Free Software Cycles

During the years that Borland developers churned in this cycle like a load of wash in a closed room, another method of developing software was gaining a foothold in the world. This alternative methodology, called the open software movement, produced free software using techniques that radically contrasted with Borland’s methodology. If Borland developers were spinning in an automated drier hidden from the world, then the open source movement was working outdoors, washing their laundry in tubs, and hanging it up to dry on outside lines for all the world to see.

Rather than shipping once a year, the open source movement tended to ship products three or four times a year, and sometimes considerably more frequently. Rather than hiding their work in private betas, the open source community encouraged any one who was interested to download the product and try it out. And not just the product, but the source to the product. There is nothing Borland holds in more profound and shrouded secrecy than the source code to their compilers and IDEs.

Rather than trying to conceal bugs, the open source movement wanted everyone to search for and report bugs. Each flaw was immediately, and often permanently, enshrined in public databases for all the world to see. And they accepted not only bug reports, but actual patches to the software, many of which were fully incorporated into the product. Again, nothing could be in greater contrast to the Borland way of doing business. At Borland, there were times when employees were literally and specifically instructed to never publicly say the word bug. This was not just a denial that there were bugs in the product, but a denial that the very concept of a bug even existed!

Everything that the open source movement did stood in stark contrast to the Borland development methodology. At Borland, the bottom line was business. The free market system was the engine that drove the world of software innovation. Without the free market, no one was supposed to be inclined to do anything. Without the incentive to make money, there was, according to the free market gospel of unfettered capitalism, no reason to work, let alone to innovate.

But oddly enough, the open source movement, which did not charge for its products, produced software at such a rate that they slowly, relentlessly broke into the markets that were formerly dominated by private companies. Technology like the Apache web browser, and innovations like the Perl language, like unit testing, like JBoss, or like the Ant build engine, became so ubiquitous, so transformative, so necessary to the development process, that big companies were forced to adopt free software technologies to better support the world of open source software.

Who can forget the time, two or three years ago, when the statistics appeared showing that MySQL was the only database in the world to meet the performance characteristics of Oracle software? Oracle, the company that had spent untold millions developing the fastest database in the world was suddenly staring into the eyes of a free open source project that two years previously had barely been on anyone’s radar, let alone imagined as a serious competitor.

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