Proprietary vs Open Source – who cares? Consumers don’t.

In technical circles we love to have these propeller head debates.  Should code be shared?  What about the right to make a fortune off of ones intellectual property? Then there are patents to be protected.  How do I license my open source code?  How should I license my code?  Which governing technical bodies should I listen to?  It is like a love fest for lawyers  I will try and break this down into layman’s terms and then explain to everyone why you should not care.  As consumers do not treat technical folks like a deity.

Proprietary:  This is where the company owns everything soup to nuts and has control on what developers, engineers can access in terms of source code.  The most proprietary is Apple as they literally own everything from hardware design to the software.  Microsoft often is called closed but one of the reasons for it’s success in the early days of the PC industry was licensing it’s operating system to every hardware maker who was building a personal computer. Developers got access to part’s of Windows not the whole thing.  This is what made Open Source advocates so hateful towards Microsft as they want access to all the source code.  The advantage of these proprietary models is if you look at the balance sheets of these two companies today financial clout is not an issue.  These companies will be around for along time to provide high levels of supports to their respective communities.  Despite calls by some to make their trades secrets free to everyone cash is king.

Open Source:  Really the brain child of a Finnish engineer named Linus Torvald’s and his Linux operating system.  There are others but for now we will focus on Mr Torvalds’s community model.The code is posted on the internet and anyway can make additions or changes to the underlying source code.  Provided Linus approves it.  I find it ironic that this so called democracy is run like a dictatorship.  The advantage of Open Source in is you can tap into the talents of thousands of software engineers.  It creates an abundance of innovation and their is nothing better to get a software developer motivated then a technical challenge, which there is an abundance of in open source forums.  It’s free and easy to get access to what you need, which to me is why open source has really appealed to the aspiring developers on the planet.

Now that we have that brief explanation behind us, should you Mr or Mrs consumer care?  Absolutely not.  Let those techno losers go have their fun in tweetle dee and tweetle dumb land.  All you want is technology that works for you.  If Product A (let’s say a iPhone) is better than Product B (A Windows Mobile 6.5 Phone) or Product C (one of those Motorola Linux Phones) you will gladly pay more for Product A.  Why not?  It’s your choice.  I really highly doubt the source code model factored into the purchase.  To those who say sales and marketing do not matter I think they are misguided individuals.  Great Technology and great Sales and Marketing go hand in hand.  Apple in my opinion has done a great job in creating very accessible technology while conveying the message that the technology is colorful and fun and a part of an individuals lifestyle.  The Android folks have gone a bit more technical in their approach but still have been able to partner with companies to make cool consumer devices while providing a  dynamic ecosystem.

Throughout my career I have seen and listened to numerous propeller heads go through their wiz bang demos. Everyone seemed to have a higher purpose.  Sometimes I would look on in amazement as some technical wizard would show me a mobile demo (pre iPhone) and say how cool it is they could look up and find a cool bar on their phone while on the golf course.  It sure was cool to watch that person click ten times and after each click wait 30-45 seconds for the page to load.  In the end the demo took 5-6 minutes.  Time in my life that I will never get back but the memory of the useless mobile app lingers.  We tend to use the term “main street” America too much and too loosely these days.  But I think if we were to start trying to create a definition we could probably agree that the person that represents main street America is not a technologist.

At the end of the day people want items that add value to their lives.  Sometimes that value can be concrete like a automotive vehicle.  It gets me from point A to B in a manor that is useful to me.  That same item though can be purchased on emotional appeal.  I want the Ferrari for what it says about my importance in society.  The latter is hard to quantify and even harder to program for.  But one thing is clear in either scenario no one cares how it is made, it just needs to work.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 25, 2011