Open Source reconsidered

It occurred to me while reading Jonathan's post on the open source movement, that while the Open Source movement may indeed be inhabited by unreconstructed syndicalists (a degenerate form of socialist), the movement itself may yet be a market based phenomenon.

One has a fringe group of dedicated people working at a hobby, providing an 'open source' of information that many people draw upon for ideas and assistance in creating hobby items (Linux, essentially, is a non-serious hobby program punching waaaay above its weight as far as commercial apps go). Eventually from this mish mosh may come a breakthrough, a Eureka! moment that may be completely unrelated to the open source project yet inspired by it, which causes said person to develop proprietary software- potentially employing the former dilettants working on the open-source project to create a new market good or service.

It reminds me of the tinkerers in the 19th century who'd work on silly things like telegraphs and radios, and share info on their silly and uncommercial items, until one day someone (or a couple someones) come up with the breakthrough (a working telephone; a radio transmitter/reciever) and VOILA! A new industry is born. Ditto with rocketry and flight.

So perhaps we should not be so quick as to dismiss the open source movement as syndicalist and marxist after all...

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I started a comment, but it

I started a comment, but it was running rather long for a comment on a blog entry, so I posted it to my web site - http://www.piratelabs.org/index.php?id=16.

The quick summary - Linux and open-source are more than hobbyist toys, and economics explains the whole open source phenomenon quite well.

(Do href's not work here? How do I include a link?)

Dave

An interesting rumination on

An interesting rumination on the economics of Open Source software can be found at:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/StrategyLetterV.html

great article Matt. The

great article Matt.

The point about "Total Cost of Ownership" is so true. When we bill our customers at $150/hour composite rate, but then spend several hours a week rebuilding the Debian kernel for the latest updates, it is cheaper to have Windows.

Two more points:

1) I would like to reiterate that collaborative development is not unique to open-source software and has been commercially practiced for much longer.

2) Linux is not a free-market phenomenon. It is a free-software phenomenon. The market capitalization of Microsoft is almost 300 times that of Red Hat. But it is amazing what Linux has accomplished for "free".

I know I'm biased because I use Windows more often, but there is a reason. Just last week I purchased software from FutureDial.com to connect my SprintPCS phone to my WinXP laptop as a wireless modem. For $30 I am loving life surfing the internet at 144K for free (depends on your plan of course) when traveling around the country. I'm willing to bet that the "free" Linux version won't be out anytime soon.

Also, I just made a DVD (not VCD) of my Mexico vacation with relative ease. You can probably do it in Linux but I'm not that smart!

Spoonie Luv, you can stop

Spoonie Luv, you can stop repeating that "collaborative development is not unique to open-source software" because *nobody* *anywhere* has *ever* claimed that is so.

sorry Virginia, when I read

sorry Virginia, when I read the line in Dave's link - "Eric Raymond in The Cathedral and the Bazaar suggests that the way Linux is developed represents a fundamental shift in how software is developed." I assumed it meant that these techniques were unique to open-source.

Also, the line that characterized "traditional developers" as "having little to no autonomy" confused me as well.

sorry Virginia, when I read

sorry Virginia, when I read the line in Dave's link - "Eric Raymond in The Cathedral and the Bazaar suggests that the way Linux is developed represents a fundamental shift in how software is developed." I assumed it meant that these techniques were unique to open-source.

Bazaar style software development is not exclusive to any project or organization. Bazaar development does break many of the rules of traditional development processes that we learn in college and management occasionally tries to burden us with. But this just brings me right back to my main point: Open-source is very much like the free-market - no matter how much you try to restrain it through central control, the market (or bazaar) will show through.

Also, the line that characterized "traditional developers" as "having little to no autonomy" confused me as well.

Sorry. I must learn to write better. What I mean is that as a "traditional" developer, my boss expects me to work on a specific bit of code such as a protocol stack. If I should have a wonderful idea about the management GUI I can mention it to the GUI group, but I don't get to spend much time on it, after all I may be the only one working that protocol stack. In open-source there may be 5 people submitting code for a given bit, and I could just walk away from protocol stacks and start working on the GUI. As a traditional developer, I am not autonomous, I must perform a prescribed set of activities.

2) Linux is not a free-market phenomenon. It is a free-software phenomenon. The market capitalization of Microsoft is almost 300 times that of Red Hat.

What does the market capitalization of a company have to do with whether it is a free-market phenomenon? Wal-Mart has millions of times the market capitalization of my uncle's general store, is my uncle's general store not a free-market phenomenon? Besides Red Hat is not even a significant minority portion of Linux. Open-source has the elements of free-markets - property rights and voluntary exchange.

Dave, I think it is the word

Dave, I think it is the word "phenonemon" that gets me. Sure both Wal-Mart and your uncle's general store are participants in the free market but only Wal-Mart is a phenonemon because Sam Walton built an empire with his business.

so I guess my definition of phenonemon is something that is exceptional. When used as a "free-market phenonemon" it IMHO should mean something that is highly profitable.

btw, collaborative development is not unique to open-source software!

Ahh, OK. Merriam-Webster

Ahh, OK. Merriam-Webster defines phenonemon as (1) an observable fact or event. Definition (2) is a more technical version of (1). So I am using phenomenon to mean that something has occurred and that we can observe it, measure it, and make hypotheses about its causes and effects.

btw, I work for Cisco - do you think I can collaborate on that protocol stack with my friend from Juniper? :-)

Dave

gotcha, I'm the poor guy

gotcha, I'm the poor guy that uses the Dictionary.com definition at: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=phenomenon Specifically definition 2a.

Anyway, feel free to collaborate with Juniper, just let Martha Stewart know before you do it.

Hi, just wanted to thank you

Hi, just wanted to thank you guys for getting such an informative site. Best regarts. Bert Hammer.