Why Open Source Will Rule Scientific Computing (Part 3)

February 12, 2010

Index To the Series
Intro: Why Open Source Will Rule Scientific Computing ?
Reason #1: Open Science
Reason #2: The Search for Authenticity
Reason #3: Agile, High Quality, Collaborative Software Process
Reason #4: Scalability
Reason #5: Business Model

In my first blog in this series of six articles, I offered five reasons why open source will rule scientific computing. In this post, I discuss reason #2: The Search for Authenticity. This is one of the characteristics of open source software that matters the most to me and is, quite frankly, somewhat personal. (You’ll have to excuse my indulgence on this one, I have a thing about realizing authentic experiences.)

I don’t know about you but when it comes to the usual sales process I am tired of marketing spin, half-truths and flat-out lies; gimmicks designed to attract attention but not deliver the goods; product claims with asterisks; and improbable fantasies involving crime fighting in stiletto heels and tailored suits (James Bond anyone?). While all of this can be fun at times, especially the crime fighting bits, these distractions get in the way of solving real problems, and often leave many of us feeling exhausted in our quest to get the bottom of potentially deceptive claims. Open source software offers a better alternative: with some work customers and users can evaluate the embodied technology; try the software on their own data, and determine what needs to be done in order to fit it into their workflow. Companies can also assess such software with their own in-house technologists, develop their own expertise, and avoid lock-in to a proprietary solution.

To me these are the hallmarks of an authentic experience. As users we can get down into the guts of the reality. And if we don’t like the reality we see, we can learn from it, modify it, or even go on to create our own preferred version. I find this wonderfully refreshing, not to mention empowering, and as a result I mostly feel invigorated when I engage with open source products.

I’d like to take a moment to distinguish transparency from authenticity in this context. While transparency (obviously related to Open Science as previously discussed) is typically required to determine whether something is genuine (i.e., authentic), what I am talking about goes beyond just seeing through something to address the integrity of a technology. Looking at on-line dictionaries the words I see to describe integrity are incorruptibility, soundness, completeness, and honesty. All good words that describe processes necessary to the practice of good science as embodied by open source software.

I am confident that in the future the ability to present technology and products in an authentic manner will go a long way to the success of commercial, academic, and research ventures. Those organizations and communities that can speak clearly, honestly and openly about their products will be sought after, since discovering an oasis of authenticity in a desert of hype will be increasingly valued as the attention seekers of the world continue to do their vacuous thing.

In the next blog, I will discuss reason #3: Quality-Inducing, Agile, Collaborative Software Process.

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