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SEUL: "When is Public Software Good Enough?"
We've put online a transcript of notes taken at a conference on Open Source
Software at Networld InterOP, in Las Vegas. It covers a panel discussion
between Tim O'Reilly (O'Reilly & Associates), Greg Olson (Sendmail Inc.),
and David Beckemeyer (EarthLink Networks Inc.). A short clip is below.
The article is available at:
Question from the audience: Besides free labor, what good qualities of the
Open Source Software movement can be injected into internal projects?
O'Reilly: Good design is good design. Linus says that Linux succeeded
partially because it has a clean design, from the get go. Microsoft
Windows could never have succeeded as Open Source because it's not a clean
design. The most successful Open Source projects are basically very clean
Linus makes this point in his essay in our Open Sources book: part of the
success of Linux is based on good fundamental design decisions. Larry Wall
makes the same point in his essay in the book about Perl--it succeeded
because it was well designed for its purpose.
Related points: Fred Baker, chair of IETF: 'One of the things we did really
well is that we agreed that we would standardize on the absolute minimum of
things we needed to standardize on, and leave the rest to evolution and
chance.' A kind of a minimalism is a guiding principle. That's part of the
reason it works: programs have known inputs and outputs. It being UNIX.
That's part of the reason UNIX has been been such a great basis for open
Another piece is that OSS is not a magic bullet. Most of these projects
didn't start out with someone trying to write software for other people.
They wrote the software to solve their own problem. Eric Allman created
sendmail in the early days of the Arpanet because it was easier for him to
relay people's mail than to give 700 other people at UC Berkeley login
accounts on his machine.
Larry Wall had a problem. He wrote simple code to solve his problem. The
same is true of Perl. Larry Wall wrote it to solve some problems he was
struggling with. Then he gave it away because he thought other people might
have the same class of problems.
I like to say that your "return on investment" is the solution to your own
problem. What you get back from other people is just an extra dividend.
EarthLink is a case in point: they've done a lot of custom design to solve
their own problems. Open Source may flourish the best in arenas where there
isn't a lot of competitive advantage to be had.