Linked by Stefan Michalowski, M. Sc. on Thu 19th Aug 2004 08:27 UTC
Editorial Lately posted on Slashdot, an article written by Joel Spolsky mentioned the trouble through which Microsoft went to make each version of Windows backwards compatible. In one case, for the game Simcity, they even changed the way memory handling was done when running that application. You can find additional stories of software tricks that recent versions of Windows have to perform in order to run these bug-dependant applications on the web. After reading the story, I discussed with a couple of friends how weird this was and how Free Software completely avoids this problem.
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Is the Free way really better?
by Solar on Thu 19th Aug 2004 10:12 UTC

What I keep wondering, is the "free" way really better?

From a helicopter perspective, the author is right: Binary incompatibilities can be resolved with a recompile, source incompatibilities can be resolved by adapting the (freely available) source code.

But both ways require me to take action: Recompiling, finding a newer version, patching around in sources. And we're not speaking of my projects, and not only about A and B, but we're speaking of hundreds of packages maintained by hundreds of people in dozens of different versions.

Once you got a "distro" where every part works with every other, one update could result in a cascade of maintenance because it breaks other subsystems. Yes, I know, there are packages and package-handling software, but quite too often, those fall just short of doing "the thing" for you. More often than not, I had to take manual action - because the ebuild for Subversion wasn't yet up to 1.0, because the RedHat db4 RPM was compiled with an option that hickuped on my server...

I agree that the "free" way is an alternative, and that it might appeal to geeks. But it does introduce additional work at the wrong end - the user end.

And as soon as we're speaking about productive environments, it becomes even worse. Rolling out new software, here in the company I work for, takes weeks. There's no such thing as a quick recompile, or touching the sources to make things work.

Even worse, sometimes there's this one piece of non-free software that just doesn't cooperate... I know, some people believe that anything not "free" is evil, but there's evil in this world and we have to cope with it.

I don't want to belittle the "free" way, but it has it's footfalls.