Open source

You know the drill, here’s my novice post about open source. So here are some nuggets that caught my attention.

Open source is about freedom, not free beer

The fact that the software is free of charge is not as relevant as the fact that it is free to use, modify, distribute, etc. Freedom must therefore been interpreted as “libre” –free of use– more than “gratis” –free of charge. I recalled reading something about this in the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson.

Open source cannot be public domain

Perens explained in Revolution OS that releasing code in the public domain would not have a lasting effect on the software market. Someone could simply take it and close it down for his own commercial advantage.

The whole idea behind the GNU Public License was to enforce openness on the code –called copyleft–, to make sure that if anyone used of modified the code, that the work would remain available to its community of users.

Open source needs commercial adoption

This notion might be paradoxical, but open source needs a commercial ecosystem to thrive. The example of the adoption of Apache Web Server by Oracle and most major players in the industry is one example, RedHat Linux is another one. Until someone proved that using open source as a business model was actually a good idea, investors were skeptical of the sustainability of the development model.

Having been a part of the Sakai community for many years, I can say that this seems absolutely true. Not only do Sakai commercial affiliates provide credibility to the Sakai software, but they also provide turnkey hosted solutions, custom development, and support to institutions who don’t want or can’t embark in the whole hosting and support process on their own.

And since the code is open, commercial affiliates live and die by the quality of their service, in opposition to commercial LMSs who lock you up in the software and know that you have no way out, so customer service is just an afterthought.

DRM is a defect-inducing mechanism

By default, software and digital files are easy to copy and share. As Doctorow explained in The Upcoming War on General Computation, when corporations introduced DRM, they actually introduced defects in the files and systems to make copying and sharing impossible, something hackers have found ways around from the very get-go by reverse-engineering those digital locks.

What is scary is the way computers are becoming appliances, serving one purpose only: to impose a curated and opaque use of digital media. Doctorow argues that computers need to take their direct owners interest at heart first, not the commercial interests of a few lobbying corporations trying to protect the order of the old world. Monitoring illegal uses on devices is what police states do. This is not a model we want in a democratic world.

Raymond writes in Open Minds, Open Source:

Software consumers, for their part, were brainwashed and pummeled into a sort of numb acceptance — persuaded that software flakiness was inevitable and they’d just have to pay extortionate prices for the continued privilege of living with it.

Consumers have to stop having low expectations when it comes to computing. They have to step up and claim the right to good software and the right to see what happening under the hood.

More needs to be done, SOPA was only a mini-boss.

Play as a driver for development

In Revolution OS, Stallman said that “hackers are people who enjoy playful cleverness,” something reinforced by Raymond’s words in the Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Our creative play has been racking up technical, market-share, and mind-share successes at an astounding rate. We’re proving not only that we can do better software, but that joy is an asset.
It may well turn out that one of the most important effects of open source’s success will be to teach us that play is the most economically efficient mode of creative work.
The self-selection of volunteers working on open-source software with a purpose seem to have quite an advantage on closed source software coded by people who are assigned to do it for a paycheck, both in quality and turnaround speed.

2 thoughts on “Open source

  1. Pingback: Open source | Open Reflections | Open Hacking

  2. Pingback: Claiming my novice badge for #ioe12 | Open Reflections

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