Response to the Princeton Open Source Debacle

Last week, I wrote about a poorly written slightly satirical article criticizing open source. Today, I received a response from a Princeton administrator, linking to an official Princeton position statement on open source·.

While the position paper does distance itself from Howard Strauss’ article, it unfortunately presents a false trichotomy of “open source” vs. “vendor” vs. “local development.” In fact, there are at least two entirely separate decisions to be made in software procurement:

  • Open source vs. Proprietary (and, in fact, various shades in between)
  • Vendor supported vs. community supported vs. “in house” or local development

Any entity is free to mix and match between these options. For example, it’s quite common to have vendor supported open source software (e.g., Red Hat Linux·), or to have some in house expertise and development on open source software. Or even to rely on some vendor support, some community support, and some in house support.

Of course, if you choose the proprietary solution, you’re likely locked into the “vendor support” model indefinitely, and have no choice about your vendor.

It’s also disappointing that the Princeton Position Paper didn’t touch on the historic role of the University in advancing the pursuit of knowledge, and how open source code comports with these principles, which have been observed in the scientific community since the beginning of time. (i.e., share freely your discoveries so that others may improve on them).

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