Computers rule our lives

Last night I was teaching future librarians about open source software. When we got to the part of my talk about the risk of choosing open source I mentioned that it doesn’t matter what software you pick – there is always a risk. Think about it – our lives are run by computers that in and of itself is a risk. One example is something I heard on the news this morning. Apparently people using TD Bank in the US are having issues accessing their money because of a computer glitch!!! Then a friend of mine pointed me to an article from 2006 about a fully automated garage in NJ keeping people’s cars.

When patrons of the Garden Street garage in Hoboken, N.J., went to retrieve their vehicles in August, they were surprised that the robotic garage that had so efficiently parked their cars until then had seemingly turned against them, trapping their cars for several days.

The fully automated garage didn’t suffer from rusty rotors or gears; it crashed because of an expired software license and a dispute between the software provider and Hoboken.

First – I had on idea that garages like this existed – second – if this isn’t an argument for open source – I don’t know what is!! How scary is it that a software license issue can cause a problem like this?

Anyway, when people say “open source is too risky” point them to these two examples – and many more like it. The fact is that all software is risky – handing our cars, money, memories, and lives over to computers is risky – I’d rather know that the software on those machines is of an open nature.


  1. There is a long-running forum for these sorts of stories at The Risks Digest,
    Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems,
    ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, moderated by Peter G. Neumann:

  2. I can’t tell you (likely don’t need to) how many thousands of problems I’ve encountered and had to spend precious, expensive time on because of proprietary licensing and DRM related issues. Openness (in its many forms) is pro-productivity, money saving, and trouble ceasing. Great post, Nicole.

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