Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Top Five Reasons Why The Open Source Community Should Stop Whining

I like open source products. I use them, write about them, and recommend them. What I can't stand is the constant whining and sniping about Microsoft from vocal members of the open source community. They position Microsoft as the Evil Empire. The popular wisdom amongst the anti-Microsoft crowd is that the company owes its success to being technology buccaneers. They steal other people's good ideas and then crush those people under their mighty fist.

I see this every day. Every press announcement from Darth Ballmer or Gates is seen as a pronouncement from the depths of Hades. Vista was lambasted even before it was released and not for the reasons it should be lambasted. The loudest and most persistent whining was over the mutual patent agreement with Novell. It's not a sign of the apocalypse. Companies make these kind of arrangements every day. It's called covering your behind.

What these folks fail to see is that Microsoft is good for open source. In the spirit of giving back to the open source community, I have compiled my top five reasons why Microsoft is good for the open source community. Take heed and maybe you will have something to think about.

5. Jealousy Makes Open Source People Look Like Babies. Oh grow up! When all you can do is cry about Microsoft you look silly. Wah! Wah! Bad Microsoft took all the corporations away from me. Stop telling us why they are lousy and tell me why open source is good. “They stink more” is not a an effective communication strategy. Nor is “Because Microsoft is a bunch of meanies.” If you can't present a compelling reason why your solution is better then maybe it's not. What's sad is that there are a lot of compelling reasons for open source. They just get lost in the self pity.

4. They Have Figured Out the Desktop. Unlike everyone else, they figured out that mix of features and cost that works on the desktop computer. In fact, I think pushing the “Wow” factor of Vista is misguided. People who want eye candy pay the extra it takes for a Mac. People who want really cheap but more geek factor use a Linux desktop. Microsoft has the mix right and is an example for future desktop operating systems. Good enough and cheap enough.

3. Microsoft Actually Makes Some Good Software Sometimes. Sorry but it's true. Let's face it, is a copy of Microsoft Office. And every word processor touts MS Word file compatibility, even Google Docs. In this instance, Microsoft became the leaders by making good software such as PowerPoint (which created an entirely new category of software). You can't act like everything they do stinks. It's simply not true or fair.

2. The Eye of Sauron Effect. Without Microsoft to draw their attention, open source software would attract the black hats. For proof, look at the growth in the number of Firefox attacks since it started taking market share from Internet Explorer. Also keep in mind that the short comings of open source software are often overlooked because people are busy complaining about Microsoft.

1. Competition is good. If Microsoft did not exist, then open source would stagnate. Without something pushing the development, without a sense of oneupmanship, it would be hard to justify the effort that goes into open source development. The open source community needs a big monolithic company as its foil. Otherwise, they have no reason to exist.

The unkindest cut of all is that Microsoft actually helps promote open source products. Check out the MSN Tech site. Right on the front page is a link for Firefox and other open source products. I'm no Microsoft apologist but fair is fair. Criticism is fine but constant attacks are unproductive.

Stop the whining and crying and get on with making software. If you make it better than Microsoft then you deserve attention. Otherwise, you end up looking like a crybaby. And here's the world's smallest violin playing just for you...

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