Open source – open society

On of the main parts of the open society is freedom of information. And why it’s such a good thing is shown by the open source movement.

Open source is when the code behind software is available to everyone. It’s total information sharing. There are many variatie of open source licensing, in some cases you can do whatever you want with the source, in some cases you can do whatever you want on the condition that whatever you make with it also is open source, in some cases you are not allowed to charge for what you do with it, and tons of variants on this. There has been a lot of discussion on these variations and which is “best”, but it turns out that it’s the openness that is important.

Open source means we can work together. You don’t need one company with a lot of money that hires lots of programmers to make a software. Instead you get many programmers from all over the world that works together on software. Internet of today runs for the most part on that type of software. The typical web server today runs Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, all of which are open source softwares. The software itself is developed on machines running a variation on Linux, with open source editors like Emacs, and versioning controls like Subversion. All open source. The only software I have on any of my computers that is not open source is games or software related for making music. And I do have several open source games, and the open source music-making software is also getting better fast.

Open source is based on you creating or improving software you need, and giving it to everybody else that needs it. If “you” are a developer, you do it yourself and pay with time and effort. If “you” are a company, you sponsor somebody to do the development. But since it’s open source, the company or developer does not have to do all of the work himself or itself, something that would take a long time or a lot of money. Instead, they do the part they need best. And by giving it away to everybody else who also needs it, the others can spend their time and money on what they need secondarily. There is much less re-inventing of the wheels, because the first guy who invented it gives the invention to everybody.

Open source means that we now in the software community can share ideas and information, and build on it. Since an open source developer of today starts with a lot of open source tools, you are already standing on the shoulder of many other developers. And when you make an open source software, others that need or like your idea, will help you improve it. Hence, they start out being lifted by your effort. But by improving your work, they lift you up.

We who today are building the web are not standing on the shoulders of gigants. It looks like we are, but we are not. We are instead standing on each others shoulders, constantly lifting each other up higher and higher. The foundation we stand on is one big gigant we have made of each others code. I would not have been able to sit here and use all the fantastic software I’m using today if it wasn’t for open source. With closed source, I would have had to pay for every bit of it (and I did, fifteen years ago) and hence I would not have been able to use one tenth of these tools. Information sharing, open source and collaboration has made todays world wide web possible.

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