Open Source FUD

As people who read this blog regularly no doubt know, I am a big supporter of Open Source Software and its use in libraries. I am happy to say that here at Binghatom we use a number of Open Source applications – some built specifically for the library environment such as E-Prints, and other more generally applications such as wiki and blog software. We also use a lot of proprietary software, including the Aleph ILS, Metalib [1], ContentDM, Content Pro, and so on. All of these applications, whether they are Open Source or Proprietary have there pluses and minuses.

In the past, the Open Source community had to deal with a lot of FUD. As Bob Molyneux reportedly described at the Evergreen Conference, “people used to asked ‘Open source? you going to use code written by a bunch of dope-smokin’ hippies?’ now they are a bit more educated.” Thankfully I have found that as well and that is a good thing. However, Nicole Engard’s post reminded me of something that has been a slight annoyance to me lately.

Over the last year or so at a number of conferences and on blog posts I’ve been hearing criticisms of proprietary offerings from library vendors such as SirisDynix, III, and Ex Libris. The usually related to some feature a product doesn’t have. For example, maybe a particular ILS doesn’t have relevancy ranking. The presenter or blogger will fairly point that out, but they will extrapolate the issue to all proprietary ILSs, saying something like we had to use Open Source because the proprietary systems don’t support X, Y, or Z. The problem is, they do not mean that all proprietary systems don’t support X, Y, or Z. They mean the particular one at their institution choose to use does not. I don’t know why they do this, whether it is because they are ill-formed or maybe just careless, but I’m sure most Open Source advocates wouldn’t want to be judged by the worse, or most limited, Open Source project out there. Why judge all proprietary offerings based on the limitations of some of the proprietary offerings?

If you want to make the argument that Open Source is better philosophically than proprietary, I am all for it. However, if you are comparing feature sets, please be specific to what you mean and don’t lump all proprietary solutions, or for that matter, all Open Source solutions together. While not as divisive as some of the FUD used against Open Source in the past, it is still FUD, and these over generalizations have no place in the conversation in my opinion.

[1] For those that don’t know, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Ex Libris Users of North America‘s Steering Committee.

1 Comment

  1. Chris Cormack said,

    April 22, 2010 at 19:04:09

    Since I come from the Free Software side, features are not what I use as examples.
    I believe that Free Software is the ethical choice, I think that to restrict users freedoms is unethical.
    I judge proprietary offerings on the fact they are proprietary.