December 06, 2003

Taking a trip, real benefits of open source

In a few hours I’ll jet off to Germany to work with the folks who, AFAIK, run the largest installation of an OI application server. They use it for various intranet applications as well as at least one external site. (I’ll post links if I can after I clear it with them…) So I’ll be there for a week to help port applications to OpenInteract2, be available for brain picking, architecture discussions and so on. Not only do I get to work with other people who are very familiar with OI, but I’m getting paid for it too. Fantastic!

You'll have to forgive my horn tooting, this is fairly unusual for me. My day job is for a small software development company developing proprietary software for the gas utility industry. The next generation of the software is being developed in Java and with tons of opensource tools -- Maven, Hibernate, JBoss, Tomcat, commons-*, JCS, JUnit, EasyMock, HSQLDB, JDOM, Quartz, Struts, and on and on. IME I think it's foolish to build your infrastructure with anything other than opensource components. Not just because you have access to the source, but you have a much greater chance of having access to the people writing the source. There's a huge difference.

John Sequira recently posted a link about a company wanting to pay for additional features for PostgreSQL because "...Oracle is an option but one of last resort...". This is a type of freedom some folks don't talk about when they talk about opensource. Yes the source is free but there are barriers to entry -- you need to spend time in the community getting familiar with its nuances, you need to understand the codebase and rationale for architectural decisions, and these things take time. The only barrier from the consumer's side to hiring the hackers is money, a universal abstraction layer for time and effort. And you get all the benefits of the opensource model along the way -- quick releases, peer review, and a far larger participatory audience for testing. You also gain notice in the development circles as a company that supports opensource, and you can bet that when high-level hackers go looking for a job these companies are near the top of the list.

I could be wrong, but there seems to be an impression for some in the community that this somehow taints the pure process of opensource software development. Or that these companies are somehow subverting the process for their own ends. Of course you need to be watchful of this, but you also need to have some trust in the members of your community who are steering these projects. Hopefully this group of naysayers is getting smaller and fewer people are listening to them.

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