Open Source, Beyond Software Development
In a corporate world where companies would like everyone to think that they are driving innovation, there is still a lot of innovation being driven by communities and regular consumers. The community based model of open source allows for direct input of the target users and virtually eliminates problems with meeting consumer demand. In the paper by Sonali K. Shah (an Assistant Professor in the Organization Behavior Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) entitled “Open Beyond Software”, she describes the innovation that has occurred in sporting equipment through the communities of users, “Both users and manufacturers contributed to the development of equipment innovations in the windsurfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding industries.” The cooperation that occurred in these sectors is the same type that occurs in software or hardware design and can be applied to a wide range of other areas. Companies spend millions on market research when by utilizing an open model the hard work is done for them. Sonali K. Shah explained this idea eloquently by concluding, “In short, the principle that Richard Stallman succinctly defined in the GNU General Public License – that people must be free to use, modify, and distribute – applies to creative and innovative activity in many fields, not just software.”
For open source to succeed in any environment one specific obstacle must be addressed. This is the reluctance of some to accept a lack of individually owned intellectual property rights, because with open source there is not one single owner of the design and product being created. For example if we open source a design then anyone can produce the product based on that design (in actuality it depends on the specific license that the authors used for the design, but for discussions sake lets say a pure open source license). If no one owns the rights to the design then there are also implications of a lack of accountability and this idea presents a struggle for many who are used to proprietary products that have warranties and legally accountable entities. The only way that open source can overcome these hurdles is by convincing those people that the advantages of the open design can exceed the risks of a lack of accountability. In reality if there is a problem then it is easier to diagnose with open source and therefore accountability should not be as important when the users have the ability to find, fix, or suggest solutions to problems. The views of users have to change in order for them to accept the open source model.
Leadership and Open Source
With the model of open collaboration, open source may seem to provide little room for a single leader. People may perceive that it is hard to lead a group of people that are used to working on equal grounds with other developers. In actuality this is not the case and if we look at any of the major open source projects it is clear that there is a hierarchy of contributors. What determines this structure comes down to the basic principle of contribution and who is considered valuable to the project. Individuals like Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman are leaders in their own sense due to their expertise and large amount of contributions. A good example of their leadership occurred recently when Linus himself created a patch for a proof of concept virus for the Linux operating system (and if you weren’t sure Linus created the Linux OS, hence the name).
The method for assigning leadership is not something that is explicitly defined in most cases, but in the situations where someone has started a project they generally have a larger role in the development and decision process for the project. But one of the best aspects of open source is the ability of anyone who is motivated to take a leadership role in the project. If I was extremely interested in a project and was able to contribute, I would gain respect and possibly more clout when it came to project decisions. It is informal, but the model allows for dedicated and capable individuals to take leading roles in open source projects.
They can save money and increase efficiency, but in this case I am not talking about the increasingly popular hybrid automobiles. I am talking about a hybrid model of open source and other services. There is a growing group of companies that offer open source solutions bundled to meet certain industries needs and expectations. In this case I am referring to products that are more likely found in the tech and software field, but there are open source designs of miscellaneous products that could offer the same benefits. Hybrid models allow companies to support and distribute open source products and offer additional services, some examples that spring to mind are the Novell Linux distribution SUSE and the other is the customer relation management software SugarCRM. Both of the companies offer support for products that offer the benefits of open source such as customizability, cheaper and quicker development, as well as increased security. They sell products developed with the open source model but add additional value through packaging, distribution, and technical support. There is a large opportunity to push open source into the mainstream with the help of these types of companies and with other supporters of open source such as Sun Microsystems. For more info on this topic check out this link.
Open Source and Privacy
With the buzz in the news lately about privacy invasion, eavesdropping, and suspicious software (ex. Sony root kit), it is easy to see that there is a lot of concern over these issues. This presents another opportunity to discuss the advantages of open source. As we know with the open source model the making of the system are open to everyone including the users, which makes it very hard to hide things within the system without anyone knowing. For example if I am going to download an open source music player I can be pretty sure that there is not going to be any spyware in it. For a non-tech example we can see that in an open source style organization, in this case I will discuss a non-profit organization, there is no way the organization could use resources for suspicious or criminal activities. With all of the makings of the organization including the financial documents and lists of available resources, it would be difficult to become involved in unrelated activities. For software can be a little easier to comprehend, and I think that as government and individuals become aware of the risks of using non-open source software there will be more widespread acceptance. The model provides comfort to the users and allows free modification so even if there was something suspicious in a program it could be removed. The advantages of open source and the philosophy will allow a more secure world for computing as well as provide a model for transparent organizations.
The Reds are Comin!!!
I apologize for the extended break. It has been a busy couple weeks, but there has also been a lot of buzz around open source since I last wrote. Some of which includes articles on the explosion of linux in China and a bunch of news stories about open source standards. There has even been changes going on at Microsoft shown by their creation of open source labs within the company that are used to aid in operability with open source software. I do not know exactly what they do there, but it is nice to see them move in this direction. The bad reputation that open source has had in the past seems to have stemmed from corporate resistance, but with large companies such as Redhat and SugarCRM leveraging open source, the reputation is cleaning up. Some of the principles of community and sharing were often linked to communist philosophies, which I find very humorous and a feeble attempt to associate negative ideas to open source. However today things are looking up for open source and I happened to find a video that makes fun of this idea that open source is evil and a “tool of the communists”. Check it out…
Government Goes Open Source
The US government has finally adopted the open source model!! Well, not really but it is using the model to get some work done. The federal government has released captured documents from Iraq and is requesting the publics help in translating them. Volunteers have been tearing through the documents, translating and making comments, and by opening the work to the public the government has been able to save money and use recourses for higher priority needs. This is a very good example of the efficiency of the open source model, and illustrates that by allowing everyone to have access to the materials and by encouraging collaboration, a project can be finished quickly and cheaply. There are also positives associated with accuracy, as everyone can see the documents therefore any mistakes can be easily found from the many eyes reviewing the materials. Here is a link to the story.