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|Monday, July 23, 2012|
Recently, there was an OSNews article called "Sparrow's acquisition highlights the dangers of closed source". I think there are issues enough with the logic in that statement alone, so I got baited into reading.
Sparrow, I guess I should add, is a pretty neat (though low featured, afaict) stand-alone email application for OS X. People like it. Google bought it. Now there will be no new Sparrows and, more importantly, no Sparrow for iPad, which they'd been working on recently.
Buying Sparrow was very likely, I believe, a talent acquisition move for Google. They're buying the programmers as much or more than the code. Regardless, apparently the OSNews author believes that if Sparrow had been open source, it'd be reasonable to expect the next version of Sparrow to come out on time and under budget in spite of the developers leaving. And I guess the implication is that Sparrow would have grown just as quickly and been just as personally lucrative for the developers if it were an open source project as it did as a closed source one (wait... what?).
Such an argument is pretty sad. Open Source only protects you from your favorite app's going kaput if you have programmers ready to contribute, and usually to contribute for free. I've posted a couple of times that I'm reading Dreaming in Code, the book about the Chandler Project. Some folks seem to enjoy the app. It's open source. Chandler's also essentially dead. Thunderbird is open source. It's in stasis mode too.
Open source does not protect you from a project's death. It does allow a group of programmers to pick up where the original team stopped. And if you've ever inherited code, you know what a bear coming to a brand new codebase can be. Let's just say it's often a theoretical possibility, but practical nightmare. Every program is a cyborg. Completely remove the original human element -- the original developers -- and the cyborg likely dies. Google's hiring Open-Sparrow's developers kills Open-Sparrow just as surely as this kills Closed-Sparrow. The difference? At least Closed-Sparrow's programmers made enough cash to keep them interested to this point in the game.
Show me a project that went -- entirely unfunded -- from commercial to successful open source project. Closed source protects small programming shops. There's no way around it. There are a few exceptions that prove the rule where donations fund projects, but I don't know that any were initially closed-source commercial projects.
More importantly, it's hard to sell software as a business model using free software. Services, fine, you can sell yourself as someone who provides services for OSS, but there's not a huge market for email-app-related services. Not many calls from people waiting to spend $120/hour for you to configure Sparrow. Lots more willing to pay for the app or to click your, in my case at least, surprisingly well-targeted ads.
Regardless, replying to a comment to the OSNews post, I believe I convinced myself of why BSD is evil in nine words or less.
OSNews > Thread > "RE: Whining because they are Apple fanboys?" by Macrat:
RE: Whining because they are Apple fanboys?
And that's really the rub for me. BSD allows a situation where it was open source, but it isn't any more.
Thank you, me, for putting that succinctly. Based on the length of your typical post, including the preamble to this one, I'm surprised you were able to come through like that for us.
posted by ruffin at 7/23/2012 10:38:00 AM
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