Mattia Giambirtone
Nocturn9x's Blog

Nocturn9x's Blog

Open Source Software is in danger: Here's Why

Open Source Software is in danger: Here's Why

We're fucked.

Mattia Giambirtone's photo
Mattia Giambirtone

Published on Jan 11, 2022

4 min read

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Table of contents

  • Disclaimer
  • How Fortune 500 Companies Are Making FOSS a Living Hell

Disclaimer

This article is kind of a rant, so please excuse any formatting or spelling mistakes (and the snarky tone). I'll be honest: I'm outraged. I am not in the mood to deeply research what happened and its implications thoroughly, but I'll try my best. (Check the linked articles for better sources)

How Fortune 500 Companies Are Making FOSS a Living Hell

The recent events regarding two popular JavaScript libraries used by ~30 million users worldwide have once again brought the recurring issues with Free Open Source Software to the surface: Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and many others are using free software in their services without paying a single penny, stifling innovation in the community while improving their own closed source products.

Some backstory

The gist of it is that the owner of two very popular JavaScript libraries, called Marak Squires, has gone rogue and corrupted said packages by adding infinite loops and weird log messages into them, causing a lot of issues to people who relied on them. The repository of one of these packages (namely Faker.js, a package used to generate real-looking personal information such as names, street and email addresses and more) has since been replaced with an empty skeleton, while the README reads: "What really happened with Aaron Swartz?". If you don't know (I didn't) Aaron Swartz was a software developer and entrepreneur who ended up killing himself in 2013 because of reasons I'm not informed enough to discuss in detail

The backlash

Shortly after people noticed their beloved packages were exploding, users all over the world were outraged: many wanted GitHub to transfer Marak's repository (which he owns) to another user and they were actually temporarily banned from the platform for unknown reasons (and have since been unbanned, it seems). To all of those, I kindly say: you're incompetent fools. If this issue has caused more than an annoying couple of hours to fix, you are a babbling idiot and should be fired on the spot. No one, and I repeat No one, should ever pin dependencies to their latest release in production specifically to avoid this from happening, but I guess that since I'm talking about an ecosystem where one of the most depended upon libraries literally just implements element in array that best practices aren't really known to JavaScript developers.

Why Open Source is in Danger

Let's get to the core of this very SEO-attractive title and what led me to write this in the first place: Free Open Source Software in its current state is at serious risk. Why? Well, just ask any maintainer of a large package depended upon by many, and they'll all more or less tell the same story: Multi-billion dollar companies taking advantage of awesome open source code for their own proprietary crap and that do not spend a single dime towards actually improving said software. I'm sure Stallman would disagree here, but there needs to be a brake of some sort: it just isn't beneficial to the long term survival of free software to be taken advantage of this easily by any big corporation. Maybe a license that requires a fee to be paid if a big tech company is using a piece of code for commercial purposes, while still leaving the rights of individual unharmed, would help (and in the meantime, double licensing seems to do the trick just fine), but I'm no lawyer nor a free software expert: just a random 19 year old guy who's outraged by the current state of what could (and should) be a system meant to let communities thrive and software develop in a more streamlined and controlled fashion.

Closing Thoughts

I'm still boiling with rage, but I'll try to wrap this up as decently as I can: Something needs to change. We're heading towards a future where it's fine for [insert fortune 500 company name] to just breach copyright laws like it's nothing. Where it's fine for a user to be banned from a code sharing platform just because of the changes they made to their own freaking code. Where it's fine for people devoting their life and their valuable time towards FOSS to only get total financial (and mental) bankruptcy in return.

And to Marak and all the authors of large open source software I say Thank You. Thank you for having tried to (or still being in the process of) improve the community with your awesome work. I know it probably doesn't mean much to get comforting words from a random penniless computer science student, but you have my greatest respect, esteem and gratification. You're awesome, keep doing what you're doing, and I hope you to join soon in a fight for a better world.

 
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