The “real Open Source” blogfest

Touching a nerve is always interesting: useful discussion is bound to happen when a lot of people with different backgrounds talk about controversial matters. I guess it’s time to put a few more irons in the fire responding to the feedback I’ve got so far.

Matt: I guess I deserve to be called an elitist after being labeling most of the OSS business arena as a bunch of baitware-based suckers. I wouldn’t have been stretching the paradigm so far to include racism in the picture (the Aryan bit was unfortunate in my opinion), but that might just be a problem of language/cultural barrier. Oh, and I don’t give a damn about soccer, despite being italian. :)

More to the point, I think that as of today there is no way to describe Open Source apart from using the very minimal common definition: a set of licenses with some common principles in terms of non-discriminatory access to software, designed to ease access to source code. As such, Open Source is legitimately up for grabs by anyone willing to comply with a few legal requirements: it’s a very pragmatic concept, which worked really well to turn the software industry tables and still able to make a lot of a difference thanks to its simplicity.

The devil is in the details, though: the easy to understand concept behind Open Source isn’t able to differentiate enough the value of community developed software versus a different way to perform software distribution. The former aims to provide quality solutions via peer-based production system, achieving notable goals such as avoiding lock-ins while at it, while the latter is able to provide “just” source code at best, and aims to actually lead to lock-ins at worst.

As much as some value source code per se, I’m more and more inclined towards leaving that camp: thanks to the Open Source and Free Software movement, availability of source code isn’t a big deal anymore and tends to be taken for granted even in notable and traditionally proprietary solutions. As Matt himself correctly pointed out in the past, there are quite a few Open Source benemoths out there (OO.o, Firefox) who can’t be touched with a six feet pole by the average developer, so what’s the real deal with Open Source then apart from bare availability? I don’t really think that the net effect of having tons of freely available source code is going to make any difference that matters in the end.

Also, I’m not buying what Matt, Matthew and Ugo are saying about some sort of Darwinian selection being able to discriminate the good from the bad (assuming there is actually “good” and “bad” – I just tend to think we have different objectives): it’s hard enough to move the CIO masses beyond the “Open Source means Linux” meme, go figure explaining why they should care to consider the difference between Open Source built within the virtuous cycle of community based development and Open Source as a pure distribution model of conceptually proprietary and closed to participation code. This is why I really think we need to be more vocal about it, possibly with a new term or brand that clearly specs out what we really perceive as the real value around open development.

Last but not least, I have been invited to check out the Free Software definition and consider it as an alternative. Well, thanks for the heads-up, but I’m still a pragmatic guy: I think that there is still a lot of room between the social implications of the Free Software Foundation guidelines (which I might buy as a natural consequence, not as a given precondition) and the practical effect of healthy communities providing great software because it just makes sense. I remain unsold on forcing freedom down the throat of anyone: technical merits and shared itches are the still best community builders around.

Now, where do I signup for that Open Source panel? :)

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