TechWorld is hosting the review of Quagga, an open routing software suite distributed under the GPL. Since I am not currently involved with any coverage of open source routing, including the Quagga community and project, I'm not particularly sure how they are positioning their offering. However, I do know that it has already shown mettle as a stable testbed for router based applications and services.
There have been contentions that Quagga, as well as any other open source routing software suite, isn't ready to stand up to heavy duty network deployment using commodity hardware. The implication (intended or otherwise) is, 'If you can't do what Cisco routers do, then you're not worth a hill of beans.' I disagree entirely. Yes, it is entirely true that commodity hardware can't measure up to the performance produced on higher end types, but isn't that common sense. Courtesy of the folks at Business Week, most people already know software which controls planes has less bugs than your average open source project. But hopefully this reality is being taken as validation of common sense principles and not proof that open source is inferior.
The bottom line is, the strength of open source isn't that it duplicates what big, proprietary software behemoths (like Cisco, SAP, Microsoft) offer (only at a lower cost of acquisition) but that it is excellent at producing open alternatives that meet the needs of the intended user audience by lowering the barrier of participation. This is a critical fact that tends to get lost most easily within the conversation.
Honestly, the last thing on the minds of individuals behind successful open source companies, products, projects, etc. is reproducing what already exists and is being offered by the neighborhood proprietary giant. JBoss works because it offers a comparable Enterprise Java platform. Sure, you can find a great many features in JBoss that you find in WebSphere, but there's no mistaking that these aren't carbon copies of each other. And they really shouldn't be either. Perhaps because it is so easy to compare something relatively new to something else better known, that talk surrounding open source tends to digress into comparison with closed product A, B and C. A sports analogy is the consistent 'Next Michael Jordan' comparisons that are used to describe similar young players who enter professional basketball i.e. the NBA.
The point being that no player can be Michael Jordan, a fact which doesn't take anything away from other individual qualities and strengths. Along those lines, I look for open source efforts that significantly differentiate themselves from proprietary alternatives, because at the end of the day, they tend to demonstrate the most growth & potential for growth. MySQL isn't growing at a 100% clip over the last four years because it's fooling customers into thinking they are using a cheaper version of Oracle. That growth is a result of providing a solid, open source data storage platform as well as services to boot.
Quagga and Vyatta OFR, for example, are typically evaluated as if they have set their sights on taking out the Cisco 7200 Series, a fundamentally incorrect assumption which sheds a jilted light on them as individual entities. Once again, the communities and companies behind the two have totally different agendas and their products fully reflect those differences in approach. This is where it pays to adjust the lenses of perspective to take into account these realities. Doing so allows open source to be seen for what it is, instead of what it isn't or what it could be. Some might counter that it's akin to 'ignoring flaws or weaknesses,' but when you carefully examine the resources behind and the nature of the proprietary and open source software development, it becomes painfully clear that there is good reason for shying away from direct comparisons.
This is one reason it remains important to put technology (of any type) into its proper context in order to risk jumping to incorrect conclusions and missing important points of value. We try to make that one of our guiding principles at Entiva and is of particular importance as it relates to the open source software industry. Hopefully those with far more influence and reach than we have will pick up the habit as well.