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Software Technology

Innovation in Open Source Software? 88

ndogg asks: "Many have said that there is a lack of innovation in OSS software, and tend to talk about the big projects, like Mozilla and the Linux kernel. However, I would contend that innovation is quite abound in OSS, but that the problem is the spotlight is rarely shown upon those projects that are truly innovative. For example, I would contend that Data Display Debugger (DDD) and The Boost C++ Libraries are quite unique and innovative projects. What OSS projects do you feel are innovative, but underapreciated?"
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Innovation in Open Source Software?

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  • by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <[gundbear] [at] []> on Monday February 07, 2005 @07:50PM (#11602198) Homepage
    Aka Rendezvous. It is an Apple backed technology, but it is open source; albeit not the classic example of open source springing up from the commons, but it still qualifies.
    • A C++ Library? If this can be described as an innovation, then the term is far more debased than ever I imagined!
      • Don't take this the wrong way, but "I don't think that word means what you think it means". Or whatever the obligatory quote from "The Princess Bride" is.

        You can have an innovative stone block bridge design. You know, the same things the Romans built 2000 years ago. You can still innovate on them.


        1. The act of introducing something new.
        2. Something newly introduced.

        Innovation inside of the VM subsystem of the kernel happens. It's esoteric and 99% of all people don't care, know

    • Apple didn't invent the idea of assigning addresses or finding services in that way; there have been several similar technologies like that before ZeroConf ever came out.

      The obstacle to widespread adoption of such technologies has traditionally been standards and compatibility; since Apple can get away with doing its own thing more than other vendors, they often push such technologies into the market even if they weren't the ones to actually invent it.
      • Here [].

        It seems strange for a company to submit a standard they didn't work on, doesn't it?
        • It seems strange for a company to submit a standard they didn't work on, doesn't it?

          It is wrong to say that "Apple is submitting it", as if Apple developed the whole thing and then is handing a finished document to IETF. The ZeroConf working group itself has been around since 1999 and the specification was written by people from Apple, Sun, and Microsoft. Go look at the IETF working group instead of Apple's marketing materials; Apple loves to embellish what they are doing ("the world's most advanced ope
          • You tell this story without any attribution!

            You impugn Apple (rightly or wrongly doesn't matter) for the subjective flaw of being hyperbolic. You then make statements without defining or defending them.

            Here's a 'trusted' source, O'Reilly:
            ZeroConf [] doesn't seem to be a Microsoft thing. Or a Sun thing; and that only later did Sun (and IBM) start supporting it.

            O'Reilly says Sun has their own Jini thing and Microsoft UPnP; and UPnP. As for first implementations, Apple rolled it out into their OS in Jaguar, O
      • I suppose I misunderstood your post; I thought you meant ZeroConf wasn't an Apple idea...

        Because you are right, there were similar previous technologies, like AppleTalk!
  • by prostoalex ( 308614 ) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @07:53PM (#11602231) Homepage Journal
    Firefox browser by itself is pretty nice, but the barebones edition does not really offer much added value compared to IE or Opera. The extensions, however, are amazing, I sometimes browse their extensions catalog just to see what I am missing, or make sure I don't miss articles like this [] to see what the other folks are using.
    • What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers
      for a long time, and firefox didn't invent the web, nothing new. Sure Firefox has some nice bits here and there, by all means, but very innovative ? No.

      Bittorrent, that's somewhat innovative.
      So is perhaps the Speex codec.

      In the somewhat same area
      This []
      and that []

      are interresting reads :)
      • Mosaic then (Score:2, Informative)

        What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers
        NCSA Mosaic, if you're splitting hairs. It certainly was certainly innovative [] by nearly any ('cept Chairman Bill's) definition of the term. BTW even the infamously poor MSIE is based on Mosaic.

        However, Mozilla and Firefox do have a lot of improvements over Mosaic and are innovative in their own right.

      • What's innovative about that ? It's a browser. People have done browsers for a long time, and firefox didn't invent the web, nothing new.

        Innovation impact tends to be misjudged, but historical gauges can be more accurate.

        [Back in 1992] "Feh! What's this port 80 service people are talking about? It's just another TCP/IP application ferchrissakes! I've developed GUI applications for years that are a lot more useful than this Mosaic!"

        I'm certain that some of the incremental improvements I enjoy today will

    • So ... tabbed browsing and security doesn't add value over IE? Standards compliance isn't an improvement over IE? Easy installation of extensions isn't an improvement over IE? (I can't compare with Opera, as I've never used it.)
  • Synaptic is quite innovative. It is one of the first things I install on Fedora.

    How many similar programs exist on Windows or Mac? It updates installed packages and allows new packages to be installed, whilst resolving dependencies... []

    • Re:Synaptic (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by dr.badass ( 25287 )
      How many similar programs exist on Windows or Mac? It updates installed packages and allows new packages to be installed, whilst resolving dependencies...

      Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

      I'm not saying Synaptic isn't cool (I wouldn't know), just that it's not a poi
      • Re:Synaptic (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Forget about dependencies which are (NOT for reasons of good design) not a problem on Windows. Show me the program for Windows that lets me add repositories of categorized software packaged specifically for my system, browse and search said software, and queue it up for installation (installation that does not require mindless clicking through some "wizard" installer), and at any time check to see if a newer version of programs I have installed are available. I think this system itself is "innovative" in
      • Re:Synaptic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gregmac ( 629064 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @10:25PM (#11603146) Homepage
        Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

        Is that a good thing though? Maybe you're missing the point. I haven't used OS X so I can't comment on it. I also haven't used Synaptic on Fedora -- I have, however, used Synaptic (and even more often, apt, which Synaptic is a front-end for) on Debian.

        Windows Update updates windows, and possibly some other MS applications. The apt repository on my debian workstation has about 18,000 packages available to install. A lot of these packages are libraries, etc, but there are also quite a few applications.

        The power of having a shared system of libraries, however, is that updates are automatic. If you're using, say, libssl, to make connections to servers, and there is a flaw or security hole in it, as the application developer, you don't have to do anything really. Once libssl is updated, your application is updated, and that's that. If anything, the next time you release your app, you specifically depend on >= the updated version of libssl. The other benefit is when a developer effectively abandons a package - it can still get updates, if there are problems with libraries it uses.

        Contrast this to Windows. Since there are not really any central libraries, each application has to bundle its own - which means that the developer is responsible for updating their package to release the new version of the library. Obviously any core packages to Windows will get updated by MS eventually, but there are also a lot of 3rd party libraries in use. Some applications even put their dll files in the Windows directory, and while that would normally be a good idea, there's too many developers that don't play nice, and require a specific version (their app breaks when another updates), or install an old version and break other apps.

        Sure this could be fixed, but all it takes is one developer to not adhere to the rules. On Debian, this is handled by the apt team - if an app doesn't play nice, it won't meet the requirments to get into the repository. Microsoft could do something similar with Windows Update, but I have a feeling that would end up where code signing has ended up - MS charging lots of money, and no developers will to pay for little perceived value.
        • It basically boils down to the differences between open and proprietary systems. Any package management system will only be able to work smoothly for packages that are controlled by the maker of that package system.

          On Windows, yeah, they can only install or patch Microsoft's products and libraries. On Mac OS X, they can only support Apple's products (including things like libssl).

          If you're running Debian, most if not all of your installed software will come from Debian's repositories (or Gentoo, FreeBSD
          • Synaptic is a frontend to APT. As is Aptitude.
          • Re:Synaptic (Score:2, Insightful)

            nah there is nothing stopping proprietary systems using apt. In fact I wish sun + oracle + ibm would provide there own apt source for debian and include the dependencies that they need There is username and password support in apt so you can still charge for things.
            It would just provide a level playing field.
            It would be possible on a proprietary system to have all software installed via something similar to apt and have the installer add more locations to search. Then you could update everything in one pla
        1. Windows and Mac OS X both have similar installer and update functionality. The difference is that they are both more stable platforms (in terms of whether or not certain packages are available) -- you don't need the same kind of dependency management that you need with Linux.

        I frequently encounter dependency problems under Windows. Unfortunately, they usually show up as odd behavior in seemingly unrelated software after a new app is installed. With RPM, DEB, and other dependency tracking package syste

    • Synaptic is "just" the GUI, but I think the package systems (APT/dpkg, RPM, YUM, Yast etc) used by Linux distros are pretty innovative.

      Others that deserve to be mentioned are Live-CDs/Knoppix, Wiki and Ogg Vorbis.

  • opengl (Score:2, Interesting)

    by voot ( 609611 )
    opengl!, seriously its a huge project and its to bad that it lost momentum
    • Re:opengl (Score:3, Informative)

      by Phleg ( 523632 )
      OpenGL is an open standard, mandated by the OpenGL Architectural Review Board. The interesting part of OpenGL is the API, not the actual implementations (such as Mesa3D, the Linux OpenGL implementation).
  • While there are a few notable exceptions where existing trade-secret software packages are released into Open Source, such as AOLserver, Netscape, and Solaris, much effort is expended into producing unencumbered versions of existing proprietry software projects. The many Open Source projects such as glibc, HURD, GNOME, OpenSSL are duplicates of existing technologies. I do not see how these projects are innovative except for being in themselves unencumbered versions of existing, known-good, encumbered prod
    • How is this duplication of effort different from any other competing products? Proprietary competitors are exerting "too much effort" producing *encumbered* clones of encumbered products. It would seem that Open Source makes a bit more sense, as once effort is placed in an unencumbered product the product exists and can be built upon, extended or borrowed from. Is the production of a bunch of products that will compete, fail and then take any innovation with them to their grave *better* than the open collab
    • I believe that there is great value in having unencumbered versions of basic software. The core functionality of word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and email clients have not changed in many years. Without the feature bloat that vendors of commercial versions of the above have included to justify maintaining the prices of their products, the cost of such software would have been driven to zero quite a while ago. This would have saved consumers, governments, and businesses billions of dollars.

      At th
  • Subversion! (Score:2, Informative)

    by SD_92104 ( 714225 )
    There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn... OK, there is CVS but if you've never heard about svn you probably should check it out!
    • Re:Subversion! (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 )
      Y'know, I'm waiting for somebody to find a way to use SVN as a back office for open office documents. It would rock. Voila! Instant network backup and versioning. Combine it with a graphical version browser, an email system and some kind of document routing/tracking database, and you'd have something with the power of Lotus Notes without the clunkiness.
      • That would be a great trick; I currently keep my (8+GB) of documents in an SVN repository, and the fact that it uses WebDAV makes accessing my documents from anywhere on the net as simple as visiting a web page.

      • There is a nifty feature you can use if you're using WebDAV to access your repositories. If you turn on auto-versioning support in your Apache config, then you can commit new revisions of files in the repository (or add files or whatever, you get the idea) just by copying them in using your favourite DAV client (Nautilus or Finder or whatever). Check out Appendix C of the Subversion Book for more.
    • Re:Subversion! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by macshit ( 157376 ) *
      There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn... OK, there is CVS but...

      Wow, least insightful comment ever...

      Subversion is trying, but it's at best a footnote right now; CVS firmly rules the roost (despite all it's problems).

      Morever, Subversion isn't particularly innovative -- indeed, their stated goal is to provide a conservative update to CVS (getting rid of CVS's more annoying problems while keeping the same basic model)!

      If you want a truly innovative free-software source-cont
      • If you want a truly innovative free-software source-control-system, check out GNU Arch [] or Darcs [].

        I'm not quite sure why you think distributed version control is innovative - the idea has been reimplemented a half dozen times, including Larry's BitKeeper - but I'd add SVK to the list. SVK is also open source but doesn't suffer from the "hard to solve problems need hard to use tools" syndrome of Arch.

        • Why? Because it hadn't been done right until possibly BitKeeper. Even with BitKeeper as background though, Darcs has a nice consistent theory behind how it manipulates patches that is truly innovative.
    • There wouldn't even be much OSS (at least collaborative) without svn...

      Have you completely lost your mind? Subversion has only been stable for a couple of years. I'm damned sure there was a ton of collaborative OSS before svn; Linux and Mozilla are two that just come to mind, but there a zillion others.
  • Bittorrent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by woobieman29 ( 593880 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @09:45PM (#11602899)
    'Nuff said
    • I second this. BitTorrent is absolutely brill. I think it's so cool that, as more people start downloading the latest LiveCD for their fave distro, all of a sudden the network becomes more efficient, not less. That totally reverses the way things supposedly should be.

      (Of course, I realise that the BitTorrent idea doesn't totally reverse the 'more clients, slower download' thing -- I've seen some pretty slow trackers, which are of course the point-of-failure for a torrent -- but I'm sure it's many times che

    • Of course, Swarmcast did it first. And better.

      Bittorrent did it easier and (most significantly I think) at the right time. (Which was about 2 years after Swarmcast.)

      I think the basic parts of Swarmcast was OSS. I know that I downloaded the source from them at least.
  • iRate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by leonbrooks ( 8043 ) <SentByMSBlast-No ...> on Monday February 07, 2005 @10:05PM (#11603023) Homepage
    The whole idea [] is a good one, and there's no company nickel-and-diming it to death.
    • Re:iRate (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spoing ( 152917 )
      1. The whole idea is a good one, and there's no company nickel-and-diming it to death.

      Agreed -- iRate is fantastic. [] While there are some garbage 'samples' on the list, there are very few. Out of 1,000 songs I've only encountered 27 (just purged that many just now).

      I would never have found these gems if it weren't for iRate; Kade Puckett (Backwoods), Nimbus (Twist), Beds for Sleeping Kites (I was starting to believe), Beth Quist (most), Norine Braun (most), Seismic Anamoly (many), MISS (Head Not Found),

  • by kbielefe ( 606566 ) <karl.bielefeldt+ ... LAom minus caffe> on Monday February 07, 2005 @10:21PM (#11603126)
    My laptop hard drive crashed (tinkling noise and all) about two years ago and I haven't bothered to replace it thanks to the wonderful invention that is Knoppix. That still amazes me.
  • it would seem that blogging was an open-source idea. most popular blogging software is OSS, including livejournal (they've got some other crazy memory-caching stuff they wrote too. neat stuff)

    RSS/Atom though not really open-source was born in the OSS community.

    musicbrainz is a cool project to match songs to data based upon acoustic modeling -- not well-known but definitely innovative

    reiserFS is OSS, and though I'm not the authority on the subject, it's supposedly got some really neat stuff goin on for i
    • reiserFS is OSS, and though I'm not the authority on the subject, it's supposedly got some really neat stuff goin on for it. perhaps a more knowledgable person could comment on this?

      I'm probably not more knowledgeable, but I'll comment anyway :-)
      Yeah, Reiser4 is good stuff. Even Reiser3 is much better than NTFS. It's fast and doesn't need to be defragmented. Unfortunately, Reiser4 is so "innovative" that it requires significant changes to the Linux kernel just to work, which is one reason why it's not ye

    • In my opinion the OSS community seems to be in such a desperate rush to produce products that provide a viable alternative to Microsoft that they simply don't have the time.
      If Linux is going to become mainstream on the desktop then working alternatives to Microsoft software HAVE to be in place. Joe Bloggs wants to have the software he knows (or at least something with the exactly the same functionality) and is probably too set in his ways to be bothered to experiment.
      Maybe once firmly established o
  • DDD's GUI is an archaic user interface nightmare. Watch programmers using DDD some time; they spend minutes clicking and dragging rectangles instead of getting real work done. You'd think they were using Inkscape. Why can't DDD just present the in-scope variables in a nice tree view?

    What's worse, the data displays don't persist! They're supposed to, but it's been buggy for years. Once you finally get DDD to display your linked list in a semi-readable format (no mean feat; it involves a lot of scrollin
  • zerg (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Omlette ( 124579 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @11:01PM (#11603364) Homepage
    There used to be a site for exactly this sort of thing called sweetcode [], but the wankers have stopped updating...

    Still, even if the stuff is over a year old, it's still interesting...
  • httpd, tex (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @11:06PM (#11603388) Homepage
    NCSA HTTPd [] (or whatever Berners-Lee called the earliest version that embodied his vision of the www for the first time -- in any case, it was all an open-source enterprise from the start)

    TeX -- Knuth basically invented desktop publishing (including scalable fonts) decades before Adobe made it commercial.

    • Re:httpd, tex (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jbolden ( 176878 )
      1978 Xerox releases Interpress
      1978 Knuth starts work TeX and releases the first version
      1982 Geshke and Warnock leave Xerox and form Adobe a company designed to take the ideas of postscript commercial
      1984 Adobe release Postscript level 1
      1985 Postscript laser printers hit the market this includes image setting
      1986 Adobe releases postscript fonts
      1989 Knuth finish TeX

      Seems to me they came out at the same time driven by similar issues with different target markets
  • Dasher (Score:4, Insightful)

    by femto ( 459605 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @11:14PM (#11603434) Homepage
    Dasher []

    It seems innovative to me.

    I would make the point that innovative does not equal successful. In today's winner takes all world, the term innovative often seems to be restricted to successful innovations. Unsuccessful innovations are valuable though, as they rule out things which don't work.

  • XDelta -- compressed binary diffs
    Stateless Linux -- RedHat's new method of keeping systems up-to-date and tamper-resistant
  • by ekuns ( 695444 ) * on Monday February 07, 2005 @11:43PM (#11603595) Journal

    Much of the Internet runs on software that was open source in some way early on -- such as bind, sendmail, perl, the original web browser (Mosaic), and so on. How many of the "backbone of the Internet" common RFC's have been implemented in open source from the get go?

    Don't forget code from DECUS and other such collaborative projects.

    Many of the open source projects that people are most familiar with (because it's software they interact with in an obvious way) may seem like a "copy of an existing closed source project," but under the hood there is a lot of innovate software that quietly runs things. Also don't forget that much of what open source is said to copy is software concepts that started out open before the commercial world threw money at it (think, Internet Explorer).

    Keep in mind that the amount of software the average user encounters in an obvious way is not huge. It's things like the windowing system and an office suite and a browser, plus some other apps.

    When open source or academics or other groups come up with something new and innovative, the commercial companies very often copy it themselves. People who come along later and don't know the history might look at later open source projects and say that they are just implementing what commercial companies have implemented.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday February 07, 2005 @11:51PM (#11603631)
    How about:

    FFDSHOW [] - a top-notch xvid decoder, but more importantly also real-time high-quality video "manipulator" including scaling, transformations, noise removal, subtitling, color correction, macro-deblocking, etc - the list is huge. Play your DVDs through FFDSHOW with the right settings and the good ones start to look almost like HDTV. I don't know of any one proprietary product, or even group of products, that comes close to this level of functionality.

    dScaler [] a very high-quality video de-interlacer for both live and batch processing

    DRC [] - digital room correction and BurteFIR [] an audio convolver - together they are able to turn your $100 cheap-ass stereo system into something comparable to a $5K-$10K setup. (Ok, there is expensive hardware out there to do something similar, but no software, proprietary or otherwise)

  • It seems to me like innovative and experimental software is very commonplace in OSS. Unfortunately, a lot of it doesn't get noticed as it is never rolled into a "usable" product. Tempest [], a radio broadcaster using CRT, is a good example.

    Another obvious place where OSS seems to innovate is in low level networking programs. Ettercap [] is absolutely brilliant, for instance, and Ethereal [] is exceedingly useful as well. Perhaps these were created in part because they were necessary to write compatible higher

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Almost by definition, software based on a truly new idea has to start from scratch, then if the idea works, it might grow into a big application. This is true for both free and closed software. Of course there are incremental improvements to existing projects that can be quite creative, but even they will find their way into the official version faster in a smaller project.

    Not that there is any shame in making the most of other people's good ideas:
    One of the most direct advantages Free Software has is tha

  • reiser4, for metadata and atomicity in the fs, and the file-as-a-directory concept. True, it's backed by a company (namesys), but as I understand it, very few people actually work on it and the employees of that company don't make much of a living, so there's little greed involved.

    freenet, for being the first attempt at a truly anit-censorship, anti-monitoring network.

    And, in a more practical sense, most "new" features of MS products have been in open source for years before we even hear of the possibili
  • Meh. Stolen (sorry, innovated) from the CaseVision aka cvd on IRIX.
  • by luge ( 4808 ) <> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @03:45AM (#11604563) Homepage
    Now, grip and digital dj were not exactly the easiest programs in the world to use, but they had the idea for audio CD->ripping->music management database in late 1998- itunes didn't 'innovate' the same idea for two more years, in January of 2001.
  • My two favorite open source projects are MediaWiki and GNU Lilypond.

    MediaWiki is Wikipedia's kickass wiki implementation that has tons of cool features. Wiki was around before MediaWiki, sure, but MW pretty much sets the bar. And of course it powers Wikpedia and all of its sister projects, which are pretty amazing and innovative too.

    GNU Lilypond is a music typesetter that aims to produce beautiful sheet music. This is cool because most computer-printed scores look like crap. Lilypond gets flak because it
  • DDD? Is this some kind of a joke?
  • In my experience, a lot of innovative software actually starts out in open source form. X11, for example, started out that way. Zoomable user interfaces started out open source. GUI specification languages (now represented by XUL and whatever Longhorn may get) started out in open source form. Entire categories of games started out as open source software. Chat software, innovative mail and news clients, new Internet protocols, etc., all were initially available in open source form.

    The usual path for so
  • GPL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cyphercell ( 843398 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:19AM (#11605052) Homepage Journal
    If there is anything that will ever be considered revolutionary it's the GPL. This liscense is the sort of thing our grandchildren will read about. I would also assert that this is still innovative, as most people who use computers don't know what it's about. It is our declaration of freedom and it deserves more attention from the media than it has gotten (none). I personally beleive the most innovative thing in OSS right now is the liscences and the people who are reading them for the first time.
  • [] is a catalog of innovative free software. no longer updated but still browse-worthy.
  • Neither of the given examples are very innovative.

    DDD was done 15+ years ago with CodeCenter/ObjectCenter. Boost looks a lot like RogueWave libraries.

    Most OSS projects are playing catchup with some product in the commerical world, innovation is hard to find. A couple that come to mind are Struts and Cocoon. Both of these frameworks where different from any other web framework, at the time.
  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @12:31PM (#11607057) Homepage
    as opposed to WYSIWYG.

    Available at

    excellent explanation as to why here:

  • Darcs [], a simple, human-friendly, completely distributed version control system. Does away with dedicated servers (even your desktop can be a "server"), branches (every repository is a branch) and CVS warts (tracks renames, deletes, directories).

Writing software is more fun than working.