Open Source

Most of you probably haven’t heard of the Open Source movement. Boiled down, Open Source is a philosophy that promotes free redistribution and access to an end product’s design and implementation details. On the surface is it inimical with capitalism and therefore something I’ve always viewed with strong suspicion.

Today I aim to look at it with a critical eye. To be honest, even as I’m sitting here writing this article I’m not sure of my conclusion. I might have some misconceptions and hopefully in doing my diligent research I’ll come to objective answers.

The reason Open Source comes at the conclusion of Internet Week is that the concept has its strongest backing in the software world and I benefit greatly from it. As do many people, likely you. As some of you may have gathered from reading my posts over the last couple of months I’m somewhat (read completely) nerdy. I play role-playing games like Pathfinder. As adults we find it increasingly difficult to get people together physically. Well, a group of fellows got together and created an Open Source Virtual Table where my friends and I can gather from all over the world (on the computers sitting at our desks) and play. It’s called MapTool and it’s free. Free. We talk to each other using Skype. Also free.

This idea goes far back in time as Wikipedia states when it suggests that cookie recipes have been shared (thank goodness) since people first started baking the delicious treats. Mmmm, cookie.

This Open Source model helped DARPA create the internet which I spoke about earlier in the week. Benefit from that much? Anyone who uses the Linux operating system is benefitting from the model. WordPress where you read this blog is Open Source as is a computer language called php. A piece of circuit board called Arduino powers hobbyists electronic equipment. It’s free. OpenCola is a soda dispensary system where the formula is freely available. Wikipedia is free and open to the public to contribute to its pages. Open Source education includes instructive videos on YouTube and the Khan Academy. The people who produce these type of things do so on their own time for the pleasure of it. They largely work collaboratively with many thousands of ideas being suggested to improve the product. I spoke about this concept earlier in the week as well.

Here is the question though. These Open Source projects clearly benefit the consumer but do they actually help capitalism as well? It seems an impossible proposition that a free product could stimulate economies and certainly those opposed to Open Source agree. But there is another argument. Let’s get back to my role-playing games. In order to play the games we do not only need to get together but must also have material by which to play, rule sets, adventures, background material, etc. If we didn’t play, because we cannot physically get together, then there is no need to purchase these items. But, with MapTool we do get together and this stimulates the other purchases. OpenCola gives the recipe away but equipment and ingredients still must be purchased.

The other benefit is that the creators of the items get to use their creation. These types of projects are often labors of love trying to fill something that is currently missing from their experience in life. They see something they would like to have and, with the help of thousands or millions of others, make it.

So, I think in the end, Open Source is a wonderful idea although I’m certainly not suggesting that people should stop trying to make money. It’s an interesting topic and we’ll see the reality of it played out in ever greater instances over the coming years.

Tell me what you think in the comments and share away!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist