Cringely has an interesting take on Open Source. Keep reading - he gets to open source in the second half of the article. Here's the gist of his point:
Here is the core argument: There are a thousand Open Source projects that get started out of need or fun, are maintained for awhile for fame, then get abandoned because there is no reason to go on. Eventually, the programmers come to understand that "users" are people who yell at you to fix stuff. So Open Source is inherently flawed. It only works because otherwise unknown programmers can get 15 minutes of fame using the Internet as low-barrier entry into introducing their skill to the world. Since they are introverted nobodies, getting a few emails from unknown users that say "good job!" feels great. But in time, most Open Source projects grind to a halt. The ones that survive are projects like Linux and Apache that have substantial involvement by PAID engineers. One could argue, in fact, that the idea of Open Source software being created by volunteers is a misnomer. Even Linus Torvalds is paid by Transmeta to be the God of Linux
This is an argument I've made more than once - that all the work done to make Linux usable was done once companies like RedHat started paying people to do it. One interesting aspect about an awful lot of open source is usability - it's the kind of drudge work that few people want to do (organizing menus, cleaning up the UI, etc) - but it's also the kind of work that is crucial for widespread acceptance of a product. Love them or hate them, this is something Microsoft has always understood.
Then Cringely goes on with some theories on how MS could crush open source efforts. I'm thinking this wanders a bit into tinfoil hat territory, but here it is:
It is possible to hijack an Open Source project since any Open Source team will automatically bend itself around the party doing the most work. What I find most interesting, however, is applying varying motives to the hijacking. What if Microsoft, for example, suddenly started devoting a lot of resources to Open Source development? They could throw a team at all the key projects. But why would they do that? Well, IBM is already doing it. IBM has hired most of the Apache team. IBM has some major pull on what work gets done and does not get done. In some cases, it is frustrating, and other cases not. However, everybody just accepts it because IBM is paying the bills and people can do what they love. Is there an official IBM party line at Apache? Absolutely not! It is just that none of the Apache developers will talk negatively about IBM, even those that do not work at IBM. So in this sense, it already appears that Apache has been hijacked.
Now consider an evil alternative. Say Microsoft assigns a team of programmers to help some Open Source project. Maybe this time that team isn't specifically identified as being from Microsoft, perhaps it is a Microsoft-funded startup. This team, because of its vitality and funding, quickly takes control of the project and goes running off in some particular technical direction, taking with it the rest of the suddenly re-energized team. But what if this new direction is not a good one? Even worse, what if the team gets far down that lonely road only to have Microsoft suddenly pull the plug, removing its team from the game? Would the project survive? It is hard to say, but if I was Microsoft that's how I would compete with Open Source, by subverting it. Microsoft can't compete on quality or price. And subversion -- since it is subverting a not-for-profit venture -- breaks no laws, nasty as it is.
I think he's wandered off the reservation with this stuff. The usability and paid work - I agree with that. The latter stuff? Tinfoil hat :)