This is my response to If
this suite’s a success, why is it so buggy? by Andrew Brown of
Andrew Brown claims that OpenOffice “illustrates the limitations of
open source” and establishes that my aphorism “Many eyes make bugs shallow” is
false, but his reasoning is shaky.
Mr Brown appears to be arguing that because open-source development isn’t
perfect, it isn’t any better than closed source. But there is no
silver bullet for the problem of software complexity — all
programs, open or closed, will have bugs. The figures he is waving
around (6K bugs, 5K feature requests) are meaningless in isolation.
In fact, controlled comparisons between closed- and open-source
versions of functionally equivalent programs have been done. Barton
Miller’s well-known “Fuzz Papers” suggested that open source programs
to have a 39% edge in reliability over closed-source equivalents.
So where are the comparative statistics for the bug load of Microsoft
Office? Do we know that it has fewer than 11,000 bugs and feature
requests outstanding? If Mr. Brown don’t know that, or at least have
those figures for a closed-source program of comparable size to
OpenOffice, he has no basis for asserting that the open-source method
His article does inadvertently illustrate an important point, however.
If you make legal paperwork a requirement before volunteers can
contribute to a project, very few will do so. If OpenOffice is
failing its promise, it’s not because “many eyeballs” doesn’t work —
it’s because bureaucratic obstacles are driving the eyeballs away.