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Camilo Villavicencio Garrido

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Revisión a The Cathedral and the Bazaar

diciembre 15, 2019 — Camilo Villavicencio

Esta entrada la hago sobre un artículo escrito por Mark Traver que hace una revisión al libro La Catedral y el Bazaar, en que Eric S. Raymond plantea las bases del uso del denominado software de código abierto. Las conclusiones no son muy alentadoras y en varias ocasiones no resisten mucho análisis, sin embargo, en varias cosas creo que da por ciertas algunas premisas sin dejar cabida a visiones o anhelos paralelos o, derechamente, distintos (por ejemplo, asumir que la única función del software es ser un producto final listo para el consumo). Aun cuando discrepo en varios puntos, me pareció interesante, por eso lo curo acá.

A continuación, algunos párrafos que encontré interesantes, seguidos de alguna que otra observación.

Now here is an unpalatable truth, twenty years on: most open source code is poor or unusable. A search through open source repositories like Sourceforge or Github will convince you of that. If you haven't (as I have done) tried to piece together code from a repository armed only with few pages of code comments and virtually no documentation, you have not lived the Github experience. In fact an article puts the abandonment rate of open source projects on Github at about 98% - meaning that there is no activity on 98% of projects after a year. This has coined a phrase: abandonware.

Asumir que sourceforge o github son escaparates de software terminado es demasiado limitado... es cierto que esas, como otras plataformas, permiten compartir software completo y terminado, también permiten el trabajo comunitario entorno a un objetivo común pero, por sobretodo, lo entiendo como una plataforma de transición entre un proyecto que se quiere hacer y uno terminado. Que haya tanto abandonware no lo veo como un fracaso (ni del sistema ni de los programadores), sino como el rastro de que alguien alguna vez trabajó en tal o cual proyecto. Muchos nunca serán revisados ni de reojo, muchos otros servirán a futuros programadores para encontrar soluciones a problemas puntuales. Comparto acá el horror ante la falta de documentación, aun de proyectos abandonados.

Sobre el financiamiento del software de código abierto

Emacs was supported financially by people working at the MIT AI Lab, which means that it was funded by Uncle Sam. It was not invented by Richard Stallman contrary to popular myth, although he did grab the sources and improved them and tried successfully to claim as much credit as he could. It’s real cost in market terms was effectively many thousands of tax dollars.

Poco que agregar... además, claro, de que independientemente del financiamiento de emacs en su origen, su vigencia se debe precisamente al trabajo de desarrolladores de forma independiente por programadores resolviendo sus propias necesidades, tal como más adelante en el mismo artículo es citado el mismo ESR, al referirse a emacs como un category killer:

The classic category killer example is GNU Emacs; its variants fill the ecological niche for a fully-programmable editor so completely that no competitor has gotten much beyond the one-man project stage since the early 1980s. Instead, people write Emacs modes.

Y luego respondido por Traver:

That's ironic, because a lot of people think that Emacs is outdated, but like Linux because it is open source and widely used it is likely to survive.

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Most funded projects on Kickstarter fall into the category of gadgets and games. There are a few software projects that have attracted significant funding (like Light Table) but not that many. The average successful Kickstarter funding of about $5,000 will not carry any business much beyond the first quarter of its first year. The clue is the title - a kickstart is there to get a project started, not to sustain it. Crowd funding is not an adequate long-term income model.

Tan cierto, que no quise dejar de rescatarlo.

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Sobre el interés de compañías en apoyar el desarrollo de código abierto

Corporations like Microsoft were initially afraid of open source as a stealer for their products. Microsoft were very concerned about Linux as a competitor to Windows. (...) As desktop Linux disintegrated into a welter of forks and abandonware, Microsoft relaxed; it was safe. But now Microsoft and other corporations like Google positively embrace open source. Why? (...) They embrace it because open source allows them to monetise work without paying for it. So corporations use open source and discard it when it does not serve their purpose.

Conclusión y excusa a ESR

Raymond's essay combined with the growth of the Internet to change the way that software is produced. We cannot return to the world that existed before 1998. But the world that we are in does not conform to Raymond's expectations either. (...) The Cathedral and the Bazaar coincided with the dot com boom that made a few people very rich and wiped out many more. Eric S. Raymond started a popular movement, but in the process lost the point and direction of what was promised. Of course this is nothing new. The early Christians, the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks all engineered movements designed to free people and all of them ended out of control and being oppressive.

Tags: software