The days of Open Source seem to be fading away. Now a day, open source is not much different than commercial software. There are a number of individuals and companies that take advantage of freely available applications as a means to profit. Gone it seems are the days of the Open Source Initiative and Linus Torvalds’ vision that “open source is the only right way to do software.”
What is Open Source?
Open source began as, and in part still is, software created by a community of people who are dedicated to working together in a mutual way.
Open source normally circumscribes software that is distributed under a license that guarantees that derivative works, or forks, will also be available as source code, protects the rights of the original creator, and prohibits limitations on how the software can be used or who can use it.
Commercial vs. Open Source Software
In many cases, the difference between software created by open source communities and commercial software is the license.
For example, osCommerce is an open source application freely developed and distributed by the osCommerce community. The community also freely develops and freely distributes contributions for use with osCommerce. CRE Loaded, a fork now developed by Sal Iozzia and Chain Reaction Web, has latched onto osCommerce and the community contributions like a leach, sucking all the communities hard work and sweat into his pocket. CRE Loaded once was a free open source application, that was until David Graham, a former CRE employee and now dean of the osCommerce University, suggested that it be sold. With CRE Loaded v6.2 came the dawn of a new era. CRE was released in three flavors, a free standard version, a $150 or so Pro version and a B2B version snatching $300 out of your palm. All three versions came with the same bugs that v6.15 did with the B2B and Pro versions promising support. Based on the CRE user forums and emails I received from end users, support for the application was poor or non-existent leaving many users wanting their money back. None of this sounds like what Linus Torvalds envisioned.
Creating Profit For Standards
For testing purposes, I recently installed Eos Online Merchant and found that the Eos “development” team had added code that overrides the original osCommerce and CRE Loaded code that allowed the end user to choose between using, and not using SSL [Secure Socket Layer]. By default, CRE Loaded and osCommerce does not require the use of SSL. Eos does and I asked David Graham why Eos would force the use of SSL and in short, Eos is creating standards. They cite FTC laws that don’t exist and payment card standards [The PCI movement] that have yet to be implemented. Suggesting that there are laws or security reasons for forcing the use of SSL is wrong. Telling an end user that name, address and phone numbers should be encrypted when transmitted is just plain dim-witted. How many of us have a mail box? How many of us have our name, address and phone number printed in a phone book? Has anyone ever used the Internet to find the name and address of a person using reverse lookup directories… and found that info on a reputable website that is Not using SSL?
One of the Eos dev team members, Inetbiz, insisted that name, address and phone numbers that are collected by a website are required to be encrypted by SSL – although both he and David Graham have used CRE Loaded for years and I have never noticed any complaints from either about SSL in the CRE Loaded forums. That might be that they had no control over CRE, and considering Inetbiz provides hosting services including the sale of SSL certificates, I am not surprised by the sudden move to forcing SSL in Eos Online Merchant. Create a new standard, force the purchase of SSL certificates and maybe it will catch on and no one will complain? Well I did and they did not like it. I don’t feel bad about it though. Much like CE Loaded, Eos Online Merchant is poised itself to fall flat on its commercial face. I think that is what happens when you take an open source application, add greed and indifference, and expect the world to follow you like the pied piper.
Just because you make it does not mean they will come
I am 100% for the development and distribution of open source applications. The likes of Joomla, WordPress and osCommerce are a few examples of what I believe open source should mean. Sure, there are people that create paid templates, add-ons, plug-ins and contributions for these applications – not unethical. There are just as many that do the same for free. What I find unethical is the type of thing that some forks of these applications are doing. I find it unacceptable that a fork would create standards and suggest that there are laws or security reasons for forcing something onto an end user merely for profit – the end user should be in the position of making their own decisions, not the developer. I find it disconcerting that groups of people feel comfortable taking an application, changing little of it, only to turn around and profit from it. I myself have a version of CE Loaded that I use on my hosting website. I do not openly develop or distribute the application – I have no time to support it. I modified the application to suit my needs. I removed the bugs for the features I did use. I do offer it to my hosting customers and will support its use by my hosting customers, but I don’t expect them to pay me for its use.
Open source had always been free. Free to modify, free to distribute. Adding greed into the mix does little for the open source community. Supporting the open source community does not mean that you should bend over for the developers. There are a slew of ways that one can support the open source community without having to know how to code. Participating in community forums is just as important as those behind the scenes writing the code. Helping to keep open source free is the goal…