Very often, in my dealings within the world of Linux and open source, I get the inevitable questions about the necessity of open source software.
These sorts of questions, which are always surprising to me, given the rampant success of software like Apache, Firefox and (on the free software end of the spectrum) Linux, are not usually delivered with any sort of malice. They are genuine inquiries into why it’s so important to have open source software projects.
You can talk about enhanced stability, fewer bugs, more creative solutions – all true, to be sure. But the reason that always resonates with me will always be freedom to keep software features we like.
This particularly rang true this week when I learned that, beyond dropping its Google Reader service in July, Google would also be killing off its RSS extension for Chrome.
You can argue the merits of this decision, of course, and as a long-time Google Reader user, I am certainly less than thrilled about the whole thing. RSS has been invaluable to me as a news-finding tool over the years, and seeing it slowly fade away is not fun at all.
That said, there is some good news. In the news about the closure of the Chrome web extension], two alternate extensions, [RSS Subscriptions with FEED and RSS Subscription Extension (by Open Source) were pointed out as solutions.
Now, imagine what would happen if it had been a proprietary browser’s development team that had decided to cut RSS support. It takes no great leap of imagination, really: that feature would be gone, adios, kaput.
But Chrome is based on Chromium, an open source browser. And because of this open source provenance, developers are free to take work that’s been done and improve upon it. In that way, features and code can be used indefinitely. All you need is someone smart enough to maintain the software.
Getting all excited about a feature like RSS functionality is kind of silly, until it’s a feature that’s important to you. And software features in a business environment often go beyond mere personal preferences… they can be critical to your business.
Open source is about making sure applications and data work together no matter what direction software development might take you or your vendor. Ultimately, this saves you time and money. And as good as community and collaboration is, for you company, the bottom line is even more important.