Monday, November 28, 2005

Open Source is NOT reliable

I recently sat in a company meeting that included software developers as well as administrative end-users. The question came up regarding which file format was acceptable for an email attached spreadsheet. Depending on needs of the user, my company pre-loads various different office suites on each desktop despite being governed by Microsoft 2003 Server’s Active Directory. The developers are usually using StarOffice or OpenOffice while most average users have Microsoft Office or Lotus Smartsuite. As you can tell, it’s quite eclectic in my work environment. Anyway, one of the esteemed administrative end-users balked at anything other than a Microsoft Office format stated that anything else is junk. He went on to say that StarOffice and OpenOffice are unreliable. I’d like to point out that this email was only being sent to the developers and the administrative users were not even involved in that process but this individual felt the need to flex his Microsoft “love” muscles for everyone in the meeting to see.

While I admit that there is quite a bit of bug fixing going on in Open Source software, isn’t that same thing going on in the Microsoft world as well? See people fall for the coy “update” wording that Microsoft employs when releasing the bug fixes. The average user feels that Microsoft is being so generous giving them something wonderful and completely unnecessary for free rather than fixing a mistake they made in programming before releasing to the public or closing a gaping security flaw. I thought we were a society that adored the underdog. How is it that we’ve come to blindly follow the word of Microsoft and the third party software it endorses?

I found it particularly odd that the gentlemen considered Open Source software to be junk and unreliable when we’ve all experienced Microsoft meltdown from Windows 95 to XP. I can even remember that terribly reliable version of Windows called ME. I’m sure we all know victims and have been victims of the meltdown that “required” us to buy a brand new PC because there was no cost effective way to fix it and an upgrade was impossible due to hardware issues. That’s what I call reliable. Personally, since using different versions of diabolically unreliable Open Source software, I have yet to experience the system lockups and or crashes that I regularly experience with all Microsoft products despite having well over the recommended hardware requisites. Whether at home or work, within a given day, I typically have to reboot Windows XP at least twice.

I realize that OpenOffice is not going to be able to handle every Microsoft Office obscurity but the average user will not be affected. I know that not every Open Source program will look as pretty as some tailored for Windows but most will be as affective if not more at no cost to the owner. Let’s also keep in mind that open source is typically maintained for free by one or a few developers and the turnaround rate for bug fix/version updates are considerably higher than the virtually unlimited resources of likes of Microsoft. It’s not my intent to bash Microsoft but I really think that the word reliable should not be used to describe any Microsoft product. Much of the Open Source community has operated at a half or a quarter of the life of Microsoft and enjoyed much more reliability in general. Don’t let Microsoft fool you either, they have done a good job of either employing many of these developers and or “developing” on their existing software by just given it a pretty interface. There are many of those that have begun to embrace the Open Source community in many ways from using products like Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice on Windows operating systems to completely taking the plunge to operating systems like Ubuntu or SuSE Linux with thousands of free software alternatives to meet all of their needs and desires. How unreliable can Open Source be when Federal, State, and local governments are making the switch in this country as well as others around the world? Last I checked, the internet was not built or run on a Microsoft product. Hence the reason it runs so reliably.