Subject: Re: Why Open Source Sucks for the Consumer
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 10:31:27 -0700 wrote:
>Bob Young wrote:
> >
> >I never said Linux would not succeed on the Desktop.  Just not on the
> >Desktop -PC-.  If it is to have a chance of de-throning Windows it will
> >only be because we've enabled a better platform to emerge.
> I think for Linux to have a greater impact alongside Windows requires more
> than a better platform. The community needs a better service model for
> people and businesses interested in the use of Linux today, which was the
> real issue raised by Jean Camp. Linux/open-source has impacted the future of
> computing industry and the world has taken notice. People want to explore
> and experience this for themselves. This is great for the Linux/open-source
> community. Collectively, we need to help them, like Jean, and the world to
> make the move to this open platform.

Suppose, for an instant, you broaden the discussion beyond Linux, as I
constantly try to do when talking about open source.  All of a sudden
the answer to how open source stacks up against Windows for usability
takes on a whole new cast.  The impact has already been so huge that we
take it all for granted.

What is the dominant application development platform today?  The WEB! 
What are some key elements of that platform:

Web servers - we know that Apache has dominant market share, and helps
keep the standards open and non-proprietary.

HTML - one of the great all time unheralded open source success
stories.  Everyone (at least in the early days) learned by doing "view

Browsers - Well, proprietary software dominates there, though a strong
argument could be made that the open source/linux community blew a huge
opportunity that was handed to them when Netscape went open source, to
lackluster support from people who were intent on rebuilding the old
application platform (a desktop OS) instead of the new one. 
Fortunately, companies like Eazel seem to get it that the web is
central.  At the very least, though, we have to acknowledge that the
original web browser paradigm was developed as an open source project,
even though it quickly switched to being a proprietary battleground.

Programming languages - while Java is starting to take the lead, Perl
and JavaScript are still incredibly important.  (Question:  why does no
one take JavaScript seriously?  It's becoming more and more important to
web-centric applications.  We see its importance growing as book sales
go through the roof, but despite the fact that it came out of
Netscape/Mozilla, the open source community seems reluctant to claim it
as its own.)  Even on the Java front, the work of the Apache group with
Sun is very promising.

Applications - This is still hotly contested.  A lot of web sites are
built almost completely with open source software (e.g., which
uses Linux, Apache, MySql and Perl as its software stack); others, like
Yahoo and Amazon, make very heavy, though not exclusive, use of it.  But
once again, I see the Linux community largely taking its eye off the
ball.  But for the Apache group, and various people in the perl and
python communities, and new projects like Zope, we'd be unconscious
before we hit the mat.  Microsoft is all over the next platform, while
Linux is still trying to catch up with the last one.

And the irony is that Linux and other free OSes had the lead, didn't
know it, and now has to play catch up on the web as well.

We need to own a different set of heroes, and canonize a different set
of projects.  What happens with Apache and Mozilla and other web-centric
open source projects is WAY more important to the usability question
than what happens on the desktop.  (I should broaden that to say
internet centric, because email, and soon chat-related applications are
going to be hugely important.)  Heck, most people work in their web
browser and email client as much or more as they live in any traditional
office applications.)

I'm not saying that the Linux desktop and office apps are unimportant,
just that they are behind the curve on where new functionality is being
delivered.  Mapquest, for example, is a more important application today
than Powerpoint.  Yahoo or (your favorite search engine here) may be
more important than Excel for most users.

The other issue here is that we have to redefine what "open source"
means in the days of hosted applications.  Do we want to download
mapquest to our hard drives?  I don't think so.  But if it had open APIs
and a process for submitting bug fixes that worked, we'd be a lot better
off than we are now.  We need to shift the way we think about what
matters with regard to usability and open source in today's world, not
the world of 1995.

At the end of the day, the message I'd like to see us all carrying out
to the world is that "open source sucks for the consumer" is a vile
canard.  Open source has delivered more easy-to-use applications to
users over the last five years than Microsoft by a country mile.  Every
effort of Microsoft's over the past five years has been to duplicate a
web platform that was originally developed by the open source community,
and which represented the first real advance in usability since the
Macintosh.  Web applications, which embed program actions in a set of
documents, rather than the other way around, are a lot closer to the way
ordinary people work, than any Microsoft or Mac-style application.

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104,