[Found via Futurismic] The Economist
takes a look at the successes and failures of the open source movement, and comes to this conclusion: “The most important thing
holding back the open-source model, apparently, is itself.” The article levels two basic indictments at open source:
- The most successful open-source projects are those which are
least open, involving a small group of centralized controllers who
tightly monitor which freely contributed elements are added to the
collective content or code. This is true of Firefox, MySQL, Apache and,
of late, Wikipedia.
- Open source doesn’t innovate. Name any open source project, and
you’ll find that it’s a better, cheaper, and/or easier version of a
classic, proprietary product or idea. Firefox is a better Internet
Explorer; Wikipedia is a cheaper encyclopedia. Can you name any open
source idea which was original to open source?
I have two reactions to these indictments: “I agree” and “So what?”
As with any group project, success is a function of quality of
leadership. Mob rule leads to the lowest common denominator, which is
why many high-ideal open source projects fail after the first few
rah-rah meetings. SourceForge
is littered with projects that went nowhere for exactly this reason.
It’s best to enter such projects expecting no help and being pleasantly
surprised rather than expecting and needing help only to see your project fail.
As to the failure to innovate, even if it’s true (I suspect it largely
is), that doesn’t invalidate open source. It just means one must
measure his expectations of the process. If all that open source ever
does is massively improve proprietary ideas–thereby creating
competition that forces proprietary entities to continue to
innovate–it’s still worth it.
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