open sourcing the hill

David Reevely’s article Open-sourcing the Hill is a nice introduction to some of the concepts of open source. Mr. Reevely writes briefly about Bill Gates’ point of view (shared by a number of official lobbiests, such as the BSA). It’s important to note that if we are going to credit Bill Gates with anything, it is the invention of proprietary (closed-soure) systems. Prior to his double-cross of the open-source community (at the time, it was just called “software”) in the late 1970s with his commercialization of an open source program called “Microsoft Basic” , anyone who owned a computer had all the source code. What the open source movement does it bring about an open and free market to the software and IT service industry. The “free” part of free/libre open source is better understood in French than in English. Francophones naturally understand the difference between “libre” and “gratuis”. For anglophones, we like to speak about “free beer” vs “free speech”, or in this case “free market”. We in the open source industry believe that competition is good. Bill Gates’ objection to open source is that it permits people to join together in order to compete with him, and with each other. He naturally doesn’t like that, and that’s why he continues to promote the view that ideas are some kind of property. It’s particularly ironic though – the Gates Foundation has recently taken an important stand on access to AIDS drugs for developing and poor nations. The laws that keep them from getting access is actually the same laws that grants a monopoly to Microsoft. A truly enlightened person would argue that most of the ideas behind most of the AIDS drugs were developed at public expense, in public labs, at public institutions, and therefore, should be public. Open source professionals (yes, we are paid. Most of the internet runs on various kinds of open source, including many products from Cisco, Nortel, Yahoo and Google) believe that we can and should compete based upon service. Many of the systems we develope, we develope because we need them — our job requires that we solve a particular problem, and to do so, we have to write software. We don’t need a monopoly on our ideas — the whole process of creating and granting monopolies gets in the way of true innovation. It is interesting to note, in light of the recent bridge collapse, that scientists at the US Department of Transportation came to the same conclusion. Back in 1999 they started an open source project to update the 30 year-old models that were used to calculate bridge stresses. This is a collaboration among government, industry, and academia. The results should be useable by all, and anyone should be able to improve the formulae. Not only does open source permit easier collaboration here, it is practically a requirement of peer-reviewed science. (this email was composed on an open source laptop, relayed through an open source wireless access point, over open source routers out to the Internet, and then forwarded by an open source email system to the Citizen) Michael Richardson Ottawa, ON +1 613 276-6809 x 608