Open Source

Open source needed to save democracy

Open source software developers face greater risks today than they ever have, to the point where the constraints inherent in proprietary software now represent a risk to democracy.

"News and political discourse are mediated by software, and they're going to be more mediated in Apple TV than they are today in your computer. And we trust an astonishingly few companies to be the intermediaries between information and the user," said Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition, at the Linux.conf.au 2012 conference in Ballarat yesterday.

"People love their iPhones, because their iPhones enable them in so many ways, [but] they don't always understand that their iPhones also constrain them," he said.

"People are increasingly slaves of their tools ...Part of their function is to not do what they want when their action might reduce the profit of Apple or a media company, or upset a cellular carrier, a government or even when some action is the wrong choice for the computer-naive user — for example, running [Adobe] Flash on an iPhone."

(Credit: Stilgherrian/ZDNet )

"Open source is the only credible producer of software and now hardware that isn't bound to a single company's economic interest," Perens said.

Despite open software's popularity in some sectors of the community, and the success of some projects, the movement as a whole has failed to defend its own future against the threat of laws designed to regulate the flow of information, such as the US Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and, before it, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

In part, that's because many open-source developers have an attitude problem, says Perens. "Let's face it; most of us don't even like users. We call them 'lusers'. We make the software for ourselves and the other developers. Why should we like them?"

Nothing is more annoying, said Perens, than the complaining user who says that the software stinks, when he's never contributed anything himself.

"We haven't yet developed any sympathy for users that is manifested by companies like Apple ...A good many of us, unfortunately, match the stereotype of socially impaired programmers."

Perens cited the Mozilla Foundation, creators of the Firefox web browser, and Wikipedia as examples of open-source projects that showed the "tremendous self-discipline" needed to appeal to ordinary users.

"Wikipedia [is] intrinsically more accessible to the common person than most of the things that we do ...When our work gratified only ourselves and our community, it's self-limiting,"

Perens said that the open-source movement's goal should be to establish a continuing legal freedom to create, modify and distribute open-source hardware and software.

"It's a simple goal. Open source should be legal. We're at risk from laws that weren't directed at us when we weren't economically significant, for example, software patenting; we've been really lucky with that, because at least in the [United] States it could have shut us down, and it hasn't been used that way," he said.

"We need to be able to make changes if we're going to be able to help ourselves ...We have no reason to trust companies or governments to do this job for us."

For more from Linux.conf.au, listen to our complete round-up of day one.

7 comments
dogknees
dogknees

"It???s a simple goal. Open source should be legal" In what country exactly is it illegal to create or use open source software? Where are the statutes that declare it to be illegal to use it in some given situation? Note that a contractual agreement between a vendor and a customer to not disclose code is irrelevant as that code is not open source to start with.

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

Bruce Perens said: ???People love their iPhones, because their iPhones enable them in so many ways, [but] they don???t always understand that their iPhones also constrain them,??? and ???Open source is the only credible producer of software and now hardware that isn???t bound to a single company???s economic interest.??? I am not sure what the intent of this article is, to quote Bruce Perens or to discredit his opinion. Bruce???s quote: ???Let???s face it; most of us don???t even like users. We call them ???lusers???. We make the software for ourselves and the other developers. Why should we like them???? leaves a lot to be desired and discredits open source programmers as a whole and shows a lack of professionalism. Whether or not you are paid for your software, by making it useful for the intended audience will go a long way towards enhancing your reputation. Yes, most people love their IPhones and Windows and Apple notebooks. That is because most of the people are not software engineers or IT people. Most do not understand how to program a computer and how to use or fix open source software. To most people out there, Linux and Unix are beyond comprehension. A simple GUI that Windows or Apple provides is enough for them and is much easier to interact with. Both in the business sector and the home sector. Most businessmen/women, homebodies, and students are not computer professionals nor have studied computers. They are just simple ???users???. I am not an auto mechanic, but I still drive a car. I am not an appliance repair man, but I own a refrigerator. In both cases, there is the equivalent of open source parts and labor, but, usually of lower quality than well known brands. The same can be said of open source software. Open source software does not have anyone to turn to in the case of something going wrong. You may need to call in your computer smart friend or the geek squad. Finally, to Bruce, Users are not Lusers. For without them, why post your works to open source. It is for their benefit, but only if it is usable and understandable by them. Yes, Sun did have a really good Office suite that was open source, usable, and free. But, much of the other open source software, does not work with the rest of the population.

meetyoulater
meetyoulater

I agree with the article. Besides, how easy is it for a most basic programmer to make a vote counting system. Easiest program in the world. and tracking the votes? would take an extra 5 minutes. Apple TV says it all. A lot of good programs came from a culmination of single programmers who decided to share their tiny versions and gave us the opportunity to try out their takes on how a certain idea for programs should work. User friendly is the key and it's coming.

Marc Garza
Marc Garza

I do agree that open source does carry a bad reputation. Many times you may have a program or an app that works perfectly...until the individual or group developing it finds the latest and greatest and stops supporting the older programs. The issue here is customer support. Open source has a bad idea that the average user wants to troll forums to find solutions to their issue. Whether it's how to install that program or how to configure it. Users simply dont want to go through the trouble. Add to that, some of the forums and I have to say, calling people noobs or "lusers" isn't a very inviting enviroment. I have seen forums where users ask questions and get a new one chewed for not searching the forums first. While I sympathize with the developers....thats just a bad business model. I dont think Open Source will be what most want it to be until the developers behind it change their minds on business. Create a friendlier customer experience, stop treating open source like a home chemistry experiment, and I think it can overtake the likes of MS and Apple. I dont however see it saving Democracy..lol

FuzzyIce
FuzzyIce

Those who had got things for free, should troll forums to find solution for their issues or go back to the paid model, like Microsoft's business. Even if they don't like to go through the trouble of finding their answers by themselves, that's the way to go, because the developers who had contributed with their time for developing the work are not expected to give 'free' customer support as well. Of course, being rude and calling people noobs or "lusers" is wrong anywhere. The business model of offering support has to be paid, like the one Red Hat does with the subscription. Maybe that is the missing point... somebody should get between the developers and the end-users and offer some sort of support, for a fee.

tom.marsh
tom.marsh

Open-source and "free as in cost" aren't the same thing. If you want support you often have to find somebody who has commercialized an open-source application on his own rather than just downloading the free public binary and hoping for the best. For some users this will be sufficient, but that's not really the point of open-source tools to run elections. The point is credibility, which the current eVoting platforms all lack because they run on proprietary software and hardware. If we want to audit the capabilities and accuracy of these devices? Too bad: That violates the contract signed when the states and counties buy the devices because those devices are totally proprietary and you have zero legal right to know how it works.

Marc Garza
Marc Garza

Im not sure I follow your argument...Im not sure what you are referring to but it seems you are comparing apples and oranges. The average user wouldn't be downloading the source code hoping to make it work. Just as the average user doesn't care how Apple, or any other phone platform for that matter, creates their code. I was simply stating that in order for open source to become a major factor...their needs to be more offerings than a bunch of developers pet projects. Not saying that there are no great open source spps out their. I love GIMP, OPEN OFFICE, FIREFOX....