In a 2016 survey from Blackduck, 96% of software products developed that year used open source software. That number is likely higher now.
To say that open source contributed to the overall innovation of the world would be a shameful understatement. Better would be to say that the world’s computing innovations owe their existence to the triumph of open source development.
Amusing: it is, in fact, only due to the sheer, abject stupidity of a not-insignificant number of technology executives and venture capitalists that open source software isn’t even more successful. You’ll still hear VC’s repeat, with utmost sincerity, that releasing open source software cuts a startup’s valuation by 10%. It is only through luck that VCs have not been quicker to catch on to the strong connection between open source development and rapacious capitalism.
When considering the role of open source in redistributing wealth upwards, it’s instructive to consider the example of Microsoft. Not because I enjoy picking on them or think they’re evil — I don’t; Microsoft as a publicly traded company is no more or less evil than any other company. Rather, I like to single them out because their public stance towards open source has changed much over the years and is a useful measuring stick for the points I’m trying to make. Did you ever wonder *why* their public stance towards open source shifted so much over the years, from “Linux is a cancer” to “use our open source software”? Could it be because, unlike the company’s predecessors in 2000, current executives now understand that open source software forms the building blocks of modern capitalist behemoths?
The software you use is shared, but the applications and services you built don’t have to be, especially if you’re conveying the software over a website. Even that most notorious of “Communist” licenses often cited by paranoid executives as examples of anti-commercial aspects of open source, the GNU GPL version 2 or 3, is useless when it comes to prying open web applications written by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. And let’s not forget how some of these very same vendors infiltrated the process of creating the GPL version 3, undermining the community and cutting off efforts to close the “web app loophole”. How they did that was an under-reported story from 2006–2007.
So what, you may ask? In each case, they have created businesses that make vast sums of money, there are tightly constrained groups of employees who benefit, and they tend not to pay others for software. The money comes in, but it never leaves the Hotel California of cloud computing. This means that the highly paid professionals of these companies, and their management, receive the lions’ share of money, forming a part of the 10% of earners leaving everyone beyond. Before open source proliferation, when companies usually had to pay something for every line of software, that income was at least distributed through many parts of the economy, resulting in less concentration of wealth.