Saturday, February 14, 2009

Peanuts And Software

I really enjoy factory tours. I've always had a fascination with how things work and how things are made. Over the years, I've been on some great tours, Syracuse China, Corning Glass, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and best of all, the (now defunct) General Motors assembly plant in Baltimore.

In the past, it seemed like many companies offered tours of their factories to the public, and why not? The great companies were truly proud of what they were doing and were happy to show you. This even applied to products whose production processes are better left unseen.

In recent years, factory tours have gotten harder to find. I don't know the exact reason for this. Maybe it's the fear of litigation, or a desire to keep everything proprietary, I just don't know.

The alert among you may have noticed the story in yesterday's New York Times announcing that the Peanut Corporation of America has filed for bankruptcy and will be going out of business. As you may know, Peanut Corporation of America recently gained notoriety for knowingly shipping peanut butter to its customers contaminated with salmonella resulting in over 600 reported illnesses and 9 deaths. As the scandal unfolded, reports surfaced of unsanitary conditions in its plants including cockroaches, leaking roofs, and a report of a dead rat in one of its peanut roasters.

Somehow, I don't think they offered a factory tour.

What does this have to do with software? Plenty. When you make something in the full light of day, it's a lot less likely that something horrible is going on under cover of secrecy. Open source code is like a factory tour for software. You can wander around and feel the pride of those who created it.

Proprietary software is different. What are they hiding? Does their program have "rats in the roasters?"

You'll never know.