them."

A vendor is trying to sell an IT manager on buying new software. "The upgrade will be perfectly transparent to your users!" says the vendor.

"Yeah," says the IT manager, "just like helicopter blades before you walk into them."

Ow.

What's the open source connection? One of the most significant benefits of open source is that you, the user, upgrade what you want when it's best for your business, not when it's best for the vendor's business.

Next week: Linux Knock-Knock Jokes.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Linus Torvalds predicts that databases, like MySQL, and desktop software, will be part of the next wave of success for open source software, building on the success of Linux and Apache. Linus also discusses the potential for problems that can arise when commercial companies are responsible for an open source package:

InformationWeek: JBoss and MySQL are the names of open-source platforms and of companies that help develop and then, for a fee, support those platforms. So you see any potential problems with this model? For example, how open is a team of developers whose leadership and key contributors are all inside one for-profit company? Don't open source projects that go this route begin to look less open and more like commercial software companies?

Torvalds: I have to admit that that is one particular set of problems I personally have always tried very hard to avoid, but on the other hand, I also suspect that, especially in markets that are pretty focused on commercial needs anyway (and things like databases certainly would fit that), it may just be inevitable and possibly the best model to keep in touch with the needs of your customers.

And the open-source aspect is still rather important in one major way: It keeps people honest. With an open-source license, if you start doing the nasty things that commercial software companies are so well-known for (looking out for No. 1 rather than trying to really help the customer), somebody else just comes along and captures the market.

And that is one really important part of open source: no technical barriers to market entry, and the fact that you can trust the process, even if you might not implicitly trust the developer. So, while I personally have always opted for trying to be in a position where people really have no reason to distrust my motivation and actions, in the end I actually think that the real trust comes from the fact that it doesn't matter if people trust me (or any other open source developer) or not.

Because if we are shown to not be trustworthy, somebody else can always replace us--so you don't have to be able to trust.

In other words: No helicopter blades.

(This piece appeared in the Linux Pipeline Newsletter for Tuesday, March 30, 2004. It has been edited for the web.)

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