Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Open Source (1/5)

In Musings on Jan 7, 2010 at 00:01

(This is the first part of a 5-part series on open source – parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Jee Labs is an open source shop – both open source hardware and open source software.

There is money involved in open source. And there is hypocrisy. Let me explain…

The basic idea of open source, is literally to make the source of things freely available – and more or less allow reuse. With software, it usually comes down to making the source code publicly available to anyone. With hardware, the common approach is to make all design files publicly available to anyone.

40bsd.png 88x31.png 40gnugpl.gif

Depending on the model, you’re either allowed to do anything you like with it (all the way to hiding it inside your own for-sale stuff), or you have to at least maintain the proper attribution to the original author(s), or you restrict the use to projects which accept to be bound by the same rules as yours – preventing anyone from running away (and perhaps getting rich) with the original stuff and not letting anyone know they did so.

The “do anything you like with it” approach basically says: you can’t really steal it, because the author treats his/her work more as a form of self-expression than as promotion of something which deserves to be rewarded (whether monetary of in terms of fame). The latter “only on my terms” approach says “hey, as author I’m entitled to benefit at least as much as anyone else if there is any commercial value”.

I am (thank goodness) not a lawyer, so please treat all of the above as no more than my personal attempt to summarize what this is all about.

Newsgroups have overflowed and probably even been shut down because of debates on the differences between all the “licensing” approaches – (flame) wars have been waged about all this, and probably still do. Been there, done that. Yawn.

But in my view, all the open source approaches are minor variations of the same basic concept. The term “open source” itself is actually an amazing success, in that it manages to capture the essence despite all the factions and disagreements. It’s about volunteer effort, the power of gifts, competence, creativity, and the freedom of choice and re-use this approach offers.

Above all, open source is about enabling collaboration. Because, you see, the big differentiator of open source is that all ideas can be out in the open. When there is no need to protect ideas, there is also no need to restrict the flow of information. And, well… we’ve got this thing called the internet which happens to be friggin’ good at shuttling information (and ideas) around the globe.

So far so good. But there are a couple of weird things going on…

To be continued tomorrow… Open Source Software

  1. Well said, so far.

  2. I can’t resist in also talking about free software. And Richard Stallman (rms), the guy that ‘started’ all this. Can you imagine the problems this guy faced back then, in a world where opportunists like Bill Gates made a fortune picking up all the nice stuff that existed, hiding it away and taking selfish profit of it? As in every complex system all these ideas have evolved, mixed up and many times the initial ideas are forgotten. It is always good to go to the origin of things to understand better. I don’t want to start a troll ;-) so I’ll just put a couple of links at the bottom for some info on rms and free software.

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