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Open source: Getting angry, getting better

| April 25, 2014
Last week, I explored some of the important issues raised by the discovery of a major flaw in the widely-used open source program OpenSSL, and how that might be addressed. Since then, a couple of things have happened.

"Our group removed half of the OpenSSL source tree in a week. It was discarded leftovers," de Raadt told Ars [Technica] in an e-mail. "The Open Source model depends [on] people being able to read the code. It depends on clarity. That is not a clear code base, because their community does not appear to care about clarity. Obviously, when such cruft builds up, there is a cultural gap.

It's pretty easy to read between the lines here. Some people are unhappy about the way OpenSSL has been written, and have done what any true hacker does when confronted by such a situation: fork the code to come up with something better.

That's a well-known advantage of free software - indeed, one of its crucial and defining features. It helps keep projects and their leaders "honest": if enough coders disagree with what's happening and where they're going, they can simply fork the code and do things the way they want to - until such time, perhaps, as enough people of the new group get upset, and fork the fork.

But there's another aspect of this, not mentioned so much. Open source allows honest anger - about the quality of code, or about the direction of a project - to motivate people to do it better, or to do it right. That's not an option with closed source: programmers must just think about their doubtless generous salaries, and do as they are told whether or not they agree. In other words, the birth of LibreSSL is another powerful demonstration that free software is generally born of freedom and passion, which is partly why it is superior to the kind that comes into the world for less uplifting reasons.

Source: Computerworld UK


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