Source Access Direct Benefits?


On Thursday last week I met with a delegation representing Eastern European members of the press (about 40 of them) at our facilities in Redmond.  We talked through issues of source licensing and how they are perceived in their respective countries.

 

One of the questions asked struck me as a particularly simple, and good, question: How does this help end users? 

 

I would like to say that source licensing (open, shared, whatever) has great direct benefit for the end user – but in truth it doesn’t. For the person sitting in front of a machine trying to get work done, who has no development experience, there is no direct benefit from source licensing. All value is indirect in nature.

 

There is a strong argument to be made that transparency increases trust. However, I do not believe this leads to the idea that transparency must be absolute to engender real trust. (I’ll have to tackle this one in another blog entry.) Trust therefore is as direct a relationship as possible in this discussion.

 

If the applications running in that environment are better because the developers had deeper knowledge of the system on which there are building, then that is indirectly good for the end user. If the feedback loops within the technical community are stronger because of the source access vehicles, then that is indirectly good for the end user.

 

The argument that source availability fundamentally improves the quality of a given piece of software is a specious argument. It can help, but it certainly isn’t a compulsory result. In the same vein of thought is the assumption that the software would be more secure because of source availability. Both arguments have the same flaw. Just because the code is there does not mean people are looking at it. More importantly, it does not mean that the right people are looking at it. And, as the code base matures and evolves, there is no guaranteed rigor in testing or ongoing compatibility resulting exclusively from source access.

 

Where does this leave us? The availability for source code does not deliver direct benefit to the end user. Direct benefits are reserved for the development community (individual and organizational) and business strategy.   

 

This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.

Comments (8)
  1. Pontus says:

    I’m not sure how strongly you relate this to the availability of source code meaning just availability (and not being allowed to actually do anything with it, except possibly look at it) and what you consider to be direct benefit, but I just want to point out one way source access (with permissions to modify [or let others modify] and use the code) can be of great (direct) benefit to the end user.

    The situation I’m thinking of is a product that basically works well enough for the users purpose, but has some flaw that the vendor is unwilling to address. A user with source access then has the option of fixing the issue herself (or, more likely, hire someone to do that). There are a lot of good reasons for not doing that, but at least the user has that option.

    So, I’d say that one direct benefit to the end user is that decisions on how the product is modified and what flaws are fixed *can* be done based on the cost/benefits for that user’s organization instead of the vendor’s.

  2. Ivan says:

    Internet Explorer bugs would be fixed quicker if the code was open source, that would be a benefit for the end user.

  3. Andy O says:

    "Where does this leave us? The availability for source code does not deliver direct benefit to the end user. Direct benefits are reserved for the development community (individual and organizational) and business strategy."

    On that we agree. But when it comes to the indirect effects, I would estimate (out of the air) that see-but-dont-touch code only receives 5% of the indirect effects that see-and-touch code does. The right to distribution is not nessesary to benefit.

    When you segment the users into corporate and consumers it is easier to see.

    Corporate users fx. can themselves (or pay others to) fix/modify code the vendor is unwilling to do as Pontus writes.

    For consumers there is also benefits. When we talk windows i think there is enormeous amounts of code that would be modified if it was possible. Mainly all those areas of the code, that ristrict the users like bad support for competitors dataformats and protocols, things that phone home ect.

    You see it exemplified to the extreme in most shady p2p applications. There are opensource ones, which really helps the user in what they want, and there are the not-open ones which unloads tons of spyware and the likes.

    Microsofts tradition of determining if they want to "enable the user" to do x or y (popup-blockers, css-support, interaction with competitors ect.) is of course based in Microsofts needs and not the user. Something that MS would need to consider again if users could modify the code.

    I actually think the code-litteracy on a global scale would rise if MS allowed for code-modification. I think many people would like to try and modify things. And perhaps Clippy and the digging dog would be the first to go… 😉

  4. bertho says:

    I want just a source code

  5. Swaroop C H says:

    > Both arguments have the same flaw. Just

    > because the code is there does not mean

    > people are looking at it.

    If people are going to use the software, I can almost guarantee that people will want to look at the code underneath it. They may or may not get access to it, that’s a different story. But if they do get access, I believe that someone *will* look at it and *will* improve it. It only depends on how ‘openly’ (since you’re fond of that word 😉 ) the original authors would like to incorporate the improvements and/or welcome the changes. This also depends on how much the code-readers are willing to trust the original authors for leading the project in the right direction.

  6. markovich says:

    On that we agree. But when it comes to the indirect effects, I would estimate (out of the air) that see-but-dont-touch code only receives 5% of the indirect effects that see-and-touch code does. The right to distribution is not nessesary to benefit.

  7. Kramsat says:

    Open this post and read what I think about that:,

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