Open Source: It's Not Just For Software

from the revolutionary-changes dept

The one view that aggravates me the most in debates on intellectual property is when people insist that things like open source or the sharing of ideas is somehow “anti-capitalist” or “anti-corporate”. That seems backwards to me, as our current intellectual property system awards government granted, long-term monopolies to things – rather than letting the free market decide. That is a lot more anti-capitalistic than getting ideas out there, and letting companies figure out how to make money off of them. Now, Wired Magazine has an article that suggests “open source” will revolutionize the knowledge industry the way the assembly line revolutionized manufacturing. The writer isn’t just talking about software (and isn’t even talking about the “official” definition of open source), but rather the general concept of collaboration and the open sharing of ideas. He gives a few examples of how such collaborative projects are starting to compete with “proprietary” companies – and shows how the open projects are all for commercial usage. Those against such open systems will argue back that none of these collaborative projects are making nearly as much money as some of the proprietary offerings they’re competing with. There’s a simple explanation for that: monopolies get monopoly rents, such that they are making more money. However, that can’t last in the face of competition – and if the monopoly is getting fat and happy because of a government granted monopoly, they’re ripe for being taken down in the market by new competition. The open ideas may not be making money yet, but they are disruptive ideas. They’re not considered to be “as good”, “as safe” or “as reliable” by certain people, but that’s mostly a marketing issue – and as that hurdle gets crossed, whether the proprietary systems like it or not, they will find themselves competing against it.

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Comments on “Open Source: It's Not Just For Software”

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dorpus says:

Competitive monopolies, lazy open sourcers

What if “monopolist” companies do hire people with advanced degrees, who design systems with a rigorous methodology not seen at lesser companies? In my experience, open source communities have a large number of uneducated, anti-intellectual rabble who have the attitude that rigorous methodologies are trivial, too pompous, or too nerdy. However, any edifice that is built on sloppy methodologies is doomed to come tumbling down sooner or later.

Good design is not determined by the democracy of what the rabble thinks, but by rigorous methodology. By necessity, such a process is exclusive.

Mark Murphy says:

Re: Competitive monopolies, lazy open sourcers

Speaking as an educated, advanced-degree-holding, occasional dabbler in open source, I posit that you have a myopic view of the world.

First off, not all applications are created equal. Does one need massive design sessions to build an ocean liner? Sure. Do primitive cultures of today and yesteryear need massive design sessions to build dugout canoes, rafts, and the like? No. The same holds true for software: I want massive design sessions for the software driving the Space Shuttle, and a one-line batch file needs no design, let alone methodology. Projects scoped in between need varying amounts of design work.

Next, just because open source exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. When you go to buy proprietary software, you evaluate that software on capabilities, support, perceived reliability, and price. When you consider open source, you will need to evaluate it on capabilities, support, perceived reliability, and effective price. No different. On a percentage basis, more open source is “junk” than proprietary software would be, but that’s because open source includes tons of stuff that’d never be considered for commercial release, as each group (open source and commercial software) is self-selecting.

Besides, I’d love to see your scientific surveys demonstrating that open source projects have “a large number of uneducated, anti-intellectual rabble” (in my experience, the opposite is true, for any project worth its salt).

Tony Lawrence (user link) says:

Re: Competitive monopolies, lazy open sourcers

Procedural types sometimes think that’s the only way to do anything.

The slap-shot crowd, however, is usually aware of the benefits of “rigorous methodolgy”, and we can even do it for brief periods before our eyes roll back in our heads and we start screaming.

Yes, I am proudly “uneducated” – autodidactic is a more accurate term. but the “rigorous” types usually don’t see that as valid. I’m not anti-intellectual, though I do have little respect for those who thinks that they deserve that appellation just because they went through X years of formal education. To me, there’s two kinds of people who can get a doctorate or other advanced degree: the truly brilliant, who deserve admiration, and the dull, uninspired, one foot ahead of the other plodders who can drink it in and spit it back over and over again. No respect for them, as you might guess.

Good design is what works, not how it was arrived at.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Competitive monopolies, lazy open sourcers

I do not dispute that open source can be effective for simple problems. But I would not trust bridges, ocean liners, or enterprise systems built on open source.

As for the poster who states a lack of respect for “plodding” advanced degree holders, it could be that they are doing important work, but their importance is not visible to untrained eyes. An average techie or salty businessman may scoff at someone who gets a PhD in folkloric studies. But as it turns out, techies and businessmen believe in quite a few fantasies themselves; large corporations and the CIA do find use for expertise in folklore, in order to cook up stories that appeal to the masses.

Chris says:

No Subject Given

I think certain industries are definately ripe for disruption from an open source approach. My pick for the next one is k-12 education. It’s huge, very inefficeint, dominated by a government monopoly, and failing to actually do the job. Take out the word government and you have a pretty good description of Microsoft circa 1998.

Homeschoolers are sort of doing this already without realizing it. The level of cooperation between homeschoolers, the open sharing of information and ideas, etc is very cool. The average public school spends about $6000 annually per kid. I have no idea what the average homeschooler spends but I know its way less than $6000 – for in most cases far superior results. I think the grassroots doing things much better and cheaper is an indicator of the potential disruption available in an industry. And not just one guy doing something better. Software had thousands writing open source code that outperformed the industry standards. Homeschoolers have about 1 million kids that are outperforming the industry standard.

Now if I can just figure out the business angle to it and start on a business plan….after the playoffs and World Series are completed of course!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

The homeschooling or voucher fad has come and gone already. Homeschooling is a luxury available only to those with a stay-at-home parent. If kids with working parents were forced to stay home, they will do worse than if they went to school. As for any “statistics” that show homeschooling kids doing well, they should be compared with other families who have the luxury of a stay-at-home parent.

Historically, families living in rural areas home-schooled their kids, and most of them turned out functionally illiterate.

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