Software Independence

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-07-02 Print this article Print

Revolutions happen when people make a big deal of little things.

Revolutions happen when people make a big deal of little things. When they do, they are willing to risk much and endure much. It has happened many times in human history, and its commemorated in the holiday, July 4, we celebrate the week this issue of eWeek is published.

It has been well-documented that Great Britains tea and stamp taxes that were so galling to the American colonists represented a tiny portion of their per-capita income—far smaller than todays tax burden. No, the colonists werent overtaxed; it was their having no say in the taxes that they found unacceptable. It was a detail, really, but one ultimately worth fighting and possibly dying for to correct.

We dont want to trivialize our nations history; however, we do see some parallels in todays open-source software movement that harken back to revolutionary events.

Open-source software, although viewed by some as risky and uncertain, does empower users in ways that proprietary software does not. Sure, many needs can be satisfied by good-quality, reasonably priced proprietary software. But the absence of the right to access and change source code and then redistribute those changes is one of those things that some people are willing to fight and make sacrifices for.

The ability to fix bugs or customize source code is tremendously valuable for some businesses. In the case of Google, the vaunted search engine would scarcely be able to exist as a business if it were burdened by conventional software licensing costs and its engineers were unable to take apart and optimize Linux operating system code.

Although Bill Gates and Microsoft are now arrayed against the open-source movement, some recent spin control notwithstanding, it was only a little over a decade ago that a bespectacled nerd from the Northwest promised a very low-cost platform as a de facto standard, welcoming any and all developers to take advantage of the widely published APIs.

IBM offered a better-engineered product in its OS/2 operating system, but Microsofts Windows gave users more flexibility in choosing their own timing for moving forward from DOS to a next-generation platform. Users chose Windows because it gave them more freedom.

Now, its open source that offers the dual promise of lower cost and greater empowerment. Sure, there are many flavors of open-source licenses, and they must be read carefully—but so must conventional licenses. The open-source process may seem chaotic to those who arent used to it, but so did democracy to those used to the rule of monarchs.


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