Does it make sense?

This is my first blog post and I want to ask you something. Why does open source make sense? I am sure it does, because so many people cannot be wrong. Still, I cannot find a reason, so I am assuming I’m missing something here.

As far as I understand (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the open source position starts from the premise that software should be widely accesible to everybody without having to pay for it to corporations. That’s an altruistic and beautiful idea. However, I don’t think it is very realistic. After all, these corporations make large investments that they need to recover. If we don’t pay them for their software, who will?

Also, and as fas as I know, there are no generalised movements towards free books or free music in legal frameworks. Everybody (more or less) understands that books must be paid for because authors and publishers need to earn revenue from them. Why then should access to software be governed by a different set of rules?

I would be enormously grateful to anybody who could give me a reasonable answer.

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3 Responses to “Does it make sense?”


  1. 1 Reinier again 11 January 2005 at 10:24

    On your second point: yes, there are movements towards free books and free music. Popular licenses for free documents have been developed just as well as for free software. Nobody in the scientific world understands why publishers like Elsevier and Kluwer should make ridiculous profit margins on articles that are often years out of date by the time anyone gets to read them in print, and serve as little more than tokens of recognition.
    Scientific publishing is swiftly moving away from the old-fashioned sell-your-soul-to-the-publisher style. The same is true for popular music. We see the same phenomenon as in software: the Internet has made publishing and distribution so much cheaper that it pays, for many authors, to cut out the publisher, give away their work for free, and make their money on support (lecturing, etc.) and on being popular (celebrity appearances).I think the main legal issue is how to deal with liability issues in open source software.

  2. 2 Reinier 11 January 2005 at 19:08

    I’m not sure what you mean to ask, exactly.The existence of open source software makes evolutionary sense: users use it, developers develop it. Do you want this observation explained?It makes sense for users to use it when it is good value for “money” (in this case, not real money, but the effort involved in installing, maintaining and using it). I use Firefox, Apache, Linux etc etc. when they are most convenient for me, which they are in many cases.It makes sense for developers to contribute to it when, again, their efforts are worthwhile. They are when the software is in a stage where it directly benefits from small improvements or changes, while its code is clean and structured enough to allow a developer to jump in and make a meaningful improvement in relatively little time. E.g. I write and publish tiny patches to Apache when I need new functionality.To understand how this works, just pick some developers’ forums on some popular pieces of open source software and start to read.

  3. 3 scaryreasoner 13 July 2008 at 4:54

    The reason is very very simple.

    It is this:

    Programming is fun.

    Notice that open source tends to not work very well in instances where the programming is not fun. There are not really any goo d open source alternatives for TurboTax, for instance. Why? Because doing one’s taxes is most emphatically NOT fun. Nobody in their right mind is going to spend time programming software which requires a deep understanding of the tax code for free, in their spare time, for fun. It’s simply no fun at all. Any company writing tax software is aiming to make money from it, so it’s not open source.

    Open source excels in areas where the problems are interesting, and people are willing to work on it in their spare time *for fun.*

    Open source also excels in areas where things aren’t necessarily so fun, but where the software is a secondary concern, and hardware is a primary concern. There are lots of hardware companies employing people to work on open source software, to make it work better on their hardware, in order to make their hardware easier to sell, and worth more.

    Another example where open source doesn’t work so well: games. That seems contradictory to my first assertion, in that of all the programming projects out there, it would seem game programming ought to be the most fun of all. Open source works _ok_ in the games world, but not great. Most of the “AAA” games are not open source, and of the “AAA” games which are open source, they generally require graphics drivers which are not open source. The reason for that seems to be mostly due to the graphics hardware companies not wanting to reveal their proprietary technology, even the interface to it, for fear that doing so might give the competition some help. That may be changing with Intel and ATI/AMD’s recent moves, we’ll see.


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