Gitahi Ng'ang'a: Our Open Source Software Obsession is Unhealthy in Digital Development

Dear community, I came across this article about Open Source written by Gitahi Ng’ang’a in the ICTworks blog that I would recommend you to read:

What do you think about it? Personally, I feel he definitely has a point in addressing and correcting some common misconceptions about open source vs proprietary and reminding everyone that there is no dogmatically right and wrong choice.

Looking forward to reading your comments. (Though, I feel a bot conflicted about taking the discussion here, feel free to comment in the blog, which is an excellent resource, directly, so that Gitahi gets your feedback as well.)


1 Like

Thanks, Melanie, for the link. It is interesting.
In my view, the article is polemical. Already the headline speaks of an “obsession” and thus defames the good reasons for open source, which I don’t want to repeat all of them here.
I would like to pick out just two aspects.

  1. The teaser image talks about changing the world. And, well, what can I say, the world indeed does need change. Open source is a model that allows change in economic and social capital. It changes the way we pay, who we pay for what, and how we collaborate, if we act inclusively, and how we learn. I cannot imagine how proprietary software could do this.
  2. When spendig public money, we should spend it for added value: Get the software PLUS the learning, collaboration etc.
    The negative aspects that are mentioned in the article (like pilotitis) can and shall be solved within an open source environment. We have encountered occasions where proprietary software was not tested but already sold, didn’t we?

I don’t see a single really convincing argument in the articel, sorry.

Hi Jele, I agree with you that the article does not have a very academic writing style, which is, common with blogs and social media. But I actually have met some (few!) dogmatic believers in Open Source (though I would never generalize this across the whole development sector) who were believers not always for the best or most accurate of reasons. For example, the cost und sustainability aspect are indeed complex. So that’s why I’m always in favour of looking into the validity of arguments.
But generally, I agree with you that public money should invest in Open Source for the benfits you described, that are particularly are relevant in the long run.
This said, I do believe there can be cases where proprietary software can be the best choice available at the time and not considering this option would be foolish, even if it is the context of a social project.
But yeah, I shared the article for the sake of discussion, not becausse I agree with it. The author clearly has an agenda - as we all do (I myself work with Open Source).

If the main thrust of the argurment, and I think it is, is to take each use case as a unique problem and evaluate both open source and proprietry to best fit then I can agree with that sentiment. It’s a good practice to give effort up front on analysis that supports decision making or risk paying for it down the track. However, to do this well you need comprehensive evaluation criteria that covers a very broad range of aspects. Many times significant criteria are left off the evaluation list. When reading the original post I wondered if the criteria of “reuse” was given enough weighting. By that I mean - how much of the solution can be reused in different use cases globally? I suspect that a proprietry solution may have limits on it’s reuse and re-deployment whereas open source may be - well, more open :slight_smile:

I would also throw into the discussion the impact cloud services on the choice of open source vs proprietry. Cloud services have many benefits but also limitations on selection.

Hi, yes, I agree to the re-use argument: It is often not discussed and I feel that is because many organizations do not really perceive their particular software needs being relevant for or representative of the whole sector: They often think they are only in need for a solution for themselves and do not consider other potentials of the solution.

This brings me to a new aspect: Cross-organizational software development. I would be super curious to hear of examples, where software was developed as a collaborative effort by a number of same-level organizations (by that I mean not a partnership between donor and implementer for example) and how fair financing was managed.
Sorry, this is a bit beyond your reuse aspect, but I started wondering! I’ll browse the forum for this :wink:

What do you mean by “impact cloud services”? I can’t really grasp that sentence you wrote.

In that sentence about cloud services I was trying to say that if public cloud services such as Azure or AWS are to be used then they will have an impact on the choice of open source software and platforms that can be used.