The Ethos of Open Source

In less than 20 years the peer production and transparency found in Open Source is firmly entrenched in the mainstream and is affecting much more than just software.

Back in August 2010 the consulting firm Accenture released findings of an Open Source Software Report they conducted with 300 public and private firms in the US, UK and Ireland. Their conclusions weren’t necessarily surprising to those who’ve been involved in Open Source over the years:

  • 50% of respondents are fully committed to open source
  • 65% say they have documented strategy for implementing open source while the other third say they’re working on it
  • 78% cite quality of the software as a key driver
  • 71% say reliability is a a key factor
  • 70% say security is a key factor

All this is well and good. It demonstrates that companies and organizations are finally recognizing the advantages of Open Source Software and, more importantly, are growing comfortable enough with it to adopt Open Source solutions for mission critical endeavors.

This ranges from the Obama administration using Drupal for the White House Web site, to Brazil’s adoption of Linux and OpenOffice across governmental agencies.

Better, the Open Source ethos of transparency, peer production and collaboration has made its way outside of the software world and into industries of all sorts. As I outline in the presentation above, organizations such as the Tropical Disease Initiative, Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative and the Institute for OneWorld Health are bringing Open Source techniques to biological and biomedical research.

Architecture for Humanity, an 11-year-old organization focussing the skills of architects and designers on humanitarian issues, has also embraced an open model. Countless other examples of peer production and open sharing now exist.

Oddly — or perhaps not considering America’s schizophrenic relationship with copyright — as Open Source increasingly moves into the mainstream an oppositional movement is forming against it. As the Guardian and others noted in February 2010, “an influential lobby group is asking the US government to basically consider open source as the equivalent of piracy – or even worse.”

It turns out that the International Intellectual Property Alliance, an umbrella group for organisations including the MPAA and RIAA, has requested with the US Trade Representative to consider countries like Indonesia, Brazil and India for its “Special 301 watchlist” because they use open source software.

What’s Special 301? It’s a report that examines the “adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights” around the planet – effectively the list of countries that the US government considers enemies of capitalism.

Yes, Open Source is disruptive to proprietary models and there are those that will dismiss and demean it. And when that doesn’t work, they will fight it. In another context, Chris Anderson famously equated Microsoft’s reaction to the Open Source Linux Operating System with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Even those supporting Open Source find time to fight each other. In August, Oracle sued Google over Google’s use of Java in the Service Development Kit for its Open Source Android Operating System. This one’s a bit of a head scratcher as Java itself is an Open Source programming language licensed under the GNU General Public License.

Here’s a lecture I gave on open source for the course I teach at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. It touches on various facets occurring in the Open Source world. It’s also very much a primer for those who are new to Open Source as a concept.

Thoughts? Ideas? Comments?
Send me a note or reach out on Mastodon.