We’ve seen it innumerable times in the past. Open source projects launch, the community gets all excited and then…WONK! Wonk! Waaah…the software is dead on arrival. If the last few years have taught us anything it’s that open source fails are not only annoying but potentially disastrous.
In 2017, hackers took advantage of the heavily-flawed OpenSSL software library Heartbleed, making off with the usernames, passwords, emails and miscellaneous documents belonging to the employees of Gloucester City Council, resulting in the council being served with a £100,000 fine.
Perhaps there is no better example of the inherent problems that cause open source startups to fail than that of MakerBot. Launched in 2009 and founded on an open source hardware RepRap project, MakerBot was doomed from the start.
The MakerBot Replicator 1 was something that was too complex for its own good. In short, users could tell that it wasn’t ready for market. But that didn’t stop the developers from selling to Stratasys, a company that ignored the core philosophy of open source by effectively locking the community out of participation in project creation.
This breach of trust has been the subject of much consternation among community members who have taken to social media platforms like Reddit to unpack the essential problems with MakerBot in the past.
Among the fundamental flaws in MakerBot’s approach was the fine print in their terms of service which claimed ownership of anything users printed and their making an “open source” 3D printer that was really closed source.
The proprietary MakerBot 2 closed what would have otherwise been an open dialogue with those who would have voluntarily perfected its design and beefed up the price to where it wouldn’t be practical for the average consumer.
By 2016, it looked like MakerBot was down for the count, but on January 15, 2018, the company issued a release, announcing that MakerBot Print 2.8 is here and the technical kinks have (supposedly) been worked out.
According to the release, they have added the ability to toggle on and off filament jam detection and printer sounds, fixed the bugs that led to Project files failing to open, corrected security vulnerabilities and increased the maximum layer height for printers utilizing an Experimental Extruder.
In the past, users have dealt with heating failure errors, installation failure, smart extruder clogging and cheap components like a loose extruder carriage. Whether all of these issues have truly been resolved is something that time will tell.
But one thing is certain; open source tech needs to remain open source if companies want to harness the collective genius that is the online community. Peer-to-peer collaboration makes it easier and more expedient to improve on the innate flaws in software.
This is nothing new, of course; IBM and other businesses have long acknowledged the benefits of being open source and we’ve seen the rewards reaped with Linux. Unfortunately, some less scrupulous companies pretend to be open source when, in fact, they are not.
There are VPNs like OpenVPN out there that are truly open source SSL VPN solutions, but free VPNs like Betternet aren’t as good as their names might suggest. For starters, these free VPNs often collect user data and sell it to third parties or, in the case of Betternet, they sell ads.
Nothing open source about that tactic as you’d be hard pressed to find a member of the community that would want to be targeted by ads or app recommendations while surfing “anonymously.” We take whatever measures necessary to protect our privacy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have thoughts to share or ideas of value to cryptography-based solutions.
Proprietary will always fail because it’s not cost-productive, it’s counter-intuitive and it lacks the customizability that comes from allowing users to modify source code.
MakerBot perfectly illustrates this failure as these large-scale printers are lacking in value, connectivity, noise level and heated platform. Their customer support leaves much to be desired and their printers are far from beginner-friendly.
Users are unable to print tall objects, operation is loud and filament is expensive. All of this kind of nullifies MakerBot’s better qualities, such as its printing quality and USB connectivity.
They say that their Replicator is engineered and rigorously tested for faster, easier and more reliable printing, but with absolutely no beta testers and no open dialogue, it’s inevitable that hiccups will occur.
The newest MakerBot Replicator may prove out to be a good printer, but without interoperability, it will never meet user standards in a day and age where compatibility is not only attractive but expected. While MakerBot Print can support a range of printers and a variety of 3D modeling programs, it is not compatible with Windows 8, XP, Vista, Server or Linux.
And apparently, MakerBot doesn’t just shut the public out, they shut their own employees out. As one former staff technical writer put it, “Lay offs come in waves. I was part of the 4th wave. You will enjoy working there while you can but then bye bye.”
A product support engineer echoed this sentiment, referencing lots of turnover and a “revolving door of management.” One disgruntled former staffer listed “free snack” and “cool office” as the pros and “everything else” as the cons. This doesn’t exactly sound like a place that values its team.
With engineers reporting “major brain-drain,” it’s obvious that Statasys’ closed source paradigm is not working in their favor and it’s quite obvious why P2P collaboration could change MakerBot for the better. In the very least, it couldn’t make it any worse than it’s already been.
It’s time for companies like Stratasys to realize what the community has to offer. Listen up, Stratasys! The open source approach will always beat a closed source paradigm when it comes to innovation and evolution.