Open Or Proprietary, It's Whether It Works Or Not That Counts

Proprietary is not a four letter word, but that does not make it good or bad

My friend Mike Fratto, editor of Network Computing has an article up called “Proprietary Is Not A Four Letter Word”. Mike makes the point that just because a given technology or product is not open or does not support an open standard, does not make necessarily bad. Mike is right; it does not mean it is automatically bad or not as good as an open product.

Of course it doesn’t mean it is good either. There are plenty of four letter words that describe both good and bad. Mike hits it on the head though later in the article. Good or bad is in the eye of the beholder and the mirror used to make that judgment is whether or not the product does the job. At the end of the day, that is really the ultimate test of good or bad for technology. Does it solve the problem or do the job it was intended to. If it does, most of us really don’t care whether it is open or closed, proprietary or not.

There are those in the open source crowd, who would disagree with that line of thinking. Open is always better. Even if it means putting up with a little more work or less functionality. I don’t agree with that view usually

However, in the real world though you can have more than one solution that fits the bill and solves the problem. Given the choice between two solutions that both work, one being open and the other not, the open solution in my mind is usually better for the consumer. It avoids lock in and gives the user more choices.

As Mike points out in the article, sometimes a market leading supplier such as Cisco in networking will make the determination that making their solution support an open standard would only allow their competition to compete. Why do that? So keeping things proprietary is in their interest.

I have seen this first hand myself. The cost of ripping out all of a vendors gear just to support an open standard is too great a burden. But in technology the inevitable refresh is always just around the corner. In the case of Cisco, Vyatta the open source router company makes its bones on companies refreshing their Cisco gear and wanting something open and all that open means. So Mike is right, not open does not equate to not good. However, seldom is the choice between open and not.

In technology there is usually more than one way to skin the cat and if you can accomplish it using an open standard you should.

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