Economist: Open source works best when half-closed

[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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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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