Open Source Considered Harmful

Maybe it is just me but gosh, the unrelenting rate of change, of the rate of change, in IT is becoming brain frazzling. As soon as I think I have a handle on where things are currently at, along comes some new complex twist; some new turn; some new innovation that threatens to take the status quo and put it through the wood chipper.

I blame the open source phenomenon for that. Now I am using the word "blame" with a great big grin on my face. We are working here in a textual medium so please just picture that in your mind. I am a huge fan of open source but, like any true love, mine is unconditional. I see the faults, but love regardless.

Here is the main "fault" I'm thinking about. The concept of open source and the concept of social software development are closely interlinked. The internet is the communication substrate without which, the open source world could not function effectively. For open source to work, it has to be drop dead easy to consume and to produce. It has to be drop dead easy to communicate: consumer to consumer, consumer to producer, producer to consumer and producer to producer.

The rampant openness results in an amazing phenomenon. Problems that would otherwise be too complex to solve cost effectively, become solvable. Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

What's not to like? Well, here is what I see happening a lot. Some bug or other manifests itself. Somebody posts the bug details. A wide variety of people chime in. Eventually, a resolution to the problem manifests itself. Everybody moves on. The problem for me is the last bit : "everybody moves on". The sheer power of community communication made the problem soluble. So much so that folks go their separate ways moving on to further problems, without the original problem solution being fully digested, packaged up and assimilated and documented and...

The result, it seems to me, is that we can tolerate a higher threshold of complexity these days in our IT systems thanks to the open source phenomenon. That is good isn't it? Well, yes, except that because we can tolerate it, we do. We don't need to spend time reducing complexity if we can find a way to tolerate it.

It is hot in this kitchen and getting hotter all the time. What to do? Find a way to reduce the heat or leverage the latest asbestos suits? We are mostly doing the latter. There is a universe out there and we are making it more and more complex. With every jump in complexity its as if humankind is saying "Is that all ya got? Bring it on!".

Maybe that is the right strategy.

Maybe it is just me.

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