Subject: Re: Software quality: free vs. proprietary
From: "Karsten M. Self" <>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1999 00:27:58 -0700

Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
> >>>>> "Kragen" == Kragen Sitaker <> writes:
>     >> Theoretically, there's no reason to believe that an arbitrarily
>     >> high fraction of the "more eyeballs" effect can't be captured
>     >> by adopting some open source practices while keeping more or
>     >> less proprietary rights.  (This is sort of cheating, since
>     >> "free" is pretty absolute, while proprietary is everything
>     >> else; but then, when the Aladdin Free Public License is defined
>     >> to be "not free," that's your definition, and not my problem.
>     >> :-)
>     Kragen> Whether it is your problem or not is irrelevant.  Whether
>     Kragen> it captures eyeballs is the question.  I believe LPD said
>     Kragen> on this list a year or two ago that he didn't get much of
>     Kragen> that for GhostScript, so anecdotally, the answer is no.
> You missed the point of mentioning AFPL, and wrong anecdote.  The
> point is that free/open source as defined leaves all kinds of
> practices, which to the untrained eye appear to be open source, in the
> domain of closed.
> The anecdote I have in mind is the repeated statement in the
> management literature that formal software inspections catch most of
> the bugs.
>     Kragen> 4.2BSD, Emacs, gcc, and EROS are neither taillight-chasing
>     Kragen> nor cherry-picking.  The GIMP was, but isn't now.  KDE,
>     Kragen> GNOME, AbiWord, Linux, and glibc are clearly doing a lot
>     Kragen> of both.
> OK, I cannot oppose your judgement on which projects do tc&cp.
> I no longer use the term "taillight-chasing," by the way, because I
> don't know what it means.  It seems to imply "following the leader"
> but that isn't what I want to say.  What I had in mind was that
> (re)implementing a design composed of clearly specified features is
> much easier than starting without a spec.  I'm sure that's
> uncontroversial as stated, but judgement as to who was following a
> clearly specified design is something else again, and an area where I
> concede expertise (although my prejudices and ignorance will leak into
> the discussion).
>     Kragen> But even if you were right about t-c&c-p, Linux seems to
>     Kragen> have done a much better job of t-c&c-p than, say, AIX.
> OK.
>     >> (it's reasonable to suppose that free software has entered
>     >> those parts of the industry where it has a comparative
>     >> advantage, or anyway least disadvantage, vis-a-vis the
>     >> proprietary model---thus it is going to be hard to maintain
>     >> current levels of efficiency and quality as the domain of free
>     >> software spreads).
>     Kragen> It is reasonable.  It is also reasonable to suppose that
>     Kragen> this is not the case.  Do you have some evidence one way
>     Kragen> or the other?
> Not for software.  But for everything else in the economic realm, it
> generally pays to do the easy thing first and build on that.
>     >> If I'm misunderstanding you, and you are contemplating a mixed
>     >> system, then it's not clear to me whether the free and
>     >> proprietary sectors are comparable on quality in an interesting
>     >> way.
>     Kragen> Well, how about the 'fuzz' study?  That compared several
>     Kragen> implementations of the Unix toolset on quality in a
>     Kragen> measurable way:
> This is useful and a clear measure of quality.  (URL?)

> I would say given the results that a responsible vendor would offer
> the GNU toolset, at least as an option.  Do we have _any_ responsible
> vendors?  :-)

SCO, Sun, and HPUX all offer GNU tools through at least informal user
organizations, toolsites, etc.  Eg:  skunkworks, IIRC, for SCO.  MSFT
offers now the Interix stuff, though I'm not sure it's GNU.

>     Kragen> By "where proprietary software succeeds", do you mean
>     Kragen> "where proprietary software does not abandon the field
>     Kragen> because free software has not yet succeeded"?
> Yes.  By "succeed" I mean achieve clear superiority in the eyes of
> users.  This is necessarily somewhat hypothetical, it cannot be
> measured directly by the market test of who sells more.  (I'm sorry I
> wasn't more explicit about this, but I didn't realize what my
> definition was until I saw your discussion.)

Survey instruments can provide a metric however.  RedHat was touting
some Unix comparisons on different points with Linux scoring very high
in this perception, in general.  Maybe 6-12 months ago.  I believe the
usuall suspects (IDG, Gartner, Giga) have run surveys of this sort. 
You're an adult, I'll let you look for them <g>.

> To the extent that free software does produce higher quality on in
> principle measurable variables ("Less crashes!"  "More long
> options!"), that is important.  But is that what users need?  Ed
> Yourdon talks (out of both sides of his mouth ;) about "zero-defect"
> and "good-enough" software.  Some users need one, others the other.
> We shouldn't focus on debating points like fewer crashes; my wife
> doesn't care that Windows NT left to itself for a few score hours will
> exhaust memory and slow to a crawl (if that urban legend is true)---

I tend to leave my (job site) NT station up for a week or more at a
time.  Netscape and MS Access crash periodically.  Most of my work is on
an X-Windows server (hitting Unix boxen), I'm not taxing the OS too

You'd also asked for refs on planned obsolesense or acceptable bug
levels and Microsoft or Bill Gates.  Some of the following...

    No! There are no significant bugs in our released software 
    that any significant number of users want fixed. 

Karsten M. Self (
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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