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GNU is Not Unix Education Software Linux

Free Software As Nigerian Scam 685

djeaux writes "In the November 4 issue of Syllabus, Howard Strauss, manager of technology strategy and outreach at Princeton University, presents 'The FREE, 0% APR, Better Sex, No Effort Diet' in which he scattershoots at open source software. The Nigerian scam is part of his imagery, leading to a great quote: 'While you are installing your free open source software you may want to write Mrs. Ahmed a check. Her $8.5 million will help pay for the real cost of that free software.' Elsewhere, Strauss describes the open source community as 'a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond, hackers, virus creators, and a menagerie of others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure.'" Not everyone at Princeton agrees.
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Free Software As Nigerian Scam

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  • by __aavhli5779 ( 690619 ) * on Tuesday November 04, 2003 @11:58PM (#7393151) Journal

    These folks are some of the same great people who are supposed to be working for you anyway, plus a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond, hackers, virus creators, and a menagerie of others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure.

    Though it's a parody and I generally try to take those lightly, he's made one critical error that really stands out in his assertion that free software is the domain of hackers/tinkerers/students, etc. I think Howard Strauss ought to be informed of the billions of dollars being invested in free software development by major corporations, many of whom have salaried and talented employees developing such applications. His condescending attitude towards the talented programmers who have created so much of the infrastructure the Internet depends on (Linux, BSD, Apache, MySQL anyone?) is a bit infuriating, to say the least.

    On another note, what is responsible for the recent surge of anti-free software propaganda? I'm sure that some could present a viable argument that nefarious sources (SCO/Microsoft/whoever) are essentially astroturfing on a media-wide scale (not like they haven't done it before), but things like this, plus the Forbes article and other critiqued rants that have been posted on Slashdot before, have me a bit worried about how the worldwide computer-using community is perceiving free software, especially when peoples' critiques contain such glaring factual errors as this particular one does.
    • by DeltaSigma ( 583342 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:21AM (#7393338) Journal
      Well, from what I've been reading, these kinds of disparaging comparisons seem to be doing more good than harm. Remember what companies and foreign governments were experiencing when they switched to open-source? They were being bombarded with critcism, lies, and fantastic discounts on closed-source software. But they had looked at the facts, and decided open-source was the solution they desired. They had hardened themselves against this FUD, and went on in spite of it. So now we have a collection of organizations which rightly ignore such comments.

      And this is what seems to be driving adoption now. It used to be a bunch of us zealots, fanboys, hackers, admins, the list goes on... It used to be these types making promise after promise about open source software. We knew its capabilities and we'd be damned if we didn't know a perfect fit for OSS when we saw one. It's not that way anymore. Now my manager's coming to me, and my co-workers. More and more often we find him consulting us about equivalent open-source software solutions to proprietary products he's considering purchasing. Thanks to our honesty (no, sir, I'm afraid we don't have anything to compete with Macromedia Flash... yet...), adoption is higher than ever.

      I guess what I'm getting at is this:
      We've all seen this FUD before. It's old news, it's an old battle. They're bringing it up again. But this time isn't like the last time. It just FEELS like, this time, somethings different. Like they're losing... They're not losing their castle, but the little provinces on the edge of their kingdom. Open source is slowly encroaching on their land, and they know it. This minor FUD is nothing. These guys are pawns. The big counter-attacks we can look forward to are more things along the scale of SCO. Not just misrepresentation of the facts, but real major threats to users of open source software. True attempts to stab at the heart of our force. ...but I'm the ecclectic type that equates everything to battle, even though I'm just a 20 year old that's never seen war. So feel free to ignore me. Just my unobjective observation.
      • "We've all seen this FUD before. It's old news, it's an old battle. They're bringing it up again. But this time isn't like the last time. It just FEELS like, this time, somethings different. Like they're losing... They're not losing their castle, but the little provinces on the edge of their kingdom. Open source is slowly encroaching on their land, and they know it."

        "Isn't that worth *dying* for?"

        Sorry, it just reminded me of a Matrix monologue... :-)
    • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:28AM (#7393379) Homepage
      Worse, that -1 Flamebait drivel included this nonsense:

      This is the alluring pitch of open source software. We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's FREE and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do anyway.

      Funny, I've seen varying levels of QC, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support offerings from both open source and commercial software, with an overall slight lead by open source. But that's not the most annoying or perplexing part.

      That award goes to "[modifying the source code] was discredited decades ago". WTF? How, by whom, and most importantly why was "modifying source code" discredited? I mean, the whole article is full of completely unsubstantiated nonsense and mudslinging, but this little comment grabbed my attention.

      Does anyone know what he's talking about? Some decades-old study that somehow could be interpreted as "discrediting" souce-code mods, perhaps? I don't even have a guess.

      Of course, taken to the extreme, that silly idea would mean no program would ever get new features or bug fixes except by being completely re-written from scratch, which would no doubt defeat the purpose in most cases.

      What a maroon.
      • by archeopterix ( 594938 ) * on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:30AM (#7394348) Journal
        Worse, that -1 Flamebait drivel included this nonsense:
        Hey, don't give the trolls ideas!

        This is the alluring pitch of BSD software. We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's BSD and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do anyway.

      • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:56AM (#7394574)
        This isn't the first time that a manager has felt himself becoming powerless by being cut out of the loop, and is now reacting badly. Shock horror, "his" teccies can now modify the code freely themselves, he is losing control, it's the ultimate catastrophe. :-)

        Those that cannot do, manage. Those than cannot manage in the face of change, complain. Ignore him.
      • 'Decades ago' in itself is an interesting phrase too. How long have computers been around? A few decades. How long have the 'real' precursors of modern computers been around? Maybe two, two and a half decades at a stretch. How long have modern coding techniques been used (i.e. large groups, collaborative work to any great extent, languages and systems to run them on which are comparable with what we are talking about)? Maybe 10 years? 15? And even then, the scale was very different. To be honest, I don't th
        • I think you'd be surprised how little software development has changed in 30 years. Check out The Mythical Man-Month and see what things were like in the 1970s. Sure, we tackle larger problems now, but we do it pretty much the same way they did.
        • Go to school, buy a few books, learn from the past.

          The fundamental concepts in computing and mathematics that drive current software development methodologies were developed decades ago.

          It is ignorance (just lack of knowledge, so don't get offended) like this the condemns the field of computer science to continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. Who was that Dijkstra guy? Whatever, I've got a great idea, let's use goto. It's so much more flexible than all that structured programming stuff.

          The first Tu
      • That award goes to "[modifying the source code] was discredited decades ago". WTF? How, by whom, and most importantly why was "modifying source code" discredited? ....

        Don't you know????

        Real men patch live binaries

        None of this source code bullshit for me... I eat, breathe and sleep raw machine code. If there's a security hole in IIS that Microsoft is refusing to fix, I can start up BASIC, do a couple hundred POKE statements, and all's well and good.

        Source code is for WHUSSES! (You pansy source-coder.)

    • by beacher ( 82033 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:29AM (#7393386) Homepage
      Take a look at his previous work... (1998 and talking about portals) here [], 2002 and more portals []. How many damn classes can you teach about web portals? Those who cannot do, teach. []. .. Here's a debrief from EduCAUSE [] that summarizes some of his ideas -

      • No more institution centric home page
      • There should only be one portal. (don't want the students using Yahoo! or Excite - we want them to use our portal)
      • There must exist -complete- customization available to the user. Otherwise, they will continue to use another portal that allows them to do what they want.
      • Replaces your desktop
      Some of the neat terminology Howard creates: Cameos: Small pieces of data from larger data set and most important, the most important challenge isn't technical, it is requiring all data owners to work together.

      Congrats Howard, get your closed source, proprietary formats working together. GOD this guy is listed as a futurist! Here's another damn article about portals in 2015 []. JEEZ give it a break.
      • Oh Jayzus not this guy again. I can't get away from him.

        His brainstorms:
        togamatons (wearable computers built into your watch, glasses or clothes)

        automatons (built into your car)

        refrigermatons (built into your refrigerator door)

        bitemematons (Howard, get some fresh air)
      • Thanks for the links beacher...

        I especially liked this quote

        As Strauss so aptly puts it, "Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Scott McNeilly shouldn't determine what appears on your screen; you should."

        I think I could take that as a qualified endorsement of OSS. I mean, who's in more control of what shows up on my screen when I use OSS?...I control the horizontal, I control the vertical, I control the applications, right down to the nuts and bolts if I want....

        ...Hypocrit....I think he's bucking for a job a

    • by kriox ( 630423 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:34AM (#7393424)
      No, sorry... This goes beyond parody. I personaly find it insulting of him to dismiss the work of many, many OSS contributors as a scam.

      If he said it was useless, ok.

      If he said it was worse than proprietary softtware, ok.

      If he just said he did't like because he didn't understand it, ok.

      But to make such an assumption on the charachter of lots and lots of people AND companies he clearly has no idea are involved with OSS is just plain, well, stupid.

      Yes, instead of having highly paid programmers at Microsoft, IBM, Sun, or even Blackboard build your critical university systems, you can have scores of software gurus scattered around the globe working completely independently build them for you FOR FREE.

      He doesn't even get that IBM and sun back OSS projects to some extent.

      What a dimwit!

    • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:37AM (#7393440) Homepage
      his assertion that free software is the domain of hackers/tinkerers/students

      But free software is the domain of hackers - hackers came up with the concept in the first place. Incidentally, wasn't there a survey a while back showing that most hackers contributing to free software are professionals in their 40s? While they are certainly tinkerers, they are hardly students.

      • Well, duh. Most young and teenage programmers have neither the experience nor the focus to create the kind of boring, reliable code that makes up the core of Open Source. Instead they're appealed to by more glamorous fringe projects, and the idea of shareware.

      • by Slime-dogg ( 120473 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:36AM (#7393777) Journal

        It goes much further than that. The whole freaking Internet is the domain of hackers. It was created by hackers, for hackers... (heh that's probably why there's so much debate about going to IPv6)

        I wonder if he understands that the majority of the software he uses has at least a little part that has been borrowed from the realm of hackers. Look at Kerberos, GZip, TCP/IP, the list goes on and on.

        It's funny that you mention that most hackers are professionals in their 40's. Back when hacking was born (right about the time when computers came about), yes, they all worked at the companies that could afford computational equipment. After that, the hackers started coming from places other than Xerox, mainly UC-Berkley and MIT. I would say that even the phD's there are still students, they still attack research and problem-solving like a student would. It's a funny thing, but I'd say that as long as you are paying or paid by a University, you should be considered a "student."

        If my last conjecture is true, then this article is a severe case of the pot calling the kettle black.

        • by jadavis ( 473492 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:31AM (#7394183)
          I wonder if he understands that the majority of the software he uses has at least a little part that has been borrowed from the realm of hackers. Look at Kerberos, GZip, TCP/IP, the list goes on and on.

          The way I look at free software is basically published research. Sometimes it's just about ready for use right off the FTP site, and sometimes it takes a commercial entity to bring it to the masses. Software is more likely to work stright off the FTP site than, say, quantum mechanics, but it's a similar issue.

          Software either holds up to the tests (i.e. netcraft uptimes, business successes, longevity, failure rate, etc) or it doesn't, just like scientific research.

          The logic of the guy writing the article is flawed: would he criticize a mad scientist working out of his garage if he ended up curing cancer?

          So, if you look at software as research, most of the FUD just disappears. Free software is just the collection of public knowledge about software, and commercial companies can only exist when standing on the shoulders of these giants.

          He wants quality control, version control, accountability? Well, there's nothing about free software in contradiction to that idea. Pay commercial companies for what they're good at (or what they are theoretically better at, the reality of quality control in mainstream free software projects is amazing), not whatever proprietary algorithm that they think they're the first to implement. I'm sure commercial companies will eventually be just there to integrate the software with your business processes, more like consultants.

      • by Elentar ( 168685 ) <slashdot AT ultraviolet DOT us> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:01AM (#7393880)
        I will always be a student. I will graduate life when I am dead, and perhaps move on to post-graduate work. Until then, every day will see my continued education and I will always assume that every flower, fruit and stone I see holds some undiscovered secret within.

        Furthermore, I am a hacker. I take nothing for granted - not the way software functions, nor the way the laws of physics are applied. I will always question the reality around me and seek to refine the answers that I have found.

        Some others want to silence my nature and force me to take their word as the final truth - they are the high-school dropouts of this world, ignorant to every new truth that passes them by. But I can learn from them as well.

        There is no negative consequence in my life, only education and experience. I have no regrets. My first day of life and my last are equally valuable to me, no matter how many years seperate them.

        Besides, anyone who believes that hours of creativity (and programming is an art, not a science, as far as I'm concerned) can be compensated by a paycheck is deluding themselves. Free software allows a programmer to trade one esoteric thing for another - creativity for community, perseverance for recognition. And the programmer who does so will be fulfilled by it, and can thus tolerate selling other of their works for money.

    • Bah (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:57AM (#7393580) Homepage Journal
      I've seen code from professional programmers. Not lame tiny-company code either, I've seen the guts of AT&T UNIX, OS/2 and inventory code for major companies. And I've seen open source software. Based on my experience, open source projects (at least the ones that are alive and being actively contributed to) are always higher quality than the code that comes out of professional programmers.

      Yes it can be a bit of a bother to drop in an open source solution but the same also holds true of licensed software. You don't just sqat and shit an oracle installation. You don't just install Windows and have the computers magically doing everything you want them to.

      There is no magic bullet that instantly makes the computers do everything you want them to. Not in the Open Source world and not in the commercially licensed software world. Unless you want to make a slashcode site. That really is as easy as "apt-get install slash apache-perl".

      • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

        Based on my experience, open source projects ... are always higher quality than the code that comes out of professional programmers.

        In my personal experience, code written for open source projects is written by professional programmers (or by a subset of them who enjoy programming), only not under a deadline, and for kicks not for money. It makes a difference.
    • I would just like to give y'all some insight into Princeton's OIT department. As a student at Princeton I must say they really don't quite live up to out universities reputation. They are very slow to respond to demand for services, and new services are often incomplete or significantly too difficult to use.

      In any case, I sent an email to Princeton's OIT with some of the comments posted here and maybe someone will take some notice. I'll be sure to post any reply I might possibly get :-)...

  • Well now... (Score:5, Funny)

    by kid-noodle ( 669957 ) <> on Tuesday November 04, 2003 @11:58PM (#7393157) Homepage
    That sounds like a fair minded, well reasoned and educated comment entirely lacking in FUD...
  • It sounds like the kind of article an anti-Linux Microsoft employee would write - lol. Lets just hope nobody takes it seriously....
  • Is it just me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by setzman ( 541053 ) <stzman@stzMOSCOW ... m> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#7393178) Journal
    Or does that article site seem like a scam in itself? I counted 5 ads from doubleclick (all blocked by privoxy) and another set of sponsored links at the bottom. With all the rhetoric designed to inflame linux users, it is sure to make money for them if it gets enough hits (thus getting put on /. benefits them greatly...).
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#7393179) Journal
    Is there anyway I can moderate this entire story -1: Flamebait?

    • by GammaTau ( 636807 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:12AM (#7393272) Homepage Journal

      Is there anyway I can moderate this entire story -1: Flamebait?

      I'm not sure if it's a flamebait. Maybe it was intended as a flamebait but failed? At least I don't even understand what was the point he was trying to make. Yeah, he doesn't seem to like free software but it was more like random mindless babbling than anything like a good parody or a flamebait.

      Now that I look what the article says about the author, "Howard Strauss is the manager of technology strategy", I'm thinking just what the heck is that kind of a job title? Is it a somewhat humorous AI experiment some Princeton students have submitted to Slashdot? Or is this one of the cases where one just has to say "60 lines of LISP can hardly be called an AI"?

    • by pVoid ( 607584 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:18AM (#7393698)
      I personally think he has a very good point, in that free software has it's very interesting niches where it's good: and those are the framework niches. Apache is a framework. Apache is not a web site. (Just as linux is not a desktop).

      What does that mean? it means that when a University needs a working useful LAN, sure you can use Linux/Apache/MySQL, just as you can use Windows/IIS/MSSQL, but what you can't use is an aboslutely free website that fits your needs perfectly. There is no Universal Open Source Intranet Site. In fact, it's more like: **every** single site is unique, which means that a website being Open Source will not mean it will miraculously appear out of sourceforge (until sourceforge starts employing an infinite number of monkeys yadi yada...) It most certainly doesn't mean that you can just bypass the most crucial - and most expensive - stages of software development namely: business analysis, architecture, design, and QA - because QA is not just about bugs, as any experienced software developer would know, QA is about making sure that you have nailed your specs.

      It's nice to have the website open source, but really all that does is let others see the code in case they need a sample. Nothing more.

      That's the illusion that this guy is debunking. Not that Open Source Software is useless.

      • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:01AM (#7394262)
        Is that what he was talking about? Well, ya got me there I guess. I just spent 15 minutes trying to figure out what the hell his point was and couldn't even find a context for it. He certainly didn't provide one.

        I went so far as the visit the PeopleSoft web site. Wow! Completely content free gobbledy-gook, but at least I know where to go for a complete "Human Capital Managment" system, whatever the hell that is, if I ever need one.

        At WebCT I can get "flexible pedagogical tools."

        Yummy! Can I have my electronically delivered pedantic formalism with extra cheese, please?

        So, what this guy seems to be saying is that a major university with one of the finest CS departments in the world of whom Brian Frikken' Kernighan is a member isn't qualified to put up the university website, but a bunch of MBAs selling expensive electronic snake oil to tech clueless corporations are?

        Is that what that incoherant rant was about?

  • Let's get something straight here: I'm not exactly impressed by Linux on a regular basis. I think that the UIs you find on it typically suck. I think that the lack of It Just Works kind of sucks. But... This is ridiculous. I don't get the idea that Howard has the slightest idea what he's talking about. I can only assume that he was personally burned, or something, by some open source project. Maybe some MIS or IT underling pushed an OSS solution that burned his department... Weird. In any case, I think he n
  • by NotAnotherReboot ( 262125 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:04AM (#7393195)
    I see the plan, post four links to Princeton servers and watch them suffer. Make them pay for their insolence!
  • Attitude (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hendridm ( 302246 ) * on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:04AM (#7393196) Homepage
    That guys animosity towards students reflects the level of customer service that most Universities provide today.

    Nobody said most college students are masters of project management or the big picture, but they are a talented group of programmers. To dismiss them as worthless is to ignore a valuable and cheap source of labor. You may not want to make them PM just yet, but I gaurentee they'll work their asses off, with a little direction, more than that 30-year veteran who has become acustomed to the University's indiference towards laziness. Union YES!

    Most computer science students I know haven't been corrupted yet and still have a high work ethic, they just need a little direction and be brought down a level to reality. Once they get past thinking they can change the place overnight, they make some excellent, hard working individuals.

    But alas, the University I attended didn't hire any of its graduates either. While I was working there, not one of my supervisors had any sort of degree and they weren't eager to give anyone from the inside a chance upon graduation (again, I'm not talking about management positions, but I've seen plenty of entry level jobs that turned down countless grads from the Uni. I guess they don't have faith in what they teach.)
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:06AM (#7393203) Homepage
    ...ex-manager of technology strategy and outreach at Princeton University, one should hope. That kind of stupidity can't go unrewarded, can it?

    • > ...ex-manager of technology strategy and outreach at Princeton University, one should hope. That kind of stupidity can't go unrewarded, can it?

      Think CIS, and it will simultaneously explain the stupidity and the anti-Free sentiment.

      And this rant will probably be rewarded with big donations so he can do more of this kind of "research" for the needy software businesses who feel threatened by FOSS.

  • by illogic ( 52099 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:06AM (#7393206)
    "instead of having highly paid programmers at... Blackboard build your critical university systems, you can have scores of software gurus scattered around the globe working completely independently build them for you FOR FREE."

    Oh, you didn't. You mean free vending machines for life Blackboard? []
  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmt9581 ( 554192 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:07AM (#7393212) Homepage
    I just read the article posted, and it doesn't appear to have a single relevant statistics. I feel like I gained three pieces of information from this article:
    • There are people out there whose minds are so closed off to change that they don't even know how ridiculous they sound.
    • Howard Strauss could use an education in deductive logic. This article totally failed to substantiate any of the claims that it made. I've heard more coherent arguments from Rush Limbaugh [].
    • Strauss could also stand to learn a thing or two about the way that the software industry works. How does gaining the source code to an application give up the "project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support" of proprietary software? Does he really think that proprietary software companies are willing to employ best practices at the expense of their bottom line?
    • I am extremely grateful to the Princeton financial aid department for not matching the offers that I received from other colleges. I could have ended up taking a class from this tool.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ray Yang ( 135542 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:37AM (#7393444)
      Fear not. This particular personage works for OIT (Office of Information Technology), a bunch of folks who mess up the networks they're supposed to manage so badly they've been summarily banned from the CS Department.

      Did I mention that I love my regular internet service outages?
      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sangui5 ( 12317 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:46AM (#7393829)

        The above posting is somewhat more insightful that it appears at first glance. Consider this: I have yet to attend or visit an institution where the CS/EE departments did not have their own computing services departments.

        I can quite specifically point to CRL [] at UIUC [] and CTS [] at Wash U []. Both are "wholly owned subsidiaries" of their respective CS departments (although CTS provides support for other deparments...for a price). And both are far more competant than any of the other IT staffs at their institutions.

        Now, why is this interesting? Think--CS and EE departments make much heavier use of Unix (especially free Unix) than other departments. Their respective IT departments manage to keep these abused and Unix-heavy infrastructures up and running far more effectively with far less fuss than the underutilized and MS-heavy infrastructures of other departments [] (actually, to be fair, the Olin B-School does have a better-than-average IT support staff. Nowhere near as good as CRL or CTS, but better than average. Something to do with hiring a bunch of employees with a 25% turnover rate).

        Let's summarize the interesting facts:

        1. CS and EE departments make punishing use of their computing resources.
        2. CS and EE departments tend to be Unix-centric, especially Linux and BSD (although HP and Sun do have a strong yet diminishing presence).
        3. As a result, CS and EE departments tend to have thier own, separate facilities.
        4. As a result, CS and EE departments cannot take advantages of the enormous economies of scale inheirent in large-scale administration (it should be roughly as easy to admin 1000 machines as 100 or 10000).
        5. Despite this, CS and EE departments tend to enjoy fairly reliable, trouble free computing.
        6. In contrast, other departments suffer from poor-performing, unreliable computing.
        So, even though they have all of the disadvantages (at least as Mr. Strauss would list them), CS/EE departments get the better end of the computing deal.

        If this is computing with no QC, no support, and no accountability, someone needs to sue those bastards pushing 6-sigma for screwing everybody else over.

        • Re:Wow (Score:3, Funny)

          by JamieF ( 16832 )
          It's not the computers, it's the users that bog down the non-CS IT departments. You're overlooking the size and skill level of the user base.

          CS students (who have gotten past the Freshman level weed-out courses) are likely to me MUCH more tech savvy than, say, a music or statistics major (who mainly want to just run one or two applications and then read email and surf).

          Compare that small group of highly technical users, who probably have owned computers for years and years and are embarassed to have to as
    • Re:Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dasmegabyte ( 267018 )
      Does he really think that proprietary software companies are willing to employ best practices at the expense of their bottom line?

      Uh, ours does. In fact, we test every piece of code that goes to a customer on a dozen different hardware pieces, we have a unit of each model of printer that we've okayed for use (some 30 or 40 units) and for big releases we deal with several large beta customers before release.

      And our company only employs 20 people. Every minute spent testing is a minute we could be makin
      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Informative)

        by laird ( 2705 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:46AM (#7394052) Journal
        " *LIKE* open source, but the existing mechanisms for testing are really terrible, even if the bug repair response can be great. And since there's no accountability, there's little enforcement for responsibility...we KNOW that the developers of applciation X will probably fix that big hole in the security layer, but there's always the chance that they'll say "screw it, we want to work on the new stuff, fix it yourself." This is not the news you want to hear when a bug is holding up your business...that you will either have to hire an expensive programmer who knows the code, or a cheap programmer who will take weeks to get it done."

        Just like proprietary software, open source software varies widely in its quality, and in the maturity of the development process. There are projects (like MySQL, Apache, gcc, Tomcat, Mozilla, etc.) that have astoundingly good regression test suites. Heck, check a change into the Mozilla source code tree and it'll automatically be compiled and regression tested (hundreds of tests) on all supported hardware and OS platforms, with a pretty web page pointing out who broke what when, not to mention a killer defect tracking database. Of course, there are also open source projects that aren't as mature, but then there are proprietary products with bad quality as well.

        In my experience the code quality of open source projects is better than proprietary code, because the developers are more afraid of having "the world" see bad code than they are of having "their boss" see bad code. Peer pressure, in this case, is a wonderful thing. Also, engineers on open source projects are typically more responsive than in closed source software product companies, because they can be (no marketing or management barriers) -- only the smallest software companies are as responsive to customers as open source developers, for the same reason.

        The 'danger' in using an open source project is that you might use a project without many other users, or have problems that nobody else cares about, in which case you'll have to fix it yourself. You can manage this by making sure that the project is active, and that your application is "typical." If you're company 1M using Apache, there's no risk. If you're company 1 using RandomProject, you're going to run into bumps. Of course, the same is true of proprietary software products, though it's a little harder to find out the real situation, particularly with small companies, so you have to do some digging.

        The 'danger' is using a closed source product is that you can't fix the problems yourself, only beg a vendor to fix them (which they often charge professional service fees for!), if they decide to fix the problem at all, on their time schedule. You can manage this by making sure that you pay maintenance, and that you completely rewrite the software license to ensure that the product conforms to the documentation, and that there are response times and financial to give some teeth to make sure that the vendor has the right incentives to make you successful. Never, ever sign a software license as written by any software company -- they're absurdly slanted towards the vendor.
  • Wow. I guess 2/3 of the Web *IS* wrong. I'm sorry, Microsoft. I should have listened.

  • Reply.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tsali ( 594389 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:07AM (#7393220)
    So can we have some competition against Redmond then? If it takes free software to produce some competition (think PBS versus the entire broadcasting spectrum), I think its indicative of other darker factors.

    I work on OSS in my spare time, and I don't fit the stereotype... and I don't call every pro-MS a money-scrounging heartless profit-driven capitalist. Just Bill Gates.

    Bill and Howard. Yeah... them two.
    • Ditto (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:39AM (#7393458) Homepage Journal
      I work on OSS in my free time and I work at the company with a Linux hosted commercial product. So, lets see how many ways I don't fit this bozo's stereotypical OSS contributor:

      > a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond,

      Nope. I hit the big 50 in a couple of years. Still have a punch card hanging in my office as a reminder of "the old days".

      > hackers,

      No again. The company I work for makes network security software.

      > virus creators,

      Nope. See above.

      > and a menagerie of others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure.

      Gee, the Air Force let me write software to target ICBMs and build radar systems, the Navy let me build radar system, for the Army it was logistics and air defense command and control software, I've also written software for maintaining civilian airliners and I now work for a company that makes really good money selling the network monitoring software I help create. Menagerie is a funny word to use to describe a group of people with this kind of credentials, but, maybe he was at a loss for words.

      Are we sure Laura DiDio didn't just take on another pseudonym?

  • a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond

    Since Microsoft tries to hire them right out of school, "too young" must be young indeed! I'd rate that article as definitely either a Troll or Flamebait, certainly Overrated.

  • He is just pissed that Princeston got scooped by MIT []

  • Naysay all you like, and for that matter Ayesay as well.

    But in the end, won't results speak louder than allegorical assertations?
  • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:09AM (#7393241)
    We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support

    Sounds like he's bitching about moving to Windows.

  • Empty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Asprin ( 545477 ) <gsarnold@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:10AM (#7393247) Homepage Journal

    This article wouldn't bother me as much if it presented a single independently verifiable fact. Since it doesn't, it's a rant and nothing more. The real queston is "Why did Syllabus choose to publish it?" This guy isn't even a professor, is he? With the title of "manager of technology strategy and outreach", it sounds like he's just a department employee. Not that that invalidates his opinion, mind you! That is discredited by his vacant non-awareness of facts.
  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:10AM (#7393253) Homepage
    a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond

    ... or just too ethical. Or sensible, take your pick.

  • by drfireman ( 101623 ) <dan@kimberg.ELIOTcom minus poet> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:13AM (#7393277) Homepage
    Here's a shocker: Strauss's mode of argumentation is sarcasm. He's an astonishingly inept writer, so it's not even particularly well crafted sarcasm. I don't know if this is because his understanding of the subject matter is negligible or if it's because he thought this would be the best way to make his nebulous point, but it seems sort of wasteful to engage him in any sort of debate (with or without his participation). There may be smarter and more articulate people who share his views, and it would be much more worthwhile to find them and have an intelligent discussion than it would be to waste time debunking the content implied by his article.
  • heh heh heh... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:17AM (#7393305)
    I mean, jeez -this guy could piss off Mary Worth. Maybe he thinks since the open source movement is just as he characterizes it, then it can't gice him a cosmic IT wedgie - guess someone hasn'ty bee following the SCO badminton game.

    This should in now way be construed as an entre for Eric (/Bruce/Linus/Richard) to launch a salvo. Really,

    Not to mention where else should you embrace open source but in academia.

    And here's the punchline, from netcraft:

    The site is running Apache/1.3.4 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.1.8 SSLeay/0.9.0b on Solaris.

  • Yeech (Score:5, Insightful)

    by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:18AM (#7393311) Homepage
    Article feels like one large Flamebait, but in these days of SCO lawsuits I'm never quite sure which viewpoints are satire and which are just out and out stupidity.

    In any case, it does make a point that the "establishment" has a very hard time coming to terms with - Free Software can and does work. For some fraction of people, this seems to somehow represent a personal insult. Probably the same people who get upset at anyone who questions whether our current economic system is absolute perfection suggest regulation might serve some purpose after all.

    Commercial software provides only two things open source software can't provide - software that is extrememly difficult to create and has a small target audience (think very high end engineering CAD software or exteremely complex movie rendering) and someone to sue if the product doesn't work as specified. That doesn't sit well with people who think capitalism is the One True Way, and just for more fun people compare open source with Communism(?!). As if the spirit of goodwill is somehow corruptive to our way of life.

    So, whether the author set out to write satire, troll all of slashdot, or actually denies the evidence right in front of him, this article is quite childish and silly. The evidence that free software does work is right in front of him, if he's interested in looking. Whether he WANTS it to work might be the real issue.

    Ever notice that, that some people are personally interested in the failure of open source? It seems to be an affront to them, for no reason I can discover. No one has the RIGHT to make money, and open source taking away commerical markets for software is something they'll just have to grow up and deal with. If they can't make a more compelling product that people are willing to pay for and stay ahead of volunteers, tough.

    Linux/Free Software is for real. I've used it exclusively on my own machines for four years, with great success. Community spirit is powerful and can accomplish great things, and if our social system has forgotten/doesn't want to accept that then we're in some deeper trouble than just questions of software.
  • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:19AM (#7393317)
    I have to post this every now and then, but for those of you not in education, you have no idea the lengths microsoft will go to push their products. Let me give yo a few examples:

    1) I am finishing a Master's in Ed Technology. We are required to submit our work, etc. in either .doc, .xls or .ppt. Because the profs get lots of perks from Microsoft. (hint: they get whatever software they like for, well, um, free)

    2) Everyone in the Master's program, and I think in the credential program, canget Office for $20.

    3) In my district, the district technidiots (the same ones who didn't understand how my linux box could get internet access on the school network, and had no idea what TCP/IP was) get thrown all sorts of freebies at the tech conferences. The tech at my school laughed about getting XP Pro, VS .NET, etc., all no reg key type.

    Those are a few examples. I could go on. Microsoft has gotten the Ed. crowd the way Apple did years ago. Worse is the way technology is used in schools. PowerPoint has become the favorite tool of choice for projects. Plus Microsoft gives lots of money to schools, and has VERY long tentacles. They get involved in many ways. You can be sure, this guy is not on Microsoft's payroll directly, but he is certainly the recipient of much Microsoft "benevolence". Teachers are just like everyone else really, just a few freebies, and we're yours.

    But here's the biggest rub. The truth is that it takes far more techs to maintain a windows network, then say, a *nix network. Which means the tech department get more jobs, money, etc. And if something breaks, and they fix it, it only reinforces their importance. F***ed up? You bet. And the sad truth is that most school personell are not the best qualified. So, you try to give them linux, which requires more "expertise", they're gonna reject it. Simple really. You'd think that schools would care about cost, security, etc. But they don't.
  • by thisissilly ( 676875 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:31AM (#7393401)
    From a 1999 survey published in Linux Journal [] of kernel hackers:
    • 1 had completed just basic public education (high school)
    • 15 had attended college or technical school
    • 23 had an undergraduate degree (B.S., B.A., etc.)
    • 19 had attended graduate school
    • 15 had a graduate degree (M.S., M.A., etc.)
    • 9 had done further graduate work
    • 19 had a terminal degree (Ph.D., M.D., etc.)

    and as for programming experience
    • 4 had 1 year
    • 10 had 2-4 years
    • 31 had 5-9 years
    • 40 had 10-20 years
    • 16 had 20+ years
    Then there is the Boston Consulting Group's Hacker Survey [], which found
    "Contrary to popular belief about hackers, the open source community is mostly comprised of highly skilled IT professionals who have on average over 10 years of programming experience."
    Occupation Chart []
    Hardly what Howard Strauss's article portrays.
  • by psykocrime ( 61037 ) <[mindcrime] [at] []> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:31AM (#7393404) Homepage Journal
    Congratulations, that was one of the most brilliant pieces of flamebait I've ever seen or read. It had everything:

    1) blatant factual inaccuracies:

    > We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding
    > standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's FREE > and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something
    > that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and
    > few people do anyway.

    I don't know of a single open-source / free software project that doesn't use version control. In fact, what might easily be the
    most popular version control system in the world, CVS, is itself
    an open source project.

    Coding Standards? True, not every open-source project has written guidelines for that. However, many do ( The Jakarta sub-project
    group at the ASF comes to mind, as does the Mozilla project) and
    all are subject to the most rigorous coding standard of all... review and inspection by an unlimited number of peers, at any time of day or night, 24 x 7, 365 days a year. Let a snippet of bad code get checked into the repository (see above) for a large open source project with
    numerous active committers, and see how long it takes for it to get rolled-back, and the author mercilessly flamed.

    Quality Control? Maybe you've heard the expression "all bugs are shallow, given enough eyeballs?" Open Source by it's very nature has
    the ultimate form of quality control... and unlike closed source
    proprietary software, the end user generally has relatively easy
    access to the engineers working on the code, to report defects,
    whether it be via Bugzilla, Sourceforge, e-mail, newsgroups or
    what have you.

    Support? JBoss Corp. provides support for the JBoss application server,
    Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake and many others provide supported distributions of Linux, and provides support for Mozilla. And that's just
    paid support I'm referring to. Never mind the aforementioned channels of e-mail, newsgroups, forums, etc., for interacting directly with the authors (and fellow users) of the code.

    As for modifying code being dangerous... that's just ignorant. Cutting towards yourself with a sharp knife is dangerous... crossing a busy highway without looking is dangerous... modifying source code is about as NON dangerous an activity as you could dream up.

    2) unwarranted and inaccurate personal attacks

    > These folks are some of the same great people
    > who are supposed to be working for you anyway,
    > plus a smattering of teenagers too young to work
    > at Redmond, hackers, virus creators, and a
    > menagerie of others with whom you will feel
    > great pride in entrusting your IT
    > infrastructure.

    Wow, you just managed to insult the entire open source community in one
    drop of the hat... a community which happens to include many professional software engineers, working for respected firms such as IBM, Red Hat, SGI, Novell, Mandrakesoft, Sun Microsystems, etc.

    I suppose you believe Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox to be "others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure," eh?

    Oh, and you make look around the Princeton campus sometime... I'm pretty sure you'll find quite a number of members of the open source community there, both students and faculty / staff members.

    3) red herrings and unrelated rambling galore...

    no quote necessary... this bullet basically summarizes your entire article.

    In short, you sir, are either a flaming idiot, or the first Slashdot troll to get hired by Princeton and allowed to publish obvious flamebait in Syllabus. If this was an intentional troll, I must say, it was a masterful one. If you actually meant any of that drivel however, I would suggest you leave the IT industry and take up something you are competent at.
  • by csoto ( 220540 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:40AM (#7393469)
    The CREN "Tech Talks" that Strauss has hosted have been sponsored by Microsoft. A Softie probably took him out for lunch, he felt good and sleepy and wrote this.

  • by FullCircle ( 643323 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:41AM (#7393471)
    is a lesson in the difference between free as in beer and free as in speech.

    Yes, some people do get the product for free. That does not mean that some programmers were not paid for their services. Ask any Red Hat or SuSE employee.

    The freedom Mr. Strauss does not understand is the freedom to improve given with the software. Not only the right to improve the software, but to improve the community by the giving of ones services and improvement in ones self by learning from previous programmers.

    I hope that this is satire, as some of you have posted. Otherwise this serves as a sure sign of failure in our education system. The fact that someone this closed minded, short sighted and greedy is teaching our future generations is a tragedy.

  • by dandot ( 605647 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:44AM (#7393492) Homepage
    Here are some stats about Dr. Howard Strauss, he seems to have brains, but this article obviously must have been a bad hair day for Straussy:

    manager of Technology Strategy and Outreach at Princeton University.

    A graduate of Drexel University and Carnegie Mellon University

    previously employed by the Johnson Space Center of NASA and by Bell Telephone Laboratories

    And the scariest one of all:

    Strauss has authored several IT courses and is an information technology consultant for many companies and universities.


  • A View from Campus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by owsla ( 78381 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @12:55AM (#7393567) Homepage
    Since the "at" link in the story is to a former version of my homepage (~ferguson is my dad), I think I can comment on this.

    I don't know WHERE this guy is coming from, unless its satire, in which case, it is poorly executed. Linux is quite prevalent on campus. In fact, OIT (central campus network folks) had to drop support for the public Irix cluster because of support costs, while the public Linux and Solaris clusters are chugging along just fine.

    Yes, students have been using it on campus forever, but the scientists and engineers like it quite a bit too. A 1999 report [] by a Faculty Sub-Committee writes, "Linux is emerging as a widely-used version of Unix. At this time there are over 600 Linux systems registered at Princeton, and the number is growing rapidly. One of the advantages of Linux is that it makes it possible to take advantage of the economies of Intel-based computing and a full-featured operating system with a complete set of high quality software tools available gratis. We recommend that consideration be given to expanding the university DeSC program to include the Linux operating system as an option." [DeSC is the Desktop Systems Council, which oversees official university desktop computers.] So Slashdot crowd, remember who makes the real decisions at a private university: the tenured faculty, end of story. (NB, how many slashdot stores have been posted about Prof. Felton and his group? They do plenty of work with OSS.)

    OIT has included Linux-specific information for a couple years now in its knowledgebase, complete with setup information, network configuration & printing, mounting the campus samba servers, backing up to the central Tivoli servers, etc. etc. They've also held seminars touting the benefits of OSS for departments; I know, because I've been to them.

    So Linux isn't in trouble at Princeton. Guess this oddball found a pulpit from which to buck the herd.
  • by Performer Guy ( 69820 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:08AM (#7393645)
    That article uses some of the most strained and unrelated analogies I have ever encountered.

    The simple fact that escapes the Professor and others who don't understand free software, is that there are virtually no manufacturing (duplication) costs for reproducing software. It is therefore possible to design or author software once and reproduce it infinitely especially where the costs of reproduction and distribution are bourne by the copier. Moreover, the previous design and authoring efforts are not wasted but build upon successive itterations.

    Instead of explaining this further, let's use an analogy (since the professor likes analogies so much). Instead of horribly flawed analogies comparing open source to Nigerian email fraud let us use a genuinely equivalent analogy.

    Imagine if Ford motor company or anyone else could make vehicles for free at the press of a button. That's right, just infinitely replicate any vehicle you come across just by pressing a button and coming back a few minutes later jumping in and driving away.

    How would this change the business of vehicle manufacture?

    Given this situation let us further imagine that Ford still sold vehicles and moreover that the vast majority of people on the highways drove around in Fords and agreed not to copy any of the vehicles despite their innate ability to be copied. You couldn't even tinker with the engines or change the oil never mind make a whole new copy of a car.

    Now given this unresaonable restriction on the way the universe works naturally (in our scenario), wouldn't an enterprising bunch of mechanics team together to design a vehicle that anyone could duplicate freely, and wouldn't others quickly join to improve that vehicle from a primitive wagon into fine vehicles of all descriptions from sportscars to towncars to SUVs that anyone could copy in order to use the highway freely.

    Now realize that this IS the nature of software and wonder why Professors still foolishly try to impose the business models and thinking processes suited to traditional manufacturing industries onto a software industry that so naturally matches the above scenario of infinite free replication and incremental creative design.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:10AM (#7393656)
    I'm posting AC because I'm at Princeton. I did some checking around. According to our campus directory, he works in the Enterprise Infrastructure Services [] department of our IT division (OIT--Office of IT). And while the article credits him as "manager of technology strategy", I cannot find him on the OIT org. chart that you can find in our OIT's annual report []. He must be some underling who's bitter.

    I intend to write his boss. I mean, I appreciate satire and parody, but as everyone has pointed out, his article is just malicious and factually false. It's filled with ad hominem attacks at students, hackers, the whole open source community. All based on a ridiculous metaphor that doesn't hold. Hell, it doesn't even make sense. If he hates young people so much, why in the world would he work in an "outreach" capacity at a university?!

    Interestingly, his department is responsible for serving the notorious PeopleSoft management and purchasing software here....roundly hated by every administrative person I know at Princeton. I only mention this because he specifically mentions PeopleSoft. OIT at Princeton is definitely a mixed bag--some outstanding services, people, and liberties (including, yes, plenty of linux support)--and some horrible policies and red tape (like, charging for every ethernet box they activate--both for students and in the depts!--AND charging for every device attached to the network! They nickle and dime like crazy).
  • 30 years too late (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:23AM (#7393723) Homepage
    Back when "free software" basically meant Emacs, gcc, and a smattering of other obscure, specialized programs, that article would have been sensible as an argument why free software cannot work: it would have turned out to be wrong, but being wrong when predicting the future is acceptable.

    But he's 30 years too late. He's predicting the past, and getting that wrong is just stupid.

  • Sad, but true. . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enahs ( 1606 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:28AM (#7393743) Journal
    The halls of Academia IT are filled with drooling morons.

    See link mentioned above for a small taste of the idiocy you'll encounter, if you've not already had a taste.

    The real scam artist here is Howard, who has managed to hold down this job at Princeton, of all places. To have a managerial position, apparently all one needs is the ability to write jargon-laden papers and know how to turn one's nose up at undergrads. Thinking is optional. Insight is unnecessary. Knowledge of the subject matter is most likely beyond a manager's grasp, even if the manager is supposedly a learned man. Rather than research the subject matter, go with one's gut, write about whatever one thinks is true.

    Move along; nothing to see here.

  • by d2ksla ( 89385 ) <krister.kmlager@com> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:36AM (#7393775) Homepage
    Bob: You wanted to be Krusty's sidekick since you were five! What
    about the buffoon lessons, the four years at clown college.

    Cecil: I'll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.

  • by jdbarillari ( 590703 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:40AM (#7393799) Homepage

    The Office of Information Technology at Princeton is divided between thoughtful and clueful people who are an absolute pleasure to work with --- and, regrettably, a few people like those who wrote the above article for Syllabus.

    If you look beyond the cheap shots at OS/FS, he's defending PeopleSoft, which makes the CRM-like software that runs the University's bureaucratic systems. The company certainly needs some defending. Case in point: up until last year, Princeton course registration was paper-based. Fill out a scan-tron sheet, have your adviser sign it, and take it to the Registrar. Simple, but students complained about the long walks to remote parts of campus.

    Last year, the Registrar finally implemented a new computerized system based on PeopleSoft. The steps for a student to register as follows:

    • Pull up the registrar's website; find the PDF form for course registration.
    • Fill in the form with your courses.
    • Print out the form, and take it to your adviser for their signature.
    • Deliver the form to your department's secretary, so he or she can manually enter the course selections from the forms into the system.

    Maybe I'm not subtle enough, but I fail to see how this represents a step forward. It would seem trivial to save the course information on the registration system so the adviser could approve it with a mouse-click at their meeting with the student. But let me guess --- does PeopleSoft not support that? In fairness, PeopleSoft might support it. But if it did, one wonders why the registrar chose a more inefficient solution. Why a three-way paper-shuffle? Is that what PeopleSoft's "aging, over-21 staff" thought was a good idea?

    I will not begrudge Mr. Strauss his vitriol --- he reminds me of the apologists for any broken platform. If you're stuck with it, you might as well at least pretend that you like it, and that the competition is junk.

    Also -- I can't help but note the omission of a link to the student-run [] Linux/Unix Users' Group at Princeton. (Consider this a shameless plug.)

  • Am I the only one... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by darnok ( 650458 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:12AM (#7393929)
    reading this who thought it might be intended as satire?
  • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:41AM (#7394035)
    First he was told Linux was free and now he's receiving letters from SCO.
  • by kbmccarty ( 575443 ) <kmccarty@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @02:58AM (#7394089) Journal

    Amazing, something that actually made me de-lurk on Slashdot...

    Here is my letter to this guy:

    From: Kevin B. McCarty <kmccarty@nospam.Princeton.EDU>
    Subject: Your article in Syllabus (perspective from a Princeton graduate student)


    I am a graduate student in the Princeton University Physics Department. I came across your article regarding open source software on Syllabus Magazine's web site, in which you do a grave disservice to Princeton University's reputation of technical excellence. Allow me to elaborate.

    You say, with a tad of sarcasm:

    "These folks [open source software developers] are some of the same great people who are supposed to be working for you anyway, plus a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond, hackers, virus creators, and a menagerie of others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure."

    I am interested, then, in how you feel about the Princeton University web servers at [] running Apache, the most well-known open source web server. Apparently [1], Apache has more than 2/3 of the web server market share on the Internet, so someone must trust these people. Of course, the fact that source code is available for open source projects may have something to do with this trust. By the way, how many open source viruses have you seen? (Microsoft Word macros don't count.)

    [1] []

    You say:

    "We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's FREE and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do anyway."

    Really? Who discredited the ability to modify source code? Did I miss a Congressional report or something? I apologize for calling you dead wrong, but in fact the Linux kernel [2], one of the most successful open source projects in existence, has been continually updated and improved since its first release in 1991, all by people with an interest in changing source code. These "dangerous" modifications have strangely made Linux and its BSD Unix cousins more stable than any release of Windows. The open source software development process is self-regulating: stable, good software survives, while low-quality efforts are ignored and drop from the face of the Internet. It is too bad that mediocre commercial software does not do the same, since it is too well-supported by people who will not consider using anything they are not required to pay for.

    [2] []

    You say:

    "We either pay commercial software developers, pay to build it ourselves, or pay the even higher price to manage and maintain FREE open source software."

    I don't suppose you are aware of the existence of companies who provide support for open source software. Believe it or not, it is possible to buy a support contract from most major Linux distributors, e.g., [3]. It is even possible to ask (politely) for FREE support on open source message boards, such as [4], where you will usually get far more helpful responses than the standard Microsoft "Have you tried rebooting? Reinstalling?".

    [3] []
    [4] []

    You say:

    "Another way to get free software is to have students develop our critical systems," and "You can also get free software developed by having your users develop it for you."

    These are ridiculous straw man arguments. No sane system administrator would tell his/her students or users to develop their own softwa

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:19AM (#7394153) Homepage
    • Find a clear defect in a Microsoft product. Document it.
    • Call Microsoft (425-882-8080). Try to get it fixed.
    • Record how long it took to get it fixed.
    Any questions?
  • A+ #1 troll! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SEE ( 7681 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:23AM (#7394162) Homepage
    "Yes, instead of having highly paid programmers at . . . IBM [or] Sun . . . build your critical university systems,"

    You can have highly paid programmers at IBM [] or Sun [] build your critical university systems.
  • Clueless managers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hherb ( 229558 ) <(horst) (at) (> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @03:53AM (#7394241) Homepage
    I quote: "We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's FREE and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do anyway."

    Doesn't really require a comment. Discredits the author, just shows that he hasn't got a clue. This would not matter, would this person not be in the position he is. That level of incompetence is shocking.

    I am a medical doctor with a past history as software engineer. I run a paperless clinic (Dorrigo Medical Centre). There may be situations where patient's lifes depend on what our software does or doesn't do, not just the flawless running of a university department. To us and our patients, robustness and reliability of software is crucial.

    Yet we use free software to this purpose, almost to exclusion. Why? Trust. Peer review. Accountability. All issues not covered by shrink wrap software with general disclaimers, where the end user is disempowered to the degree of a mere slave.

    We never would pur our patients at risk by using software of a company with such abysmal reputation regarding stability, reliability and security such as Microsoft. We don't trust free software either right our of the box for that matter - but here at least we can investigate and verify, or pay competent people to do it for us.

    Shame on this man and his unsubstantiated statements. Reality check strongly recommended (like what software is keeping the Internet alive and working, and what software is running some of the worlds most powerful and expensive computers liek Blue Gene)

    Dr Horst Herb, MD
    Principal, Dorrigo Medical Centre, Australia
    Management Committee Member, General Practice Computing Group
  • by wespar ( 676602 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @04:49AM (#7394396)
    Dear Editor

    I read Howard Strauss' abovementioned article.

    Quite apart from the intended insult of the comparison to the Nigerian scamsters, I found his thread quite hard to follow. I guess if he had been Theseus, he would've wound up in the Minotaur's stomach after all.

    "Too sophisticated to believe" - precisely what has this got to do with anything, let alone the question at hand? Then we get on to the ridiculous, skipping the sublime with consumate ease ...

    "You can get complex systems at absolutely NO COST!" Yes, for a start they enable you to publish Syllabus, using the HTTP transport protocol and the HTML markup language, running on the TCP/IP internetwork connection suite.

    "Why buy expensive software or spend millions to develop it yourself?" In relation to the Internet - let's see, I have within my grubby little hands, a book called "The Open Book", which you may or may not have read, written by Marshall T Rose, in which he mentions the Open Systems Interconnect internetworking suite - so far behind it's now been officially abandoned except for highly specialized applications such as the Aeronautical Telecommunication Network. There's nothing so cheap as a product that never gets developed.

    "We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it's FREE and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do it anyway." Where to start? Has the estimable Howard Strauss ever read "The Mythical Man-Month" by Frederick Brooks? Of IBM's Operating System/360 fame? That does tend to cast doubts on the value of a lot of so-called "project planning". Strangely enough, much of the problems Microsoft has had with Windows over the last few years has been with "quality control" - I don't call soBig's world-wide success a proof that Microsoft has any idea what quality is, let alone how to develop for it. Ditto "coding standards" - and "accountability" - have you managed to get from Microsoft a statement of accountability for its criminal negligence in releasing software that allows such grotesque default breaches of privacy and personal security as Windows? "Version control"? The estimable Howard Strauss is pulling my leg. Perhaps he can tell me what the letters cvs and rcs mean - besides being TLAs? "Support"? Amazing - I bought MS DOS 5.0 when it came out - but Microsoft was never particularly interested in supporting me.

    "something that is extremely dangerous to do," for ignorami. I expect every prof and his dog to back me up on this - mind you, I also expect every prof and his dog to back me up when I also say that doing such dangerous things is one way to learn, and extremely fast.

    "was discredited decades ago," - by whom, where at, and in relation to what? I suppose that also refers to the TCP/IP suite, the which discredited software you yourself are happily running a magazine site on? And in relation to which, might I add, Microsoft has been happily selling software that is based heavily on said TCP/IP source code - you are at liberty to inform them that half their product lineup has been discredited.

    "Another way to get free software is to have students develop our critical systems." Ask the DoD about TCP/IP and the University of California at Berkeley. Even better still, ask Bill Joy, late of Sun Microsystems, about the UoC at Berkeley.

    "You can also get free software developed by having your users develop it for you. Really, users are no dummies ..." - only if you don't treat them as dummies. The estimable Howard Strauss gets funnier and funnier all the time. Do you think Apple would've got so far along with its Macintosh - if it hadn't had Hypercard? Here was a nice little utility - users with no background in programming of cou

  • Suprising (Score:3, Informative)

    by jsaint ( 721620 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:06AM (#7394441)
    I find it suprising that the article was even printed. Looking over other articles and columns in that issue, Strauss's article stands out as offering the least supported and least reasoned thesis. For instance, this article [] on how copyright law can have unintended consequences in an acedemic setting supports its thesis quite clearly using examples. This column [] discusses effects and implications of Wi-Fi hotspots on campuses and raises some well reasoned questions about their use. Strauss's article seems somwhat lacking when compared to these.

    If I interpreted him correctly, his idea seems to be that the lure of open source software is the lack of licensing cost but this lure is too good to be true. As a result IT managers should not shrink from spending large amounts of money on propritary solutions.

    He points out that the actual cost of managing and supporting an open source solution is not free. Thank you Capitan Obvious. Any IT manager worthy of the title would understand this. In fact a proper IT manager would factor in support costs, licensing cost, expected lifespan, risk to operation, expected user base, security and many ofther factors before making a decision on a particular solution. In some instances open source would be chosen, in others not.

    To make a case against open source software, Strauss could have chosen some of those factors and provided examples where open source failed. He could have provided hypothetical situations in which the ability to modify source would be dangerous. Instead he chose the "Attack by Bad Analogy". While an analogy can be useful to illuminate a line of reasoning in an argument, it is no replacement for an argument. Indeed, an over-reliance on analogy is generaly a signal that the person lacks a clear understanding of the issue being debated. I would certainly expect better from a publication whose intended audience is involved in higher education.

    Strauss goes on to discourage the use of student written software and the idea of user customization. Again, lacking any clear argument, anaolgy is used.

    The ability to evaluate software solutions and choose the best fit for the problem is a critical skill for IT managers. A useful article could have explored the particular issues associated with evaluating open-source soultions. Instead a poorly argued rant occupies the space. Hopefully Strauss's article is the exception rather than the rule for the pulication.

  • by martin ( 1336 ) <> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @05:24AM (#7394487) Journal
    I get just as good support from OSS (perhaps better) as I do for 'commercial' software.

    I also tend to get bug fixes faster and mroe timely than I do from commercial software vendors.

    Of course YMMV, but personnally I tend to find OSS offers a better quality of support all round. Sure I can't sue anyone, but then in the 10 years or so I've been using OSS I can't think of any reason why I would want to. Now if think of the times I'd like to through a shed load of lawyers at a commercial vendor (no, not necessarily M$)....

    Perhaps its because it is a 'hobby' for alot of the OSS people, they take a greater pride in their work and become more emotionally attached to the work and therefore 'care' more about the product.

    Persoannly I'd like the man justify his claims
  • by hherb ( 229558 ) <(horst) (at) (> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:29AM (#7394674) Homepage
    The author is commiting a grave error in his assessment, stemming from not understanding what he is talking about.

    "Free software" as we understand the term nowadays is all about basic freedoms, not about getting a free ride. The freedom to inspect and modify for example, and the freedom to reuse.

    The annual IT budget of our clinic is about $30,000. Most of that money goes into "free software" development. We pay software engineers per project or per hour, and we pay decent. But once a project is completed, it belongs to us. And we release it under the GPL.

    It makes economical sense: if everybody does the same, developers still get paid well for their work, and everybody can build and extend upon an increasing heap of quality software components.

    Everybody wins, only the big coporates depending on cutomer lock in would lose out. I wouldn't shed a tear for them.
  • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @01:05PM (#7397459) Journal
    Seriously, if we look at some of the high-end professionals in many IT industries, how many were not hackers in their early roots. I think that what we really have is a confusion between hacker and script-kiddies. Linux is friendly to the former, but not really the latter.

    And students? Why not pick up linux if you're a student. Yes, no shiat it saves money over picking up a legit copy of XP Pro, and yes, you can learn/do a lot more with it in many scenarios.

    Really, you could pretty much draw a correlation between higher functionality and hackers in general, except that many people think hacker=virus=blackhat nowadays.

    Wouldn't even Bill G have been considered something of a hacker back in the day? Granted with MS he's more like Darth Vader nowadays, but he could have had promise at one point.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!