Who's Your Dealer?

The mapbutcher thinks it’s OK to get hooked on proprietary software:

People are interested in the ‘express’ editions because on the surface of it the marketing works on them, they’re familiar with the brand and are attracted by the ‘free’ carrot dangling from the end of the stick. Open Source software starts from that position – it’s already free so open source projects need another carrot to get us hooked.

To which I can only say “Simon! Look at yourself in the mirror, man! Do you want to end up whoring yourself down on Dalgety Street to pay for your ESRI habit?”

OK, metaphor is tricky and fun, because there’s so many ways to approach a metaphor. And for this one, it’s easy to get distracted by the “drug” side, but the point of my metaphor is not that addictive drugs put you in a subordinate relationship to the drug (though some do) but that they put you in a subordinate relationship to the dealer.

The reason we can all survive and function in society despite our crippling addiction to oxygen is because oxygen is free and plentiful. The pusherman isn’t trying to hook new customers because he believes that drugs are wonderful, he’s doing it because he wants their money.

Software is “addictive” to organizations. Once you choose a piece of software and implement it, you’re going to be “addicted”. It’s going to be hard to change. There will be withdrawal symptoms. Given that fact, what kind of software do you want to use? Software that is as free as the air you breath? Or software that is only available on terms dictated by someone else?

Your choice. Your future. Your life.

Free like...

A favorite bon mot of open source critics is that open source software is “free like a free puppy”. Tee hee! Open source advocates should remember to keep the rejoinder handy, that proprietary software is “free like a free hit of crack”. Oracle “Express”, SQL Server “Express”, ESRI educational copies, yes I am looking at you.


I was blessed (or cursed) to go through my undergraduate years from 1989 to 1993, and at that time, I’m sad to say, there wasn’t a lot of nerd chic. I did my degree in Mathematics. The computer science student on my dorm floor ended up gainfully employed programming mainframes at Safeway. It was not, shall we say, a glamourous time for young nerds. On the other hand, the pressure wasn’t exactly on.

What do young nerds today make of the examples before them, the Brins and Pages and Zuckerbergs? Is there a sense of performance anxiety? Does the start-up zeitgeist weigh on them?

Reading articles about how Mark Zuckerberg screwed his college employers, I am torn. On the one hand, is the satisfaction that the guy who did the actual work and had the particular, detailed vision of the social network got the reward, not his moneyed waspy employers. On the other hand, he clearly screwed them in a very premeditated fashion. What led to this kind of anti-social behavior? The lure of the Big Score? With Brin and Page in the back of your mind, maybe becoming a 20-something billionaire doesn’t seem so far fetched? Maybe it’s worth violating some social norms for?

Anyhow, now Zuckerberg is part of the pantheon. And it makes me wonder what the psychology is, today, in the nerdly dorm rooms? Is it still OK to go work for Safeway? Or is everyone secretly hoping they can spend a couple years drinking coke, working in the garage, and making it to the NerdBA?

The End of the End of General Purpose Computing

One of the memes that got slung around a log during the launch of the iPad and associated apologetics for the closed nature of iPad (and iPhone) software development was that we were at the “end of general purpose computing”, that the closed and controlled environment was a good thing, and in fact required in order to provide the seamless, user friendly experience necessary to bring computing, finally, to the unwashed masses.

In this meme, the limitations of the new platform—no multi-tasking, applications as unitary bundles that don’t share files, the lack of a (user visible) hierarchical file system—were all features, not drawbacks, they were in fact the core benefits that make computing understandable for grandma.

How quickly the worm turns. iPhone OS 4 now introduces multi-tasking, file sharing between applications, and all the associated user interface scruft that goes along with managing those concepts. Also, folders for holding the many application icons in your now-totally-crowded phone screens. And on and on.

So, now that bath water (the blessed “simple enough for grandma” experience) is heading over the balcony edge, can we have our baby back (open application development)?

You know you've arrived...

…when people start discussing the best way to replace you.

Seen amongst the abstracts in the FOSS4G Community Program Review: “Beyond PostGIS - New developments in Open Source Spatial Databases” and “JASPA, an alternative to PostGIS”.

Is that a bright shining light? I’m floating above my body…