Don't Talk The Talk, Without Walking The Walk, Otherwise You Are Just Throwing Gasoline On Fire

Neil McAllister's off hand remark about companies like Microsoft saying open source does not innovate sets off a firestorm. But was the original statement accurate?

One thing I have learned in years of writing "on the public record" is that if you have to be very careful when you make statements about companies positions. Sometimes writing out of date information is even worse than having erroneous information. Someone else reads the wrong info and they go off on a tangent and so on and so on and so on. You get the picture.

I think Neil McAllister over on InfoWorld did just this in an article he wrote about open source innovation on the cutting edge. I get what Neil was trying to do. He wanted to show that open source applications can be cutting edge in technology and innovation. He is right and gets no argument from me there.  But I think he just started off with his paddle in the wrong river when he said:

Open source doesn't innovate -- so goes the old saw. Proprietary software vendors, including Microsoft, would have you believe the open source movement has produced nothing but knockoffs of existing products and cast-off code that couldn't cut it in the free market.

I don't think you can make a blanket statement like that without some reference to substantiate it.  If Microsoft saying open source doesn't innovate is an old saw, it must be a very old and rusty saw. Certainly everything we have heard from Microsoft on open source over the last couple of years has been very different than that. I haven't heard that kind of rhetoric since 2005 or 2006 at least.

So while Neil uses that statement as almost a throw away to launch into his article (and it is a good artcle BTW) about innovative open source projects, others are left fuming at Microsoft. One such example is Ken Hess over on Daniweb. He read McAllister's article and is furious at Microsoft. Some salient points that Ken makes:

I read a story this morning over at that shocked me a bit. Neil McAllister discusses how proprietary software companies, like Microsoft, criticize open source projects by saying that, "They don't innovate, they copy." Is that really the consensus for an entire software realm that brought us the world wide web, TCP/IP, sendmail, DNS, DHCP, PerlPHPApache, HTML and basically everything else that we use on the Internet today? Is that really the stance they want to take?

Well actually Ken, no I don't think that is the stance they want to take. He continues:

I'm still shocked that IBM and Apple haven't sued the pants off of Microsoft for their obvious plagiarism of those companies' products and innovations.

From DOS to Windows to their GUI designs, icons, menus, .NET and program names, they (Microsoft) are the ones who play the knockoff card. And, they play it in spades.

and more

The world enjoys a free Internet, thanks to the innovations and donations of hundreds of thousands of hours and dollars from regular people like you and me. If a company like Microsoft owned the Internet, or the protocols and applications that make it work, it would be a different world.

All of this because Neil said some companies like Microsoft have us believe there is no innovation with open source.  But there is no proof of that, so this whole discussion goes off without a foundation. Microsoft gets a probably uncalled for black eye, the people reading this are given a false impression and worse of all, the many good deeds and good will that Microsoft has earned from the open source community recently is wasted by misunderstanding.

So before you go off and make a blanket statement like that, don't you at least owe it to the company you are condemning to back it up?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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