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[ # ] Proprietary Software
July 3rd, 2008 under Digital Rights, OSS, rengolin

I’m a big advocate of free software, highly active on the Anti-DRM campaign and a big fan of Richard Stallman (as you can see by reading back lots of posts on this very blog). In his last text to the media about Bill Gates’ retirement, he says (as usual) some very strong arguments about fair societies, freedom of use and copy etc. We all know that, right?

Well, there is one thing I don’t particularly agree: proprietary software.

In a recent talk, he said there was a fair reason why there is copyright: Investment in technology. In the old days, it was the press. Today, we have software companies.

The beauty and the beast

Microsoft, as he said (and I reiterate), only abused of development made by other companies since their first product. Worse, since then, they’ve been buying one company after the other and scraping each one of them (pretty much like Yahoo! is doing recently, therefore the interest). But there are lots of others that are doing fine, and it’s not fair to put them all in the same box.

Adobe Photoshop is a great example. Gimp is fantastic, of course, but the investment in Photoshop is huge and there is a clear difference. The cost is high, but the quality is also high. Like Photoshop, many other specialist software in music, video, animation, scientific, electronic, games and so on have a specific market, to which they belong and are doing pretty well. I’m not saying Adobe (or any other specialist company) is fair, just that some are investing seriously in development, not only sucking their users money and freedom.

Windows is unfair, it locks the user, it treats them as liars, cheaters, yes. Worse still, you can’t use it with anything else because it’s forcefully incompatible with the rest of the world, yes! They’re cheating by making you buy their license even if you’re not using, to force you update Internet Explorer even if you use Firefox, to report all your actions to Microsoft and god know what more. YES!!

Apple with horrible DRM locks, pushing iPhone updates and all we already know they do, Warner, Sony and all the like. Yes! They are mean! But that doesn’t mean all companies are.

Research and Development

If you have a free software (open source) that is enough for your uses, or you can hire someone to increment or adapt it to your needs, fine! If you can write software to your needs and redistribute it to the rest of the world, perfect! But why negate the existence of fair research and development, I don’t know.

I’ve been on the academia side of development to know very well what happens here: some PhD writes a piece of software, without any care for quality or extensibility. Later on, someone (or themselves) make it open source and people start using it, extending it. But most of the time it’s not possible to carry on incrementing, its need a re-write. And people re-write software fortnightly on academia.

The investment is in giving PhDs a good time and not to produce good software. Free software is good not because of that investment, but because people that need it, do it. It’d be fantastic if academia could teach them about software quality, if there was a real control over what they produce (like acceptance by the open source community) as part of their grades.

Now, private companies (like many around Cambridge) invest a good bunch of money in research and development, hiring those same guys and giving them a proper training in software engineering and getting things done, very well indeed. That costs money, I can’t see how they could open the source, at least not in the first years of sale.

Extensibility

Some companies give it for free (as in beer) for academic institutes. But the most important (IMHO) is to be extensible and to have a clear interface. Good software, even if closed source, have a clear and easy-to-use interface. With that, you can extend it to suit your needs. It’s not as good as having the source, but it’s a start.

Enforcing DRM locks, spying on users, making impossible to connect to other software, being nasty is the problem, not being proprietary.


Read the Comments

[ # 183 ] Comment from Bide [July 4, 2008, 9:33 AM]

Nice writing, the very last sentence I like the most. That’s exactly the point.
Regards.

[ # 179 ] Comment from Cullen Ryan [July 7, 2008, 7:07 PM]

I’m with you all the way, and I especially agree with your statement on having clear and easy to use interfaces.

Also, having the open source community play a part in academic grading, while logistically challenging, seems like a really neat and novel idea.

Thanks for the post!

[ # 182 ] Comment from Video Conferencing [July 9, 2008, 5:40 AM]

Great information, i need to read and read it again in order to digest all the information. Thanks for sharing.

[ # 184 ] Comment from rengolin [July 9, 2008, 8:47 PM]

Hi Cullen,

The Xen virtualisation is a good example of open source and academia interaction to come up with products even better than their heavy commercial counterparts such as IBM zSeries and VMWare.

Check out this report and the PDF at the end.

[ # 181 ] Comment from Melissa and doug [July 11, 2008, 4:24 PM]

So very true with that last sentence! I have to make an ugly confession, I work for a software company in the midwest and a recent new addition of our software used ioncube to make it more proprietary. Needless to say this once easy to use and install software has all kinds of glitches now and nobody is happy with it.

[ # 185 ] Comment from Risk Management Software [July 15, 2008, 12:21 AM]

sounds like some sweet software… glad u posted about it. now to experience it… :D
-Jared

[ # 180 ] Comment from Online Survey Software [July 15, 2008, 6:55 PM]

yea it is a lot of in-depth information to swallow in 1 reading… i guess ill have to go back and look over the key points :D
Matt

[ # 243 ] Pingback from systemcall dot org » Closed source development [January 28, 2009, 10:43 PM]

[…] closed source development has its niche (and a very important one), it does feel a bit […]


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