Why Wolfram Isn't Open Source

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I personally found the HN comment thread to be… a bit hostile

They shouldn’t even have posted this.

This is just the usual “proprietary software is higher quality, we swear”…Accurately voicing my thoughts on this would probably go against the HN guidelines,

If he had said “It isn’t open source because it’s ours and we don’t want it to be” that would have much more integrity than this.

I am very torn between, on the one hand, being relieved that I don’t have this kind of “community” for any of my software. And on the other, facing how out of step I am with the community writ large.

We are a long way from building a healthy consensus around sustainable software development models.

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TL;DR: If you want quality, you gotta pay for it.

I specially liked the points he made about the short-termism that is encouraged by the open-source model, and how charging for software allows for a more long-term perspective.

Also, how charging encourages an alignment between the goals of the developer(s) and the goals of the users; versus the self-serving open-source approach which over time leads to competing interests pulling a project in a myriad directions instead of coordinating efforts.

I agree 100% with what the author says and I’m grateful that the Wolfram team get to do such high quality work (and charge some pretty nice fees :slight_smile: ).

If I’m lucky, maybe one day I’ll get to be half as successful as those guys :stuck_out_tongue:

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I wonder what’s behind the vitriol and negativity open-source extremists display.

Is it that they’re so ideologically committed that they get an emotional reaction out of somebody choosing a proprietary model over open-source?
Or are they so afraid of the free buffet coming to an end that they desperately fight back against anybody pushing in the direction?

Also, if the open-source subsidization party comes to an end, the average Joe Schmoe developer won’t pay a dime. It’s the companies they work for who will be footing the bill.

I don’t understand why they’re so personally invested in something that wouldn’t affect them monetarily.

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For contrast:

Mathematica failed, despite technical accomplishments, because the norms of its developers clashed so obviously with the norms of its intended users. Jupyter is succeeding because the norms of the community that is developing it are aligned with the norms of its users.

I still clung to the belief that for a for-profit corporation, the risk of damage to its reputation would keep dishonesty in check, just as it did for a person. I interpreted examples of corporate dishonesty the same way that I interpreted instances of scientific fraud, as unrepresentative exceptions. I was slow to recognize that under the proprietary software model, dishonesty isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

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Consensus isn’t available when you have fierce resource protection instincts of proprietors pitted against the ideology of FOSS advocates. That just isn’t going to happen. In the meantime, it is possible to lead by example. For me, this means doing what I can to share my work as widely as possible while doing whatever I can to ensure my work doesn’t enrich or empower people who are hostile to my own interests. In reality this means resisting large scale proprietary access and thus also resisting FOSS principles - namely Freedom 0 and s5/s6 of OSI’s OSD by fixing to an appropriate licensing regime.

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Ideology is one possibility, but my personal theory is it’s largely entitlement with an ideology for cover. Most tools useful to a software developer are free, Mathematica is a rare holdout.

I observe in that thread there’s a lot of projection (wolfram is greedy, only cares about money etc) and another through line of the software being bad technically (my python code is faster, etc) which is kind of a non-sequiter logically but may be a defense mechanism


My experience suggests that the vitriol and negativity is exactly what @drewcrawford intimates. OSS has not really matured to a full blown ‘ideology’ as such… it’s just ‘ideological’ in the sense it relies on better articulated ideology like human rights, free markets and then proceeds to bootstrap itself as a series of bad faith arguments, bad behaviour and so on to mask a lack of intellectual rigour and a lack of economic credibility.