Open Source, Free, Proprietary

Control vs Freedom

To Open Source or Not to Open Source?

Whether loved or hated, the idea and technical achievement of open source has continued to survive despite controversies over the years. Looking back on what proprietary companies consider a sin, it could be stated that open source software is here to stay. By definition, open source revolves around a publicly accessible design that is free to edit and share. Perhaps the most famous open source software is Linux, created by Linus Torvalds.

So, if Linux and other open source software are surviving, what is the point of discussing them? Well, the simple fact they are surviving is the answer to that. While looking at many proprietary software, perhaps the first one that comes to mind is Microsoft, created by Bill Gates. Being proprietary, obviously the software has a rightful owner and is marketed as such. The key word here is marketed. You cannot go out and modify Microsoft legally, nor get it for free.

Let us make a distinction here, however. Open source does not mean free. A free software does not let you modify the source code like open source does. Yet, a free program can be proprietary. This can be a bit confusing at first, but when it comes down to it, open source can actually have more freedom than a free software. This is the true distinction — free versus freedom.

With proprietary software, free or otherwise, there is always a notion of control. Companies who are trying to make a profit love control, since they can dictate what is and what isn’t. This is why open source has come under such heavy fire over the years. Linus created Linux for his own purpose, not to make a profit. Microsoft, on the other hand, is based around true commercialism.

However, there are some situations where open source software has become free, an example could be ZDaemon, which moved to proprietary due to many issues with cheaters. It doesn’t have to be cheaters though, the simple notion of not being able to support open source is also viable. With open source, there is no profit. Everything is community driven and community done. Some say this is open source’s death, since without money involved, you cannot get proper support for the software itself.

The other hand of this is pressure from large companies that find open source to be a nuisance. Bill Gates responded to many hobbyists within his famous message, An Open Letter to Hobbyists. But, there is always a flipside to this. Personally, it seems as Gates’ anger is moreso at his own incompetence at not being able to cope with open source. Obviously, within 2017, Gates has come a very far ways. Yet, during this statement, the open source community would have none of this. Many responses were filed against Gates, but perhaps this one was the most impactful of them all.

Mike Hayes, the author of this letter, discusses how Gates gave away his work, no one stole it. To quote him,

“If $2/hr is all you got for your efforts, then $2/hr is what they’re worth on the free market. You should either change your product or change your way of selling it.”

I do wonder if Hayes now realizes how far Gates has come. But his thought still stands — if proprietary companies want to complain so much about open source, then why don’t they make their products more desirable than open source itself? This is certainly a question I want to explore more. For now though, we must remember that, regardless of profit or not, understanding all of these ideas will only help us understand ourselves and where technology is taking us.

{2/17/2017}

-Joanna Shea Powell


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Communities

“A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

The definition of a community, according to the Oxford Dictionary. But what exactly is meant by it? How does it form? How long does it last? What are the boundaries of it? All of these questions have had to be answered by those looking to create an open source community. To begin looking at this topic, it is best broken down and explained a bit more precisely. It is also important to keep in mind the ultimate question; How are open source communities formed and how do they survive today?

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  • What is an open source community?

Communities are the lifeblood of open source, without them there is no feasible way open source software could survive. It is through the coordination of many that open source software thrives despite the lack of funds it receives. This coordination is aided by the many rules that are in place for a program to be considered open source. Some of these include:

Free Redistribution: The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor.

Of course, there are many others, but it is these that stand out the most. Through keeping everything free and “keeping everyone happy”, it allows for unhindered creative use that can only advance software, not harm it. It is through this that defines what an open source community is.

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  • How does an open source community form?

Like many communities, they normally form around a common goal. With Linux, it was formed based on the needs of many. How these communities grow and spread out is a different story, however. Now a days social media and forums have a huge part in bringing people together. Yet, 20 or so years ago, communities could not rely as much on technology as they can today.

When the need for something is great enough, people will go out of their way to find a way to get it done. This is only amplified when multiple people want to aid in these endeavors. In fact, virtual communities have almost become commonplace within our society today. One such community is Stack Overflow, an online community that aids budding programmers who want to get their work out into the world. This can lead to real world communities that form over common goals, such as Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter.

In fact, it is almost impossible not to include some online element within many communities today. Open source has only benefited from the advancement of technology over the years.

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  • How long can an open source community last?

Open source communities tend to last as long as they are needed. While looking into how open source communities form, we must also understand how they disband. Many communities fall apart over time, but this can be done for various reasons. Some communities have separated because the software that was working on has become obsolete over time, or the original leader has retired. However, that does not make them any less important. According to oss-watch,

In order to be considered healthy, open source communities must have the capacity to outlive their founder’s original interest in them. If they rely heavily on a dictator, they risk fragmenting and falling apart when their leaders move on or retire.

So it is healthy communities that last the longest — and Linux could be considered a testament to this. It is a project that has been ongoing for over 25 years now. Of course, Linux has gained a lot of popularity and continues to bring in more people. But, we must remember that without a community, there is no project at hand. Thus is the ever ending and starting of new projects that only bring in more creativity and advancement as the years go on.

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There are many other questions that can be answered, though it is important to keep in mind the reason for asking these questions in the first place. By better understanding how communities are formed and what they entail, we can also understand how open source has lasted as long as it has. Perhaps keeping these in mind will enable us to see how the New Media environment has expanded the horizons for hobbyists and budding entrepreneurs alike. To quote from Linus Torvalds himself,

“In real open source, you have the right to control your own destiny.”

So, perhaps it is time for us to control our own destinies and open source and the freedom that comes with it can only aid us in this.

{2/19/2017}

-Joanna Shea Powell


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Revisiting Open Source

I felt not enough justification was given to open source in the first entry, so I’d like to touch on it in greater detail. In this entry I’ll focus on how it impacts our society today. Besides controversies and negativity, let us delve a bit deeper in what open source does and what we must understand about it.

Open source changes our perspective on software without us realizing it. It could be said there is an ever present monopoly on software in general, especially concerning proprietary software (i.e. Microsoft). But with the presence of open source, it enables us to consider other, free, possibilities. We, as creators, are also not constricted by what major companies want us to create. This leads to greater inventions and further enhancement of our knowledge.

Open source is also much more cost efficient than proprietary software. Quoting from business2community,

“To put it simply, propriety software, must be purchased. In addition, it cannot be modified to fit a particular developer’s or business’s needs without absorbing more vendor-specific costs brought on by additional hardware or software.”

In other words, open source is nearly free compared to proprietary software. This can have both positive and negative effects on the economy, since revenue is a large part of software in general. However, paid or unpaid, the effect on our economy is definitely felt.

Perhaps a more positive way open source affects us is how communities are formed. As I mentioned it in the previous entry, open source is largely based around communities. With the advancement of open source, as well as other programs, people are coming together more frequently to aid one another.

No longer constrained by larger companies, we have almost evolved our own ‘know how’ for certain situations. This is not limited to open source, however. As we learn about communities and joining together for a common cause, we are coming outside the online and open source worlds. (Occupy Wall Street was an excellent example of this, previously.)

The Open Source Movement (OSM), under Open Collaboration, is a result of these community driven efforts. It deals with many elements of open collaboration that details innovation in various elements. This includes Wikipedia, Internet forums and of course, open source. Without movements like this, innovation itself would be much slower and lacking greatly. To quote from the details of the OSM,

These goals promote the production of “high quality programs” as well as “working cooperatively with other similarly minded people” to improve open-source technology.

As stated, this advancement can only aid us in our future endeavors. While this only delves into the start of open source, it certainly spreads some light on the possibilities we have with such software existing. I do look forward to seeing how open source grows in our ever advancing technological world today.

{2/22/2017}

  • Joanna Shea Powell