I’ve seen a lot of impressive implementations of open source (to some extent) software. From Firefox to Linux and Open Office to Eclipse, open source software has really become pervasive in our society. But this isn’t a move that is widely followed; there are still a lot of large companies or industry giants that aren’t moving toward a more open web (Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe, to name a few). What does that say about the future for open source?
Open source has always filled a strange niche of demand; a group of elites building their own Utopia in a sense, working with each other to find solutions to difficult problems. It sounds great, but it isn’t perfect, and it isn’t the whole solution. If everything were open source, everything would be fully customizable and free, and one could do anything and everything with their own personal experience. The problem is that not everyone is a programmer, not everyone has the time or know-how to build his or her own interfaces or programs. How could tech support operate for these individuals? The gap between the tech savvy and technophobes would be far greater than it is today. Sure their would be people who would be willing to create templates for these individuals, but would those people be enough to provide for everyone who needs it? Maybe. Even then, it is much easier for a company with a set system to provide for those needs.
The dimorphism has other useful characteristics as well. Fostering competition. For open source to work, you need a group of committed programmers who are willing to spend their time and resources on an endeavor that they really believe in. Often, however, those resources fall short. Sometimes there aren’t enough hands. Bring in the corporate side, and you have enough funding and enough hands to go around. They also bring their own motivation, commercial success. This isn’t a rant on greed or corporate behavior; companies exist to meet the needs of consumers and money exists to facilitate that transaction. Fiscal success is a powerful motivator for research and development, and competition an even better one.
So while a lot of people complain about Apple refusing to support Flash or Flash’s hold on the market, or about Apple’s stringent controls on their app market (a lot of Apple popping up >.> ), it isn’t really an issue. Either another company rises to the occasion and fixes the issues, or individuals become passionate about it and fix it themselves. I don’t think that open source is the only future, but I do believe that it is part of it. Whether programmers are motivated by monetary compensation or by some passionate belief, they are still fighting to write better code than the next programmer. And honestly, that’s all that matters.
5 thoughts on “The Future of Open Source, or Open Source is the Future? – by “Matt A””
I think it’s a good point that not everything can be done using the F/OSS model. What’s great though is that neither F/OSS nor the old corporate model is exclusive of the other. I think each can fill the in the gaps the other leaves. Natural market forces should end up determining how that divisions ends up. Another interesting point is about how the technophobes would be left in the dark. I really like the point in one of the readings about how a service industry can pop up around F/OSS to provide the necessary support.
I definitely agree with Matt’s comment. Any gap’s left by the free and open software movement, such as a lack of programs with high ease of use and accessibility for non-programmers, can be filled in by the corporate model. In this way, the two production models complement each other nicely such that consumers get the best of both worlds. While programmers still don’t get their dream of being able to freely improve upon and re-release the Windows operating system, any model that would allow them to do so would come with unacceptable negative consequences of its own.
I think it’s also important to mention that a lot of F/OSS developers have day jobs as programmers within the corporate model, so again this kind of hybrid ecosystem is almost a market requirement..
I completely agree with the comments above, but also wonder “if everything were open source”, as you hypothetically suggest, whether the corporate / niche dimorphism (or spectrum) would not still exist. Won’t there always be a mainstream which implicitly requires alternatives?
I agree with the open source vs. corporate argument in the context of different software products providing customer satisfaction to different demographics. If Apple doesn’t want to support Flash, they don’t have to. Flash is just a tool, and ultimately Apple has no responsibility to cooperate with Adobe. Any corporation is free to simplify their products to provide what they feel is a better user experience. I think that the issue of Apple’s app censorship is separate, however. This is a situation where Apple is censoring content to . . . protect their image? avoid a PR conflict? Whatever their motives, the censorship of iSinglePayer can’t really be considered a decision designed to improve user experience. This is where the open source model is preferable. The power of open source is not the ability to customize user experience (although that’s a plus). The power is that it allows free flow of information. Nobody can censor content in an open source context because it would require the consent and corroboration of every programmer capable of modifying the code.