Open source software – we have a big problem

The pervasive and growing use of open source and free software around the world is a blessing in many ways, but nevertheless it should make us all a little nervous. Who is maintaining all of this code, especially with respect to security and reliability issues? The answer to that question, in many cases, is no one or maybe just one overworked person operating on a shoestring budget.

Joshua Gans of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, has recently pointed out that the internet in particular is very vulnerable to breaking down if certain individuals were no longer able to maintain critical code. This is especially important with respect to security vulnerabilities. Addressing and correcting this problem with open source software “makes Y2K look like a picnic, especially since the magnitude of these issues is unknown.” No one knows how vulnerable they might be. Because open source software is developed by communities of independent individuals, the commercial and governmental efforts that addressed the Y2K problem may not work with open source.

Mr. Gans makes some other good points regarding this important issue in an article in the Harvard Business Review.