back to article Open source's totally non-secret weapon big tech dares not use: Staying relevant

Last week, one fundamental problem for IT cropped up in three very different stories. One story was Google's parent Alphabet doing an internal audit of all its products on the back of falling profits. One was a highly critical look at Meta's efforts to put business into VR. And one was Linus Torvalds getting cranky that the i486 …

  1. Flak

    The circle of life

    This is exactly why companies' fortunes wax and wane - not just in the software space, but also in other industries.

    While some of the big bets may pay off against all most others' expectations, these kinds of distractions allow others to build and establish compelling propositions that meet current customer needs and grow rapidly themselves.

    1. Schultz
      Go

      The circle of life ... as related to business

      Innovation in context of the circle of life is called evolution and should teach us a little something about the futility of grand corporate visions or great weed fields that may or may not sprout the next big thing.

      Biological evolution is fundamentally random but is progressing through constant evolutionary pressure and is constantly adapting to new environmental conditions. The right mutation meets the right conditions and you have a great success story. Capitalist business works very much the same way (unless you include rent-seeking and cronyism into the equation), but we tend to re-interpret every success story - with hindsight - as great visionary success from brilliant people.

      Let's just face it, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates (just to name a few) are not singularly smart engineers, managers, or investors but were the right people in the right place at the right time. An Albert Einstein, surely, they are not. The best a company can hope for is that its smart and creative employees find the right product that meets its moment in the marketplace. These employees will need enough time and space to succeed. The worst those companies can do is to micromanage every aspect of their company and grind all creativity into finely-powdered productivity that can be sifted and quantified in this year's report card.

  2. ArrZarr Silver badge
    Mushroom

    The venn diagram between "People who use interfaces" and "People who make interfaces" has always been damn close to two separate circles.

    Google's interfaces are unbelievably bad. They have so many buttons which won't let you open in a new tab, or they'll only let you look at one thing in a new time and require three clicks to get to an identical part of another account's account.

    That's just a microcosm of the bigger problem. Facebook for businesses' interface is a nightmare to use because what are marketers going to do? Not advertise on Facebook? Google is the same.

    This wouldn't be so bad if other platforms, like Bing or Pinterest/Tiktok didn't then copy the bigger one as if it was worth copying in the first place.

    Of course there is a disconnect between what the C-Suite want and what the users want - they don't need to use their stuff as part of their everyday life.

    1. midgepad Bronze badge

      A digression, but

      FWIW the bits I use work fine, thank you.

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: A digression, but

        Assuming you're referring to interfaces that you are a developer on, of course they do. You're the developer and are able to tweak & streamline all the little niggling things that annoy you, and most of the other users probably see it as something set in stone that they have no hope of getting any change through to make their lives easier.

        Assuming you're referring to Google, Facebook, AWIN etc. interfaces, they are underachievers at best. They'll do the job but inefficiently and with far too many button clicks to achieve the desired goal.

        Assuming you're a developer for Google, Facebook, AWIN etc, I just want to talk. I want to point out all the million ways that the interfaces you work on suck at their jobs and why they make my life harder and more frustrating than they need to be.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: A digression, but

          Assuming you're a developer for Google, Facebook, AWIN etc, I just want to talk. I want to point out all the million ways that the interfaces you work on suck at their jobs and why they make my life harder and more frustrating than they need to be.

          I feel the same way about Visual Studio. Gets in the way almost as often as it helps.

      2. Saint
        Trollface

        Re: A digression, but

        Same here !

        I only use the little red x in the top corner though

  3. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

    Don't forget the lawyers

    There's another aspect to progression in 'new' developments and that is the obstructive use of patents. It's all very well having an idea and patenting the process but if you don't know how to achieve/complete/develop the action.....

    At least the lawyers and patent trolls might get an opportunity to extract their share and distribute the riches accordingly.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Word Count.....

    "customer" -- zero

    "product(s)" -- one

    ....in Rupert Goodwins' article. And this also tells you something about Google and FB. Commercial success is a TWO-SIDED outcome......there's the people who invent (or develop) products, and there's the people who buy them (because the product satisfies a need).

    ....and obviously, there are very few people out there who need (huge processing power plus ugly headsets).....it doesn't look like a mass market.

    ....and (less obviously) there are an increasing number of customers who wonder about the downsides of doing business with Google or FB.....irrespective of the customer's need for the service.

    ....and finally, and not mentioned, there's the perennial question about "lock in" -- the move from running the software locally....to paying a monthly fee (forever). This last item seems to me to be a killer feature of open source, compared with the above.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Word Count.....

      ....add Microsoft into the mire here too. Pretty much forcing all users to suck up to their cloud subscription as a service. The price of Windows Server is so insane now and add in the near criminal licensing terms as soon as you consider virtualising a Windows Server and the only conclusion is that Microsoft really, really don't want anyone using anything other than Microsoft cloud services. The Microsoft 365 and Azure interfaces are a spaghetti mess of barely working probably unwanted functionality with defaults that are only of benefit to Microsoft. If you've gone anywhere near the shit show that is the Microsoft xbox online zune game whatever administration interface then you'll see more of the same disjointed cobbled together mismash or shite that carefully doesn't do what anyone actually wants. Of, if it does, good luck funding it without googling and trawling through all the out of date online help and reference pages. All Microsoft want is lock-in and nothing else. It's a continuation of the same just a tweaked arena.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Word Count.....

        I hope you're a bot rather than a human writing that unintelligibly.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Word Count.....

          Says the most tedious commentard on The Register (trolls included).

          At least you managed to refrain from calling him a NAZI, as you do with every second post.

  5. Khaptain Silver badge

    Big Tech became political

    Whilst they once strived for industrial and intellectual excellence Big Tech has simply moved on to being Poltically and Financially motivated at an extreme level. Zuckerberg and Google aren't constantly being sent to court because of engineering failures.

    Big tech now appears to simply be a huge stream of endless Pipe Dreams, constantly bombarding us with product X, or idea Z. And even though there have been huge advances in technology I get the feeling that very few of them are being used for anything other than the rubbing of personal egos.

    I can't/won't speak for Linus as I have absolutely no understanding of his personal objectives. He's a strange egg that is not easy to decipher.

  6. rg287

    Google's strategy of letting a thousand flowers bloom is a recipe for a backyard filled with weeds. Both these things are illnesses of the rich; you have the luxury of doing things badly for a long time if the cash keeps flowing.

    ...

    But to get there, means engineering a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue. That may seem utopian, but it was once the stuff of corporate will.

    It goes beyond just corporate world-view of throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and then seeing what sticks.

    I seem to remember a former Googler commenting fairly recently that the reason Google has a million chat apps is that their internal progression model heavily encourages you to be involved in "Big Bang" releases. So the new chat/video call/Stadia project launches, half the devs then put in for promotion and move to the next Big ThingTM. Their previous "baby" then founders for a couple of years until it gets culled. It's not simply the result of a sober, considered policy of letting people explore and experiment (their "20% time") - it's an incentive to rehash solved-problems to tick a career-progression box.

    It's a perverse incentive that's it's very, very difficult to get promoted or progress simply by being a good engineer and fixing bugs or sticking with a product and being a guru in it. You need to have "a thing" under your belt - which incentivises otherwise (probably) perfectly good engineers to go off and "innovate" a million variations on chat, video calling or some other solved problem.

    This isn't necessarily a broader culture issue and more a misguided HR/management policy which could be solved with a minor tweak to how they conduct annual reviews. It's no secret that plenty of workplaces have seen productivity tumble or quality issues introduced after a listless manager (who usually doesn't understand the work well enough) decides to introduce some KPIs and the workforce then optimises their workflow to match those KPIs, and stops worrying about secondary or maintenance tasks which aren't being measured.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      That's savage. And stupid, although I can see part of what was probably the original reason for it. Almost as stupid as Microsoft's stack ranking system and now their move to silo their products as much as possible.

  7. 502 bad gateway
    Devil

    Voluntary unemployment

    Meta wants everyone to work in the metaverse, and is denying the awkward fact that strapping shoeboxes to our heads is completely irrelevant to our day jobs. But guess how long a career at Meta will be for anyone who says so.

    Senior management in big corporations certainly have some heavy-duty reality insulation, combine that with the perpetual circle jerk of mutual arse kissing, a cult like belief in the corporate propaganda and you have an infallible recipe for doing stupid way beyond the point when a face-saving course reversal is tenable.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The burden of untold riches

    It seems to me that the problems of Google and Meta stem from having too much money.

    When your annual turnover is measured in such large numbers, it is difficult to deliver the growth that shareholders both expect and demand. And since both companies are operating in what are essentially mature markets, the prospects for expanding their existing operations are limited. Added to which, when your companies span such a wide field of disciplines and markets, almost any attempt to buy into a promising growth area attracts the gaze of anti-monopoly regulators.

    In case anyone has developed the false impression that I am feeling sorry for these outfits, or trying to excuse their actions, it would be useful to look to the past. In previous decades the solution was to break up such empires. Could it be that the time has come to separate the Goo from the Gle (and the You from the Tube), the Me from the Ta and the Ama from the Zon.

    Though I have a sneaking suspicion that such a breakup would just increase the value of their owners' share holdings.

    1. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: The burden of untold riches

      The micros~1 from the micros~2...

      Boy is it ever.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: The burden of untold riches

      Maybe also there's the fear of becoming irrelevant. Of missing the boat and becoming a client of the new big company- or even fading away altogether.

      I've said it before on here, but I do wonder how much Microsoft's failure to see the internet coming and having to run to catch up has created a culture of fear in the C suites. Not just MS but in all the others too. They could wake up one fine morning to find they've missed the boat.

    3. the Jim bloke Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: The burden of untold riches

      Could it be that the time has come to separate the Goo from the Gle (and the You from the Tube), the Me from the Ta and the Ama from the Zon.

      Can we use an Axe?

      ..

      or a chainsaw? or blowtorch!

      Bonus points for using explosives...

    4. Sven Coenye

      Re: The burden of untold riches

      Just beware of the AT&T precedent - where the Baby Bells subsequently turned to the courts and got the break-up agreement interpreted as an order of protection.

  9. Czrly

    Mozilla not even mentioned?

    The article fails to mention how the same thinking plagues the Open Source world, too, in MANY, MANY cases. On prime example: Mozilla Firefox.

    Sure it's FOSS but Mozilla appear to be hell-bent on proving that "irrelevance" is achievable by those holding the reigns of a FOSS product, too, and, in fact, that they can mimic Google in removing every feature anybody actually wants and adding tonnes and tonnes of cruft that nobody asked for.

    All of this – whether in the corporate world or without – stems from the same fundamental truth: nobody, today, achieves a powerful role while retaining a moderate attitude or an understanding that just-being-brilliant-at-something is enough. The ONLY way to the top is to fully subscribe to the cult of owning everything, always increasing everything, beating everything. And, of course, everything must be maximally monetized – just a fair profit is not enough.

    1. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

      "Nobody ever changed the world by saying that everything is fine."

      "I didn't want to change the world! It was fine!"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

      So true, and here come the downvotes. However Mozilla is an example of "corporate open source" where they have the same problems as Google, because they are fundamentally of a similar organisational structure. It's just different in where the funding comes from.

      Also GNOME is a particularly toxic open source project. Part of it probably to do with the fact they have no real "product" to sell and thus no paying customers so they can keep creating garbage without any real consequences.

      Watch this, 20 downvotes coming for this post now. I wonder who's doing it, what type of people downvote any criticism of Mozilla or leftist politics in general? Maybe it's brigading? I'm noticing quite a "long tail" of downvotes for all my anti-Woke and anti-Mozilla posts... And the duration of the long tail is considerably longer than for the upvotes.... Maybe I'm reading into it too much?

      So far I've got 891 upvotes and 408 downvotes, most over the last month. Almost all those downvotes come from criticising the Woke "religion".

      1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

        -> what type of people downvote any criticism of Mozilla

        I have seen this on The Reg comments. When I pointed out a bug (an actual bug, not a "could be better" type comment) in Thunderbird it garnered thumbs down.

        I really had some hopes for Mozilla a long time ago. But I used it and saw it, the high memory usage (less of a problem today but a few years ago it was important) and the "solutions" listed on the Mozilla web site. These "solutions" are still there now: 1. Update to the latest version. 2. Restart Firefox. 3. Restart your computer. 4. etc. If those solutions didn't work 5 years ago, why are they still listed?

        The "let's take a complete detour from making a web browser and build an operating system called Firefox OS" turn on the road. Hmmm. Didn't work out, took away developer resources from their key product.

        It's a pity. I don't regard Firefox as a great FOSS example. It could have been.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

          Fanboyism maybe? Avid users of Firefox who cannot stand criticism of their favourite product? I first saw this sort of behaviour with Apple users years ago, if you criticised Apple products you would get so many downvotes. Whatever Apple does is gospel and dissent is not tolerated (!). It's like a cult or religion or something?

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

            Kremlinbots get downvotes, simples.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

              And I am definitely not a Kremlin bot. I absolutely *hate* what Russia is doing in Ukraine, it is barbaric and doesn't belong in the 21st Century. In fact I can't wait for the day there is a revolution in Russia. I really hope eventually for mass protests as what's happening in Iran.

              Путин хуйло (Putin is a d**khead).

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

                Here is an example of many people complaining about Mozilla's advocacy of censorship.

                Some comments from that subreddit. I strongly agree with their viewpoints:

                "I just came here to express my disappointed with this blog post. Silecing and deplatforming are not the way to go about things in the free and open soirce community, which Mozilla is supposedly a big part of."

                " And who gets to be arbiter of what is disinformation and what isn't? This is a very very dangerous road to go down that I vehemently oppose as I do not trust anyone or any system to be that arbiter"

                I don't like Trump, but censorship is still censorship no matter who it's done to. To see Mitchell Baker, the CEO of Mozilla advocate it is shocking. So I uninstalled the browser and yes the replacement was Chromium, a Google product.

                The people on the aforementioned subreddit have the same point of view as myself and they don't get mass downvotes....

                I wonder what the difference is between the user demographics of that subreddit and TheRegister.com? Or is it a downvote brigade or something else unknown that's doing it?

                Or are my posts, because they can be very emotional, sound troll-ish in some way?

                1. sabroni Silver badge
                  Facepalm

                  Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

                  Yet another person who thinks freedom of speech means they can force someone else to host their speech. That's not what freedom of speech is. If you don't like Mozilla's attitude you're free to fuck off elsewhere.

                  "oh, I'm being censored" says every abusive fuckwit who ever got banned for being an abusive fuckwit.

                  Cry me a fucking river.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                @standup

                And I am definitely not a Kremlin bot.

                Well known tosser of insults Dave314159ggggdffsdds probably replied to the wrong post in a fit or rage, and was directing his ire to the Russia sympathising troll VoiceOf(anything but)Truth.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

        @standup

        Quote: "....Also GNOME is a particularly toxic...."

        Yup......Anyone (like me) who liked and used GTK3.......

        .........and got really pissed off by GTK4.....would heartily agree!!!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

          Hehe, it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. My favorite version was GTK2, it all went downhill after that. Using Qt now, I completely ignore any of the goings on in the GNOME and GTK community.

          GTK originally was an acronym for "GIMP ToolKit" now it's effectively the "GNOME ToolKit" with all this "libadwaita" nonsense and deliberate deprecation of theme support. They even have a site "please don't theme our apps". The sheer toxicity of the developers, my oh my.

      3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

        Have an extra downvote for bothering about downvotes…

      4. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Jumbling topics jumbles the feedback

        "... what type of people downvote any criticism of Mozilla or leftist politics in general? ... I'm noticing quite a "long tail" of downvotes for all my anti-Woke and anti-Mozilla posts ..."

        Those are two utterly unrelated topics, so it's very likely that different sorts of people would downvote each one.

        But has it occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, the downvotes are coming because people simply disagree with your positions -- or at least, disagree with one position vehemently enough to outweigh possible agreement with the other, when a single post contains both?

        Here's an experiment. Try confining your posts on technical issues to only technical issues, without any mention of irrelevant culture-war stuff, politics, the word "woke", etc. Leave all that to separate posts,

        Then see which posts attract the downvotes.

        I, for one, want to upvote your post for its opinion on one of the topics in that snippet, but downvote it for the other. (Which is which? That's beside the point of this post, so isn't included here. See how that works?)

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Re: Jumbling topics jumbles the feedback

          For the record, I quite agree with @standup about the directions that Firefox, and especially GNOME, are heading in...

          1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

            Re: Jumbling topics jumbles the feedback

            ... but disagree with their "anti-Woke" tirades against "leftist politics" -- and I find calling GNOME "toxic" based on opinions of the project's technical merits, well, toxic.

            1. sabroni Silver badge

              Re:"leftist politics"

              Also known as "Treating people with the respect you expect yourself".

              That's dangerous, some of those people are foreigners you know!!

              Remember, the invasion of the south coast is what's fucked up the NHS. We were fine until all those little boats started arriving.....

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Jumbling topics jumbles the feedback

          Yes.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

      No idea why this is getting downvoted. Is entirely true!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mozilla not even mentioned?

        There you go. The Mozilla downvote brigade in action?

        Downvotes don't deter me, they just make me voice my opinion even more strongly, pushing back against it even more.

        1. sabroni Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Downvotes don't deter me, they just make me voice my opinion even more strongly

          Who's a brave little soldier?

  10. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "no FOSS equivalent of Azure or AWS or Google Cloud Platform"

    But these are just several pieces of FOSS software lashed together with a proprietary API and billing software aren't they?

    And sometimes if a piece of FOSS software used by a Big Tech corporation in is cloud is very lucky it will get a few pesos thrown in its general direction as recompense for contributing several billion dollars to its quarterly profit figures.

  11. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    Seems like a spurious argument

    The Linux kernel is just a kernel. It's not any use by itself without everything else that is needed for an operating system. Most of the top contributors to the Linux kernel are companies with deep pockets, not beardies sitting in a bedroom with their cups of cold coffee, eeking out a living. No, they are people like Poettering, employed by Microsoft.

    There's a lot of not-very-good open source apps out there as well as good ones. Gimp and Inkscape have some of the ugliest GUIs " out there. VLC likewise has a "shove it all in settings and let them find it" attitude to GUI design.

    The author seems to be missing a point, as shown in this snippet: "The irony of this is that both Google and Meta are successful parts of the FOSS ecosystem... So how come the companies' branded goods don't reflect that?" Software, whether open source or closed, is just a collection of tools. I can use a hammer and chisel to turn raw stone into a sculpture or I can use it them to smash something to pieces. Open source software has no inherent more-moral feature than closed-source software. It's ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a spurious argument

      Of course it does. If a piece of FOSS is useful to society it will continue in one form or another.

      If Microsoft decides to knock Windows 7 on the head, that's it it's dead, if you want a supported Windows you're getting Windows 10 whether you like it or not. Likewise for Windows 10, when that reaches EOL and you want a supported Windows you're getting Windows 11 whether you like it or not. Also your computer is going to landfill and you're buying a new one if it doesn't have TPM 2.0.

      1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: Seems like a spurious argument

        Windows 7 does not stop working just because it is EOL. It might not matter if it is not supported. I don't need any new features. It's disconnected from the internet, the chances of it being compromised are in practical terms zero.

        Meanwhile FOSS might or might not continue whether it is being used or not. It's entirely in the hands of the developers, not the users. If those users cannot themselves develop programs they are in no better a position than the average Windows user. The response from the FOSS community will be: you go and maintain it.

        1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

          Re: Seems like a spurious argument

          The response from the FOSS community will be: you go and maintain it.

          Yes, and this underlines the huge difference with FLOSS. You can.

          With a commercial, normally copyrighted application, if the copyright holder decides to stop supporting it, that's it, it's dead*.

          With FLOSS software, you can get a copy of the source, fork/maintain it (or pay someone else to fork/maintain it), and on you go - the world is your oyster.

          NN

          *Barring things like somebody else, or a sufficiently motivated end user, with enough resources purchasing the appropriate rights, or pre-existing escrow agreements &c

          1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

            Re: Seems like a spurious argument

            -> Yes, and this underlines the huge difference with FLOSS. You can.

            Hold on there and read my post more carefully. If *you* cannot code, *you* cannot. So, as you rightly wrote, you can persuade or pay somebody else to do it. What if they don't want to or if they want too much money? Am I really in a better position? I don't think so. The world is only my oyster if I can code (and have enough time and interest to maintain something that somebody else has decided to do away with), or if I have enough money to pay somebody to do it for me.

            I was recently in this very position. A piece of old software which has outdated use of SSL/TLS. Can I update it (meaning rewrite chunks of it)? I can if I want to spend enough time doing it. But is a better use of my time just to bite the bullet and see that it has fallen into disuse and to move on to where there is a much larger crowd these days? Anyone who says "maintain it yourself" is basically saying "be a single point of failure".

            1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

              Re: Seems like a spurious argument

              You are missing the point.

              With FLOSS software, it is legally permissible to take a copy and maintain it yourself and publish updates to the world. How easy it is for *you* to do that is another matter. The point is it is *allowed*.

              With copyrighted software, even if you are technically able to maintain it (lucky you), you cannot publish updates to the world without having permission from the copyright owners. For most people, that is an effective means of preventing progress, so you are forced onto a new copyrighted version, whether you like it or not.

              Don't blame FLOSS software for your limitations. FLOSS allows you to do stuff you otherwise legally could not. It might be difficult to take advantage of, but that is a resource issue, not a legal issue.

              1. gerryg

                Re: Seems like a spurious argument

                Pedantry alert.

                FLOSS is copyrighted.

                I'd have to do some deep diving for more information but there have been a series of lawsuits enforcing copyright on organisations that thought FLOSS was freeware.

                Where FLOSS differs is in the rights it gives to others in return for certain obligations.

                From "mention my name" through to "release source code".

                1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

                  Re: Seems like a spurious argument

                  You are right (save for some software in some jurisdictions that is Public Domain). I was being unclear.

                  The point about FLOSS is that it generally comes with a licence that allows you to look at the code, make changes, and distribute the changed version, without making a payment for the code (paying for the actual costs of getting a copy is fine), subject to some restrictions.

                  A lot, if not the majority, of commercial software is licensed for use, and doesn't come with the opportunity to (legally) make changes and distribute the changed version without explicit additional agreement with the owner. If the owner doesn't want to produce an update, or provide visibility of the source code, then you are pretty much stuck.

                  Free - you don't pay for the source code itself

                  Libre - you can make changes and onwards distribute

                  Open Source - You can view the source code

                  Software - what it says on the tin.

                  You are right that (most) FLOSS software is copyrighted, and it is the accompanying licence that gives you the key additional abilities. Copyright law still applies, so if you break the terms of the licence, there can be consequences.

                  Sorry that I wasn't clear enough and oversimplified.

            2. midgepad Bronze badge

              Nobody can prevent you

              Is the argument.

              Your abilities and inclinations are no more and no less a factor than in other tasks.

          2. Pete 2 Silver badge

            Re: Seems like a spurious argument

            > you can get a copy of the source, fork/maintain it (or pay someone else to fork/maintain it), and on you go

            Riiiight. Provided you place zero monetary value on your time. Assuming you have spent years familiarising yourself with the toolsets necessary to build it and have the decade or so of programming experience needed to actually get a working product out of the forked code.

            How about putting up a sign saying "firewood: free and open" then when people come along to collect it, all they see are trees. Yes! it's free. All you have to do is be a qualified lumberjack, own a chainsaw plus all the safety gear and have access to an 18-wheeler to haul the lumber away. Then find the time and motivation to chop it into usable sized pieces.

            But the firewood's free. So anyone could do the rest, except maybe only one in 10,000 have the skills and almost none of them have the motivation.

            1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

              Re: Seems like a spurious argument

              Well, someone could come along and offer "Firewood as a Service" and charge people for making the free resource accessible to them by removing the need for lumberjack (integration) skills. You could call the service "Blue" or "Yangtze Firewood Services".

          3. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: Seems like a spurious argument

            I make a living writing software. If a FOSS project stops, I’m not going to rescue it because I won’t make money. My wife loves me making money, because she can buy things. Simple as that. Maybe when I retire.

            So “you can fix open source, you can’t fix closed source” is not very much of an argument.

            1. Adair Silver badge

              Re: Seems like a spurious argument

              So “you can fix open source, you can’t fix closed source” is not very much of an argument.

              It is, in fact a very good argument - highlighted by the reality that with FLOSS you can always 'stick a fork in it' if the original branch isn't flowing in a desired direction, or is not flowing at all.

              Closed source proprietary software just says 'Fuck off', and that's the end of it.

              Whether people can/do take advantage of what FLOSS offers is entirely beside the point. All that matters is that the 'freedom' exists.

              1. gnasher729 Silver badge

                Re: Seems like a spurious argument

                You didn’t really read what I wrote. You say “you can stick a fork in it”. No, 99.99% of people can’t. I had a look at a few packages. OpenSSL I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. zsh or cmake need moving into this decade. I _could_ develop open source stuff, but I’m not going to. It doesn’t pay the bills. Not an arbitrary package that loses support.

                1. Adair Silver badge

                  Re: Seems like a spurious argument

                  I think it's you who didn't read. I said: 'It's entirely beside the point' whether people can/do take advantage of the freedom that FLOSS offers.

                  What matters is that the freedom exists and is accessible to anyone able/willing to use it.

        2. Mike 137 Silver badge

          Re: Seems like a spurious argument

          "Windows 7 does not stop working just because it is EOL."

          True, but what happens is that (just for example) zoom forcibly updates its client with demands on some resource or code only present in Windoze 10+, so you can no longer use Win 7 to connect to zoom (or whatever else application is mandatorily and dynamically "updated").

          Sod the user - subscription based churn is where the dividends come from.

          1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

            Re: Seems like a spurious argument

            You make a very good point about software having certain requirements.

            -> Sod the user - subscription based churn is where the dividends come from.

            Apparently it is, as shown by Adobe. They were and are vilified, and they are also laughing driving their lorry loads of money to the bank.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Seems like a spurious argument

          Would Gimp stop processing images if its development ever stops? The same applies to Photoshop, or MS Office. if you have an old copy of Office, of a version which has reached EOL for Microsoft, you might not be able to completely work with its newer document formats. RHEL 6.x didn't stop working when Red Hat EOL'd it. But with FOSS, you might find a new maintainer, if the project has relevance for enough people.

          Old Android phones and LineageOS are the poster childs of the FOSS culture depicted in this article. When a phone brand stops spitting Android updates for any given model, if there is enough interest from that model's users, it might keep churning under a newer, FOSS built Android ROM.

  12. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

    Great piece

    Thank you for realising my inchoate thoughts with such eloquence.

  13. Howard Sway Silver badge

    a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

    There's always been a way of doing this : ask the end users what they want and what they don't want. Once a need is identified and understood properly, provide a good solution. Will always get better results than "the public gets what I the great genius decide". And be better for revenue. And stop you going down Metaverse rabbit holes.

    1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

      Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

      -> ask the end users what they want and what they don't want

      Ha ha ha. You've never done that, have you? If you ask 1000 people what they want from a piece of software you will get some common ground, and a very large number of things which those people individually want. For some people it might be bigger fonts on a GUI, for others it will be different colours, for others they want a configurable tool bars. Then some users will want what cannot be done (either something which is actually impossible, or will cost too much time or money to implement, or is such an outlier that nobody else will want it and is thus a waste of time),

      Asking people what they want is "followship". Devising something good which will appeal to a large customer base is leadership.

      1. JimC

        Re: Ha ha ha. You've never done that,

        Finding out what the users want - and what they need - and how to deliver all that in a usable package - comprises a very complex and rather difficult set of skills that are very unlikely to be found in a single person. It is to say the least not immediately obvious that FOSS is any more competent and marshalling such skill sets into the application delivery process than closed source is. Not that there need be or is any particular connection between the application of such skills and the software licensing model.

      2. Bitsminer Silver badge

        Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

        WTF?

        I just upvoted VoiceOfTruth.

        someone help me.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. BlackPeter

      Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

      "If I asked the public what they wanted they would have said, "faster horses". -- Henry Ford

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

        Too true. A few years ago we asked users what improvements they wanted in a couple of our crusty, and really badly written, applications. In general it was stuff like "change the colours" and "make this specific input box bigger" or "make it do what some unrelated application does instead".

      2. Sulky

        Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

        I agree with the sentiment but as far as I'm aware he never said it.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: a way to make the good of the end user more relevant than maximising revenue

          I thought the more common similar saying related to light bulbs and candles/lamps?

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. juice

    Google and FOSS may be closer than you think...

    I'm not entirely sure entirely I buy into the premise of this article, at least when it comes to comparing Google and FOSS/Linux.

    (Can't really dispute the assessment of what's going on with Meta, though. I just wish I had some way to tap into the money tap; maybe I should create a startup which uses AI to generate avatar sock-textures, or somesuch...)

    To me, Google's approach is essentially a commercialised take on the FOSS development process: take some smart people, give them a big budget and then see what happens.

    (By all accounts, Valve's business model is even more anarchistic, which may help to explain why so little actually comes out from Valve themselves; in the last 5 years, they've released a total of 4 games, of which one was a tech demo, another was a commercialised mod and a third collapsed and died due to being a bit too blatantly pay-to-win...)

    I'm also not sure that I agree with this statement:

    > [FOSS developers] understand the importance of making things that matter and are very motivated to be a part of that. These resources are limited. Time spent developing, maintaining and testing for a processor that nobody uses is time not spent on current needs

    There's certainly developers who do think like that, and Linus Torvalds is a pretty good example.

    But I'd also note that most "flagship" FOSS projects are either sponsored by companies such as Google or Microsoft, or have decided to offer services around their technologies. E.g. Elastic, Libreoffice, Mozilla and Redhat. Which means that not only is there's some degree of commercial awareness in the actions these projects take, but a significant number of their developers are paid to work on those projects, rather than doing it just because they're "very motivated to be a part of it".

    I'd also question how good it is to have someone working on code for ideological reasons. Because not only can ideologies can clash, but people's ideologies and motivations often change over time. And what happens if you can't find someone who shares that same set of motivations?

    E.g. NTP was created by David L Mills, who's sadly now unable to significantly contribute to it any more due to visual disabilities. His code is described as both ideosyncratic and complex, but he agreed to let someone called Harlan Stenn take over the reference implementation

    However, Stenn himself is now in his late 60s and has apparently burnt through his retirement funds supporting NTP, though he's also set up a foundation through which donations can be given.

    https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/the-thorny-problem-of-keeping-the-internets-time

    And in the meantime, various issues with NTP has led to other people creating their own forks and implementations - NTPSec, Chrony, even Google with their "leapsmear" approach to time sync.

    Which leads to the final point: there's also plenty of waste and duplicated effort in FOSS. I mean: Mysql and MariaDB, anyone? Or how about Openoffice or Libreoffice? Plex and Kodi (nee XBMC)? Or look at what happened to Perl, when Larry Wall decided it was better to start again with Perl 6 (aka Raku), rather than evolving Perl 5?

    And as to abandoned FOSS projects? Where do you start?

    FOSS has many useful attributes, but flagship projects such as Linux are very much an exception to the rule.

  15. LDS Silver badge

    The difference between Linux and the Next Big Thing...

    Linux doesn't need to innovate. It's a kernel built copying an already legacy OS with a lot of outdated ideas. But it is cheap, and maintaining it is as well, companies doesn't need to invest huge stacks of money into Linus' crew to make Linux more than it is now (for, example, a decent desktop OS?), they just need to keep Linux god enough to run their data centre servers, run their people data extracting business and to bring money in, at a fraction of the cost other solutions would imply.

    But Linux itself brings no money. the FOSS model imply it can be only be paid by some other products and businesses - even RedHat sold itself to IBM, eventually. So Linux lovers should be grateful about those companies investing, and often wasting, enormous sums of money trying to make more with which they also pay Torvalds & C. - when they don' t use FOSS code without paying a dime.

    But don't believe the Linux model can be applied to their business - they would close within a few years, and nobody would pay for Linux development any longer. And we would return to pay for the software, because building it costs money. Probably, a better world, where you're the customer, not the product.

    1. Bitsminer Silver badge

      Re: The difference between Linux and the Next Big Thing...

      Linux doesn't need to innovate. It's a kernel built copying an already legacy OS with a lot of outdated ideas...

      I have to disagree. It may have been a copy once upon a time, but there have been a tonne of innovations added to it because (a) it is free to distribute and therefore many people benefit and (b) a lot of people work on it and use it and adding new stuff benefits from their testing, review and/or complaining and bugfinding.

      Some examples:

      - XFS file system contributed by SGI added competition for ext3/4

      - IO scheduler for large systems with high concurrent IO queues

      - CPU scheduler for very-high core-count CPUs (hundreds, again from SGI and IBM)

      - CPU scheduler to improve utilization up to 100% (Google)

      - io_uring is the current Big Thing; nobody else has this

      That's the short list; more knowledgeable people would extend it tremendously.

      The kernel gets a lot of attention (even if it has a lot of cruft no-one pays attention to) and this is good.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Because in social media the customers are not the users

    It's been said before so please forgive the plagiarism - when advertising is your main business advertisers are your primary bread and butter while consumers targeted to soak up the advertising are secondary. That explains a lot of the "drifting" that seems to appear in consumer facing products of Google and Facebook - it is due to an extra layer of indirection in evaluation of cost/benefits.

    Some might say it happens in the greater Linux world too - or at least the Linux desktop world - where some GUI software development seems to drift around in circles - how is that funded?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Because in social media the customers are not the users

      By the same huge tech giants who pay staff to work on it, full time even? So it's not about the user, it's about corporate profits, and developing software and devices to maximise that revenue? So they will focus on looking alike each other, because if it's too different it might put off potential users, and thus sources revenue? So that profit goal is preventing true innovation from happening. Therefore every UI just looks the same like another.

  17. Jason Hindle

    FOSS Cloud?

    “ There may seem to be no FOSS equivalent of Azure or AWS or Google Cloud Platform, but the intellectual infrastructure that open source provides through the ecosystem of libraries and frameworks is arguably as important to modern IT as the cloud itself.”

    There is OpenStack. That is conceptually very FOSS. There will not be a FOSS cloud as such because clouds require physical things, physical spaces, physical servers and lots of leccy. Public clouds charge rent and it is up to them to justify themselves vs you owning your own data centres*. And it is up to you to decide whether or not what they offer will work better for you, vs owning your own data centre(s).

    * And I do buy into a lot of their arguments. AWS/Google Cloud/Azure and friends are fine by me for many use cases.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the contrary, the cloud doesn't exist from any vendor without the open source underpinnings it is all built on. Very few pockets are deep enough to still maintain proprietary stacks that are entirely corporate owned and created.

    AWS in particular is a poster child for the "pilfer and pillage and charge" model of "business" that charges people an arm and a leg for the efforts of the open source community, reaps billions, and gives back pittances. At least Google creates technology that it later abandons as maintainable open source (and often those spin-offs are more successful once they're out from the Google shadow than while they were under it. Viva le fork!)

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