"OpenSource has failed"

In a 2016 survey from Blackduck, 96% of software products developed that year used open source software. That number is likely higher now. 

In the software world, particularly software that runs the computing infrastructure of the internet, open source is ubiquitous. One could claim, without any exaggeration, that our current world runs on open source software or that our modern world would not exist in its current form without open source software. 
I don’t know how to calculate the total value of open source software to the world, but I do know that if open source software suddenly went away, the results would be catastrophic, an existential crisis for humanity. 
So when I write that “open source has failed” I’m obviously not writing from a technology perspective, where it was been a clear-cut winner and the foundation of an endless supply of business models, products, and services. 

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. 

If you think this all sounds pretty terrific, read on to find out what I left out.

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. 

In some technology circles, you will still get a whiff of “open source is communist”, which incites a bemused reaction from me. These are usually the same people who swear that nobody in their company uses open source, when in fact, all of their teams require it.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.