Posts Tagged ‘open office’

A closed source company’s CEO’s view on open source

Monday, June 29th, 2009

It is no secret that LGP makes closed source software. We also create games that only work on closed source 3D drivers. And yet we work to make games for an open source platform, and we consider ourselves as part of the open source community.

A contradiction? Probably.

Now I am writing this from a personal perspective, on how I, as the CEO of the company, feels about this. If you don’t like what I say, don’t shun my poor devteam, who may often think differently.

Now, I love open source. I think it is vital, I think its is the best thing that has happened to computing since the invention of the silicon chip, but, it doesn’t answer all of the questions. I think that closed and open source have a place in the world.

My personal belief is that operating systems and file formats need to be open source. NEED to be. After that, looking logically, the rest of the computing world becomes a level playing field, and you can only become a dominant product by being best. You cannot lock people in if file formats are open, and operating systems are open.

Another fact is that programmers need to eat. Some very few developers are lucky enough to be able to make a living making open source software. But for most, that isn’t going to work. Programmers need to eat, need to support families and pay rent and occasionally buy a luxury or two. To do that they need to make money on their core skill, making software. This can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Open Source Beg-ware. Spend ages making software, and hope to hell that people that use it feel generous enough, or guilty enough, to give you some money.
  2. Open Source Supportware. Make great open source products and make money on supporting it.
  3. Closed source, pay for it.

Looking at those options, well, beg-ware may make some people enough to live off of, but really, people as a whole just aren’t that nice. The natural instinct of a human is to get the most benefit for the least money. Some people will pay, not many though. Supportware is the common way of making money in open source. People pay for extra features or for support. Great. But hold on. This means that it is financially better for a developer to make a product that is hard to use, or lacking in features. Do we REALLY want that? Closed source makes you money, no doubt about it, but who knows what is going on. Really, any piece of closed source airline or medical equipment is always one semicolon away from crashing and killing whoever depends on it, and you would never know.

So by this example, there is no good option. Nothing works perfectly.

A lot of people these days refuse to use the closed source Nvidia and ATI graphics drivers, because they are closed source. I wonder, if the instructions were all hidden by hardwiring them into a ROM chip on the card, and the only part of the driver was some kind of instruction pipeline to the ROM, but that pipeline was open source, would that be any better? Fact is, it would be exactly the same situation as now, closed and hidden blobs of instructions, but without even the ability of the manufacturers to fix problems without a flash upgrade of some kind.

Because of course this is exactly what the open source drivers do, they talk to closed hardware. You are still dealing with proprietary systems. I expect that even RMS, in his infinite dedication to open sourcing (sorry, free-ing) everything, uses a computer that has hardware that has closed and hidden instructions. Is it any better that the instructions are hard wired into a chip? I doubt that a single modern computer in the world has a completely open specification with no hidden bits.

But this doesn’t really matter, I am not answering the question, I am just muddying the waters a little. Showing that the question is not as clear as it seems.

For most software, Open Source seems to be the way to go. In games however, it seems to be failing us. Why have so few open source games been created. I don’t mean one of several hundred tetris or breakout clones, I mean big games, of the scale of X3, or Cold War. I think the problem is creative goals. Open source, to attract volunteers, needs to be something that a developer WANTS to work on. And so a game must be the game that that developer has always wanted to play. And the problem with games, where making a game is mostly a creative process, is that everyone wants something different. And so most open source game projects fall apart, or just fade away.

You can see large numbers of small games for Linux. Games made by one or maybe two people. You can find a large number of clones of commercial games. These are all easy to find developers for, they all want to play the game they used to play, but on Linux.

But original, new, high quality games on Linux, well, there are less than a handful, and none of them would get shelf space in a commercial store They may be technically great, they may be a marvel of collaboration, but they probably wouldn’t sell copies to the random public, and those are the people that Linux needs to target to become more mainstream.

One idea is that commercial companies would make a game and release it with the source. That may be something for the future. People could fix the bugs, but to distribute it you must only distribute the official boxed copy. That way the game is open, maintainable, but the company still gets its money. Put it under a license that restricts use or modification for any other reason. Unfortunately, in reality I doubt it would work. People would abuse the license terms. Call me a cynic, but, I just don’t believe people would respect the license.

In the end, I believe in the best tool for the job, as long as the playing field is level. Firefox is doing a good job of getting to the top, by being better, assisted greatly by open standards. OpenOffice is making inroads by doing the same job as MS Office without charging. It would be doing a better job if all of the file formats used by MS office were open, and that is the biggest thing that is holding it back. A clear example of an un-level playing field preventing the better product winning because of lock-in.

As for games, I started in this industry cos I love Linux and I love gaming. I believe in open source (I’ve been writing and contributing to open source software since 1993), I just do not have confidence it can solve every problem. If open source obsoletes commercial gaming, I’ll be happy as anything cos I’ll get all my games for free, and I’ll be able to go get a job and earn money. Until then, commercial gaming is a vital thing for Linux, and does nothing but help push the platform forwards. Even if it is in a way that RMS doesn’t approve of {:-)

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