Benjamin Geer on Sun, 29 Feb 2004 14:28:31 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> floss enforcement/compliance

ed phillips wrote:
> If you are the
> government of Extremadura and you need to release an application to
> all your far flung Linux servers that
> does foo and stores bar in a MySQL database, you are free to
> distribute this on all your computers without formally having to
> inflict the ugly, just good enough to get the job done hack on the
> rest of us. Nor do you have to pay MySQL 450 or whatever dollars per
> install of the application.

Easy solution: release the source code with a big notice on it: 'This 
code is crap; we're just releasing it to comply with the GPL.' :)  If 
they're not comfortable admitting that their code is crap, perhaps the 
GPL will act as an incentive to write better code in the first place.

I once heard a talk given by the guy who started the IBM project to run 
Linux on IBM's mainframes (thereby convincing IBM to start investing in 
Linux).  He said that once his developers started to write free 
software, an interesting thing happened: they would sometimes say that 
the code couldn't be released yet because they 'weren't proud of it 
yet'.  He asked his audience (of developers and managers at a commercial 
software vendor), 'Have you ever heard a developer say that they 
couldn't release code because they weren't proud of it yet?'  The 
audience burst out laughing.

Of course, the knowledge that other people will read what you've written 
is no guarantee that you'll write something good, because you might not 
know enough to do so.  But if, thanks to the GPL, good code is published 
so you can study it, you have a better chance of learning how to write 
good code.

And maybe you're worrying too much about the effect of bad examples. 
Consider the world of books.  Go into any library or bookshop and you'll 
find huge amounts of laughably mediocre novels and political treatises 
full of absurd arguments.  Yet somehow, good writers still manage to 
write good books, and organisations that care about quality still manage 
to produce good research.

Suppose there was a law requiring all software to go through a peer 
review process before it could be published.  Bad code wouldn't vanish; 
it would just go underground.  Perhaps it's better to have it out in the 
open where it can be critiqued.  Maybe the government of Extremadura got 
swindled by some contractor; maybe they had no idea their code was crap. 
  If they released it, the community could tell them how bad it was, and 
then it could be improved (perhaps with the help of the community).


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