Open source

This whole MOAB thing has piqued my interest in open source, again.

When I see Landon Fuller and William Carrel, two very bright and capable developers, jumping through hoops to reverse-engineer Transmit and provide a workaround for an issue in a closed-source piece of third-party software, it make me think two things:

  1. Open source software can be fixed and audited without having to go through extreme lengths to figure out what the software is doing behind the scenes; furthermore, once the source code is modified, a brand new version of the software containing the fix can be built rather than trying to externally patch the software from outside at runtime using APE (which in a previous post I likened to "using a radio-controlled robot to stick a band-aid on the arm of a running child").
  2. It just doesn’t make sense (to me, at least) to invest this kind of painful effort in fixing a problem that should really be Panic’s responsibility; they are the ones with the source code and they are the ones in the best position to fix it: the bug could probably be eliminated in half-an-hour, and they could probably audit the codebase for similar flaws in a single day. I really think the only real value in the kind of hard work that Landon and William are doing is the intellectual and self-educational value of it that they derive from it themselves; a more appropriate workaround for the flaw, in my opinion, is to uninstall Transmit and use one of the many alternatives available until Panic releases a fix.

Maybe Panic is on holiday. Maybe they haven’t gotten back from Macworld yet. But if their software were open source then it wouldn’t matter if they were voyaging across the Sahara desert; literally anybody with the appropriate knowledge could fix the problem in their absence.

Now I’m not saying that they should open source their software. I’ve previously written about open source and noted how it doesn’t make much business sense for the small vendor (1, 2, 3), but this month of MOAB has made me think again how nice it would be if there were a viable way of opening up our source without simultaneously destroying our livelihoods. I am seriously considering opening up access to my source in some way in the future, although I highly doubt that either the GPL or the BSD licenses are appropriate, but perhaps there is another way; the model provided by Hog Bay Software is one to think about.