CC BY tyger_lyllie

Free and Open Source Software is Dead

I open my laptop after I arrive to the office, I start writing Python code in a Jupyter notebook. I query a PostgreSQL database, I use libraries like Pandas, Scikit-learn and Keras. Then when it’s time to productionise the code snippets I have written, I write my code using Atom or VIM and push it to AWS.

Everything in bold is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), except for AWS. I even checked their licenses. It’s clear, FOSS has won the battle, no more evil Microsoft SQL server, no Visual Basic, nothing of these closed source softwares anymore, yay!

Then I leave the office, I listen to music on Spotify on my way back home, I watch movies on Netflix. The photos I take on the weekend, I edit and share them on Instagram. I chat with family and friends on Whatsapp and I do almost all of these on my phone and tablet, whose operating systems and iOS and Android.

Everything in bold is not Free nor Open Source Software, even Android, some say it is open source, but definitely it is not a free software.

Most of the open source software advocates I know are content with the first paragraph, and cannot see beyond it. They think open source software has won the war, but I believe it actually won few battles but lost the war, at least for now, and here is why:

Sorry, the location of the battlefield has been changed!

Nothing is stopping anyone from creating a FOSS video/music player, photo editor or chat application. Actually, there are already plenty of these created 20 years ago and were being massively used. These softwares still exist, the only difference is that they missed two major shifts; the cloud and the hardware/software coupling.

Thanks to the cloud, music and video players are not inseparable from their music and videos content. An open source music player is useless if you do not have music to play, same for a free video player. Thus, Netflix and Spotify will continue to prevail.

One can argue; what about bitTorrent, Popcorn Time, etc? These are examples of a software with reasonably easy to access to content. Yet, almost no body uses them nowadays. Here comes another gatekeeper, the hardware/software coupling. A combination of copyright laws, and Google/Apple’s control on mobile operating systems, makes it easy for Apple, for example, to not allow you to install any of these softwares on your phone or tablet. Who still uses laptops anyway! Even if I find a way to jailbreak my phone and install Popcorn Time on it, I would less likely succeed doing the same for my Apple TV or Alexa. Service providers would also collaborate in blocking those softwares for the sake of copyright protection.

A hardware manufacturer, whether that hardware is a mobile phone, smart speaker, smart watch, smart TV or smart anything, do couple his own hardware and software nowadays. While most FOSS advocates are still busy fighting the evil Microsoft Windows, they are not aware that both of them and Microsoft have already missed the new battlefield’s location.

FOSS is for businesses not consumers now!

It’s clear from the examples I’ve just mentioned earlier, that though businesses use FOSS, in a consumer’s everyday life all the softwares they use are closed source ones.

Unlike individuals, business can hire people (devops) to build their own cloud, and maintain it for them. Yet, the fact that most of the softwares businesses use are free doesn’t mean that this will be the case in the future too. Check my first paragraph again. If everything I run, runs on AWS. Actually, I do not recall running a single line of code on my own laptop for weeks, I run it all in the cloud. Which means, if tomorrow, Python and all the libraries I use became closed source softwares, I wouldn’t notice a difference as long as the cloud provider my business uses will still provide them as part of its package.

We need RMS who understands the cloud and the blockchain.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s when the likes of Richard Stallman (RMS), Eric. Raymond (ESR) and Linus Torvalds worked on their Free and Open Source Software ideas (check the difference between Free and Open Source Software here), they understood both the operating systems at that time and the legal frameworks softwares were created in.

It’s perfectly fine to admit that Free and Open Source Software ideas are dead, since the compute environments and legal frameworks they were created in are also gone. What matters now is that new advocates who understand the cloud economy, the legal frameworks of today, and maybe technologies like the blockchain and smart contracts, and come up with fresh and modern alternative to FOSS.