Nov 24, 2008

FOSS and the Software Industry

I read an article on Slashdot about how open source is slowly eroding a lot of the commercial applications out there. This isn't really anything new, it's been happening for years. However it seems like the quality of open-source is continually getting better and it's just a matter of time before it becomes "good enough" for other people to want to use it over the proprietary equivalents. Even the Economist thinks that open-source is going to be bigger - not that we really needed them to tell us it was, we knew it already.

I'm not trying to say open-source will eventually wipe out the market for proprietary software. Here's what I think will happen. Anything that's fun or interesting to code will eventually be taken over by open-source. These are things that programmers such as myself would not mind doing in our free time as one of those things, you know... what are they called? Oh right, a hobby. Like how some people spend tons of time building model trains or burning wood, we sit at our computers and churn out code that does cool stuff - well some people do, I tend to do more experimentation with random things and blog about them.

So what does that mean for professional software developers? Probably that demand for us will shrink. People won't need us to develop their software, since there are open-source versions that are as good as whatever we'll put out. People will still need custom-made software, or they won't want to comply with the GPL, or will want to make games (note to self: write about how the open-source development model doesn't really fit gaming), or whatever. There will still be jobs for us.
What I'm worried about is that most of the interesting jobs will be gone. We'll all be stuck either working for slave shops, fancy new web 2.x startup ideas, or content-management systems. Or things like that.
So I'll stop and make a confession here. I'm going to school. Not in anything really related to computers. I've been doing classes on and off since I graduated, but I'm starting to look into it more seriously. My rationale is this: I enjoy programming, but there is such thing as too much of something you enjoy, and it makes you not enjoy it any more. Therefore, I want to work in something else I enjoy, and then come home and mess around with software. Much more fun that way.


GrumpyOldCoder said...

5% of software is packaged applications. The rest is written in house somewhere. That won't change.

If anything, in house and contract programmers will be in even shorter supply in the future.

Anonymous said...

Actually I would have to agree. FOSS has changed the software landscape forever. Several weeks ago, I was thinking of creating an ERP System for FOSS. Looked it up on Sourceforge and found out that a couple already exist. Then I thought about a package to display custom reports. Too late, already been done. As much as I'd hate to admit it, I think that the ultimate goal of all programmers is to eliminate all need from custom programming.

The barrier of entry in this business is almost completely gone.