Wednesday, October 27, 2004

PHK's Insights on Open Source Development

As an open source user and advocate, and especially as a FreeBSD user, I found this interview with Poul-Henning Kamp fascinating. PHK recently became famous for requesting and receiving funding from the community for FreeBSD development. PHK describes what it's like to be self-employed and working alone:

"[I]t is a mixed blessing for me. The situation is not as much a bold 'I answer to nobody!' as a worried 'Shit! I'm all alone...'

Normally then, as selfemployed, you have the separation from your customers, some kind of contract where you can draw the line, but in my case I answer to the FreeBSD community more or less on a contract of 'give me money and I'll do good things for FreeBSD.'

The pressure from within is worse than any pressure any boss have ever laid on me."

To me this is one of the greatest differences between open source software and commercial software. When I see someone commit code to an open source project, I can associate a specific person with that change. If that change is poorly coded, or controversial, people will notice and complain. Something similar to this happened recently and was documented in the FreeBSD cvs-src summaries.

When someone makes a change to Windows, it is completely opaque. As a result, open source achieves a level of accountability and transparency unlike anything in commercial software. Only when a single developer or a very small known group is responsible for a commercial product can a similar level of "pressure" be applied to proprietary, closed software.

On a related note, Slashdot featured a useful thread titled Switching to Contracting? that describes what it's like to go out on one's own.

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tweedledeetweedledum said...
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