I have become increasingly aware of a very sharp contrast in the computing industry. For the first time in a long time, I have felt like open source is losing the battle.
In reading the Mythical Man Month I have come across a section that I Fredrick Brooks nailed when describing a programmer’s drive. To paraphrase:
“Why is programming fun? What delights may its practitioner expect as his reward?… First is the sheer joy in making things… Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people… Third is the fasination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects… and watching them work”
Anyone who has ever enjoyed programming can probably relate to one of these categories. Programming is as much an art as any of the traditional arts. When business is removed from the equation, it is expressive, and an element of beauty and facination.
However, with business intervention, the art is smothered for profits. Business don’t care about the beauty or form of a well structured solution – it cares about the bottom line. Instead of being an art of expression, programming becomes a tool for profit. Fredrick Brooks captures the woes of programming just as well. To paraphrase:
“First, one must perform perfectly… Next, other people set ones objectives… The next woe is that designing grand concepts is fun; finding nitty little bugs is just work.”
I imagine that in the early days (before the “Gold Rush”), programming used to be a labor of passion. Geeks were proud of their knowledge, and crafted solutions with the intent to give it away – their gift to the world.
Lately, I feel like that is a dying resource. Anyone who is worth a damn has probably signed on with a company, to produce code for a project that will result in revenue for the business. As these individuals are swallowed by corporations, open source initiatives slow development, and come to a stand still.
At some point, we traded passion for money, and ditched our sharing ways in favor of enterprise solutions. These solutions are a product of our free markets, but they excel in the market at the expense of open source counterparts. Everytime I see an enterprise solution roll out and eclipse what used to be an open solution, I feel like we are closer to the brink of seeing open source fail.
I am shaking my head as I write this post because I don’t understand any alternatives. Companies have money, and can push much harder than a team of non-profit programmers. I suppose the outcome of open source and enterprise should be determined by the free market, but it just feels wrong to watch it happen.