|| ||Nathan Myers <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|| ||latest Forrester report|
|| ||Sun, 26 Jan 2003 13:43:11 -0500|
To the editor,
The latest report from Forrester Research summarized at
was disappointingly unprofessional in several respects.
Its dig about "the open-source socialist fringe" demonstrates a
characteristic confusion: the term "open source" was invented
specifically for participants to distance themselves from the Free
Software movement's political opinions. By definition, there can
be no such thing as an "open-source socialist fringe". Nonetheless,
the report would better have observed that even the putatively
fringiest socialists' code works demonstrably better than the
convicted monopolists' output, and let readers draw their own
Its dismissive treatment of desktop use of Free operating systems as
a "gaffe" that wouldn't "make sense", is similarly unprofessional.
If the writers think no Free Software is ready for desktop use, they
neither support the claim, nor offer any estimate of how long it will
be before any will be ready. The many successful desktop deployments
to date, and the unexplainable paucity of failures, would surely
mystify the authors if they considered the matter.
The authors pretend that only open-source software produces additional
costs "like documentation, support and commercial add-ons", which
"swell a company's IT budget". What do they imagine swells the IT
budgets of companies dependent on proprietary software? Similarly,
they recommend staffing a technology center with "skeptics--not gurus".
Since a guru is, by definition, the most competent available individual,
"skeptics" must be those less competent. They beg the question,
skeptical of what? Might skepticism about the wisdom of depending
on the goodwill of a criminal monopolist qualify?
The blanket advice, "companies ... should treat open source like
commercial software: Hands off the code," betrays a deep failure to
understand the success of Free Software to date. Decisions about
participation in Free Software projects belong at the lowest levels
of the company, where the costs and benefits to each project may be
evaluated directly, without reference to ideology. If a particular
group has the needed skills on hand, and would benefit from engaging
with others to improve their tools, what does it matter how
sophisticated the rest of the company is about building software?
Better advice for a CIO would be, "Hands off: encourage line managers
to make reasoned choices." Such good advice is too generally
applicable, somehow, to put into a report.
The tacit advice to ignore the second most widely-deployed Linux
distribution, Debian, is simply irresponsible. Support for Debian
installations is as readily obtained as for most distributions they do
recommend, and Debian has unquestionably better future prospects than
most. The Debian project's continued success must so mystify the
authors that they dare not mention it at all.
The report's final predictions -- Microsoft freeing its "language
runtime" (thus making its OS, somehow, magically scalable from embedded
systems to mainframes), and a million-dollar "Ellison Prize" for
people who no longer write code, somehow generating an outpouring of
innovation -- smack of fevered fantasy. Where did we get the Free
Software we have? That's where to look for it in the future.
Many of Free Software's key components (including the BSD TCP/IP stack
used in Microsoft's operating systems) came out of (socialistic?)
direct government grants to solve specific problems. Some arose from
the "socialist fringe" the report disparages. Most were developed to
meet specific needs by people hired to satisfy those needs, and then
found uses (and development support) worldwide. Many of those people
were hired by, or on behalf of, governments. Is that socialistic?
The code works.
The report's flaws come from the same place as in most research firms'
reports: sponsorship. Who paid Forrester to have this report written?
It looks stitched together from scraps of position papers from IBM and
an embedded-system vendor. The authors clearly do not understand the
field they pretend to analyze. Instead, they have constructed a fantasy
world in which they can echo the wishes of their sponsors.
We should not allow the report's apparently-positive remarks to mislead
us about the merits of the report or its publisher.
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