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November 30, 2004


I tend to agree with you, that b/c of the lack of incentive it seems unlikely that open source will be able to compete with propriety software.

But it seems that there's a certain satisfaction people get from contributing to what they believe is the "greater good" (defeating corporate giants). I think that although its an entirely different demographic there's a good argument that the norms associated with contributing to open source is akin to the motives of those people who spend their time and bandwith, while risking (feigned) liability in order to upload copyrighted materials onto p2p servers.

Maybe it isnt really such a far fetched idea that open source contributions will continue to thrive. The success of illegal p2p sharing depends upon its 3% of users who upload 97% of the content. This statistic is extremely revealing - that it is possible that something so massive can thrive based upon the voluntary contributions of such a small percentage of overall users. Perhaps open source is experiencing this same phenomena.

I agree that open source seems to rely on hobbyists, but I would say that open source has as much chance of going away as say - p2p.

Here, here.

First, Richard Hoang's notes that open source seems more suited to academics. This is actually not that surprising given that the notion of free software came largely in part to Richard Stallman's frustration with proprietary software. Stallman came from an academic background where source code to software was passed around freely, and sharing was often and encouraged. Sharing allows others to tinker, and improve on original works and to further distribute good improvements. Much of this philosophy is captured in the free software movement and to a similar extent open source.

Copyright exists for a limited time, to promote the arts and sciences. As we have seen in this class though, often this intention is frustrated, and perhaps no where more so than with software. First, software changes quite rapidly. It is unlikely that source code from 28 years ago will have any value to the public domain, let alone code from the author's life plus 70 years ago. For instance, 28 years ago, the predominant form of source code was fortran and cobol, written for mainframe computers. Now use of those languages is all but dead, as well as the architectures they ran on. Second, source code is very unlike other works of authorship. You don't generally distribute copies of source code. You only distribute the machine readable form. The source code can be protected by simply keeping it secret and such code might never fall into the public domain, if its author chooses to simply never release it.

I generally agree that the open source movement cannot effectively compete with proprietary software in the market for software, at least as it exists currently. I believe that most rational people have the same initial reaction. The economic incentives of commercial code, severely outweigh the economic incentives of open source. When I first heard of open source I thought the same thing, and yet now I see companies making money off of "free software". Selling add-on's and selling services. And while I don't have any data, I suspect there is still great untapped potential. (For instance, while a company in the business of open source software cannot own a copyright to the underlying IP it sells, why can't it own a thin copyright of configuration of the software?)

Sure, free software started out as a pretty radical idea, but so do most new ideas. Remember the Internet started out as a largely academic project funded by the government. No one back in the 70's was thinking about the great money making machine, a network of academic computers would be. Yet, that is exactly what the Internet has transformed itself into. Give open source some time. Good things will happen.

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