Closed, Open Source Share Compatibility Problems

Opinion: Software stacks, open or closed, will always be dogged by backward-compatibility issues. Deal with it.

Over in the land of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and the scripting language of your choice that begins with P), theyre discovering that backward compatibility is a bear.

Welcome to the world of serious software development.

My fellow Ziff Davis Internet writer, Sean Gallagher, in a recent blog entry talked about how the WordPress blogging software community is outraged about running headlong into this problem.

The problem here is that the current version of WordPress has fits when you try to install and run it with the latest editions of MySQL 5.0.1 and PHP 5.

Its developers have been focusing on making it backward-compatible with previous versions of PHP instead of keeping it in sync with the newest versions of its supporting software.

You could call that move a mistake. I call it one of those all too common situations of being damned if you do and damned if you dont. As it is, users who want the latest and greatest MySQL and PHP are running into trouble.

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If WordPress developers had worked on keeping it current with the up-to-date versions, theyd have users who were still with the older versions grumbling instead.

Gallagher talks about this as being more of a problem for open-source developers than closed-sourced programmers.

I disagree. While a WordPress user may face "some fairly unappetizing options—like fixing the underlying code yourself," at least he or she has an option. If youre using proprietary programs, all you can do is hope that the vendor will fix your problem. Good luck with that, as many Microsoft, Oracle, etc., etc. customers have found out over the years.

This problem has been around for as long as Ive been working in computing. It will be around long after Ive gone to the great bit-bucket in the sky.

I think far too many people dont realize that programs always end up with incompatibility problems. Even people who believe in running only Microsoft programs encounter this problem all the time. For example, many older Windows server programs like Exchange 5.5 and SQL Server 6.5 wont run properly on Windows Server 2003.

Another problem is that people seem to believe that theres something magical about open-source software that makes it in all ways better than closed-source programs.

Uh, no.

I think open source produces better software, more secure software, but perfect software? No. Software that can avoid version incompatibility problems? Its never going to happen.

The solution is to "get over it and deal."

Is your particular software stack working for you today? Good; keep it, tune it and dont expect to be able to give it a major upgrade. Theres no law saying you have to update.

Your application stack isnt working well, or it has all the security of an open barn door? Then bite the bullet, upgrade and be ready to do a lot of work.

Open source or closed source, no one ever said keeping sophisticated software stacks working would be easy. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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