Transparency is just as important

One of the advantages, touted by the Open Source community is that you can read the source code and make changes to it if you need to. Now to be honest, how many of us even bother to look at the source code? Come on, fess up. Yes, that is about what I thought. To the five percent of you that do read the code (or tweak it), bravo, but, while most of us do not live in C (or C++ or insert your favorite language here), we do have to configure, tweak, twist, bend and occasional bully the code into working correctly and in a useful manner, whether that is playing nice with our libraries or other application. So, the Open can also mean transparent. And this is a good thing.

Now, I have just spent the last few days learning about Microsoft Sharepoint (MOSS). Yes, for those who were concerned, I will recover after I have a shower and a good stiff drink. In the interest of fairness, I am not a coder and I am not a web master. I do plumbing and fittings. I can build the boxes, load the code and track down the leaks, but I start to glaze over when I look at code. With that being said, I do maintain a couple of small personal (read non-fancy) web sites and having just finished reading about MOSS I only have one question - Why do the people in Redmond have to make it so complicated and non-transparent?

I keep my sites unified with a combination of Cascading Style Sheets and the perl Template Toolkit (sorry, python did not exist when I had to learn a text manipulation language and so perl was it, but Smarty does for python what TT does for perl). But in MOSS, once you peel away the layers, it is Visual Basic. And not easy VB either, at least from where I was reading. Further, MOSS touts the ability to use a SQL database to store its pages. Well, I guess I have been doing that for years because I keep my pages in version control (first cvs, now svn), and emulate MOSS’s ability to copy "the master page" and make other pages look just like it with TT and CSS.

One of its "major" selling points is that MOSS is "integrated" or can be easily with the other MS products, but come on, I shouldn't need a Ph. D to explain it. And another one to make it work. You would think with all of the frameworks that the open source community has demonstrated, all the "easy" ways to do things, the guys in Redmond would pick up a few hints.

And did I mention the transparency angle? OK, here is a simple transparency issue. How do you back the sucker up? If this was a LAMP system, you grab the directories and do a MySQL dump (or your favorite DB command) and tar up the whole mess (or whatever). If something breaks or you have to revert, you simply go to the backups and bang, (assuming you have good backups - you do check those right?) you are back in business. Not so with this beast of a product from Redmond. In numerous places, it tells you that if you want it backed up, you have to essentially keep the code elsewhere safe because the built-in backup utilities will not capture certain customizations. For what I am paying for the code, the software should not only back it up but give me a step-by-step walk through wizard with dancing girls, not warn me that "some features will not be backed up."

While we are discussing cost, and I am probably the last person to really put a large emphasis on cost, especially since it is normally only 10% or less of the total project cost, but it is the part that is easily enumerated. Our friends in Redmond have a licensing structure that would require the savvy of Daniel Webster to figure out and need the pocketbook of a Rockefeller to cover. Is Beelzebub working for the licensing group over at Microsoft? It almost makes me wonder how many shops are not correctly licensed.

In a LAMP environment, it is pretty straight forward. You need the bolt, you screw it in. A couple of faceplates? Check. Deck hull? Welded. Open source has often been described as a car you build yourself, when compared to Microsoft (which I would describe as more of the modern airline - that's five dollars for the seat, ten for the blanket and six for the pillow). But I would much rather have the transparency of knowing where my leaks are and being able to stem the flow before the system failed than having to guess where the next blowout will come from.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

What about Alfresco

Anonymous's picture

Open Source alternative to Sharepoint:

As with the perl person, i

regomodo's picture

As with the perl person, i am very crap in writing and understanding c/c++ code, however, i do look through Python code especially when i am looking for implementations of things for projects i come up with.

Thanks for that

David Lane's picture

I am sure there are HUNDREDS of ways to accomplish the functionality in Sharepoint. Sadly, I am currently working in a Windows exclusive shop (and for the right incentive, I would be happy to talk) so I have to learn MOSS.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

For the record...

elementop's picture

...while I am not a C/C++ coder, I do my fair share of perl, and I have, on occasion, looked over the source code for FOSS perl projects (Matt's Formmail, for example) when trying to troubleshoot/tweak/duplicate FOSS applications or perl modules. I'll save the Sendmail or Linux kernel hacking for the people who dream in C :) but it is nice to know that if I have a sufficient need, I at least have the option of looking at the code.


David Lane's picture

Oh, I have spent more than my fair share of time inside the Formmail code, and the Apache code and places that really made me wish I had taken a coding class in University (and then I have a drink and the feeling goes away). I certainly appreciate the ability to look at the code, but I know that most people do not utilize that benefit.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Grabbing the bull by the horns

Jose_X's picture

I think a healthy dose of FOSS will become much easier to hack over time. That will be one way through which the community seriously grows to attract and encompass more "end" users. A LiveCD distro featuring app X can also add support apps and great documentation/videos/etc to make it easy to hack the featured app while you learn how to use it. I think we all have little hackers inside. We value being involved, and this will be tapped.

What annoys me is how commercial companies (of the closed source lock-in variety) will try to embrace and extend FOSS by keeping key code closed. Real FOSS includes instructions on how to build the actual app that is packaged by the companies. We'll see who the real players are and who are the deceivers.

In the spirit of taking the initiative, start your own custom Linux Live distro today! This may actually help convince higher ups within Monopolyware shops to accept Linux into the business. Seize control within your business and market it through custom Linux LiveCDs.

I should clarify, a lot of

Jose_X's picture

I should clarify, a lot of commercial outfits will always keep hidden key source code. Not all lock-ins are the same. The lesser of evils is a concept that may apply.

As for custom LiveCDs, it should be easiest to manage this if the material added is licensed under the assumption (and to encourage) users to clone the CDs (or DVDs). It's great as a marketing tool as well as within in-house use for backing up useful setups (eg, for educational purposes).

Modern airline

Anonymous's picture

I think you meant to say that a modern airline charges $500 for the seat, $10 for the blanket and $6 for the pillow.

Sort of...

David Lane's picture

$500 to get on the plane, then you pay for the seat :-) Actually I saw a joke somewhere that wondered how much longer it would be before we were paying for an approved flotation device, aka a cushion.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack