Open source doesn't make software safer

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft: closed source with few security flaws. What does that tell you?

There is this ludicrous paradigm among the technorati that just because a piece of software is developed collaboratively and by enthusiasts with source code shared freely on the web, that automatically makes it more secure and less buggy.

"When everyone can look at your code," runs the argument, "flaws get found more quickly and patches get released almost immediately."

But although everyone can look at open source code, in practice, the only people who do are those involved in developing the software and those trying to create malware that exploits it.

This is exactly the same situation that applies to closed source software, except that it is somewhat harder for the hackers to get their copy of the code.

I'm not going to dispute that there are lots more viruses that target Microsoft Office than there are that target Open Office. But this is not because the Open Office community have more pairs of eyes pre-emptively spotting flaws and patching them, it's because fewer people target Open Office in the first place.

The dichotomy is not between open source and closed source. It's between liked software and hated software. People target Microsoft because it has large market share and because it represents The Man.

Publishing the source code for Internet Explorer wouldn't make it any safer - Microsoft already has lots of very talented developers working full time on finding and fixing security loopholes. In fact it would open the flood gates to a whole new generation of wannabe haxzors.

World of Warcraft is closed source software and has had relatively few security flaws, despite a very large market share. This is because we love Blizzard and we don't want to take them down.

I can't think of any easy way for Microsoft to turn itself into a beloved company again, like it was 25 years ago but it is hard to see how they have anything to gain from the open source "movement".