There are not many occasions when a CxO of a big software company speaks openly about sensitive topics. Few days ago that happened to Oracle. Oracle’s CSO Mary Ann Davidson posted a blog entry about reverse engineering of Oracle products. Although it was perhaps not the original intent of the author, the blog post quite openly described several serious problems of closed-source software. That might be the reason why the post was taken down very shortly after it was published. Here is Google cached copy and a copy on seclist.org.
So, what are the problems of closed-source software? Let’s look at the Davidson’s post:
“A customer can’t analyze the code …”. That’s right. The customer cannot legally analyze the software that is processing his (sensitive) data. Customer cannot contract independent third party do to this analysis. Customer must rely on the work done by the organizations that the vendor choses. But how independent are these organization if the vendor is selecting them and very often the vendor pays them?
“A customer can’t produce a patch for the problem”. Spot-on. The customer is not allowed to fix the software. Even if the customer has all the resources and all the skills he cannot do it. The license does not allow fixing a broken thing. Only vendor has the privilege to do that. And customer is not even allowed to fully check the quality of the fix.
“Oracle’s license agreement exists to protect our intellectual property.” That’s how it is. Closed-source license agreements are here to protect the vendors. They are not here to make the software better. They are not here to promote knowledge or cooperation. They are not here to prevent damage to the software itself or to the data processed by the software. They are not helping the customer in this way. Quite the contrary. They are here for the purpose of protecting vendor’s business.
In the future the children will learn about the historical period of early 21st century. The teacher might mention the prevailing business practices as a curiosity to attract the attention of the class. The kids won’t believe that people in the past agreed to such draconian terms that were know as “license agreement”.