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Open Source -- Can It Innovate?

There's an argument commonly heard these days that open-source software is all very well for infrastructure or commodity software where the requirements are well-established, but that it can't really innovate. I laugh when I hear this, because I remember when the common wisdom was exactly the opposite -- that we hackers were great for exploratory, cutting-edge stuff but couldn't deliver reliable product.

How quickly people forget. We built the World Wide Web, fer cripessakes! The original browser and the original webservers were built by a hacker at CERN, not in some closed-door corporate shop. Before that, years before we got Linux and our own T-shirts, people who would later identify their own behavior correctly as open-source hacking built the Internet.

The practical problem with software patents

Venkatesh Hariharan recently wrote an article titled The practical problem with software patents, a subject near and dear to my heart. He draws on the same research that I have cited in the past, the book "Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk," by Boston University professors, James Bessen & Michael J. Meurer, but I confess that he shows both greater insights and certainly a better sense of humor than I do when I write abou the subject.

Knight Foundation News Challenge Update

Nearly 2,000 applications were filed for the Knight Foundation 2009 News Challenge. As you may recall, the Knight Foundation has committed to fund $25M over five years to projects that:

  1. Use or create digital, open-source technology as the code base
  2. Serve the public interest
  3. Benefit one or more specific geographic communities

That is a lot of money supporting the development of open source software and citizen activism!

In the course of this process I have decided to sign on as an advisor to one such project, should it's $500,000 funding request and $500,000 matching grant be approved.

Barack Obama proves the power of Open Source

It would be a bit of a stretch to claim that Barack Obama won the 2008 election because his website ran open source software while John McCain's ran on proprietary software. But what is not a stretch at all is that Barack Obama's campaign built a powerful synergy between grass-roots politics and grass-roots technology, while presenting what many consider to be the most disciplined campaign of any candidate in modern history.

Don't kill your television--study it!

I just learned about a link that's apparently been live for a while, but it's new to me: http://sony.com/linux. Following that link one level to Television you'll see that SONY has been embedding GPL software into their state-of-the-art televisions since 2003.

Fantastic!

Maybe it is a good time after all to think about getting a new TV...

SciPhone && Open Source

These guys (SciPhone) really REALLY ought to get together with some open source developers. Looks like a great product, but it's almost 100% certain that their software stinks. Is it simply that they don't believe that hackers will come togther to write software for their hardware? Do they not know how to build such a community? Are they bound by contracts not to disclose programming information for the chips they've used? Do they not speak English well enough to make a difference in the Open Source creating part of the world?

Innovation Week in Africa – Young business innovators are making money with Open Source.

All through last week, I spent my time in Ghana at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Center for Excellence in ICT ( AITI-KACE ) in Accra. It has been an incredibly refreshing experience for me, personally, and for the hundreds of students, developers, businesses, bankers and educators that are participating in the forum.

Software Freedom Day is 20 September

Transparency is key in enabling people to participate in the creation of wealth and well-being in society. In the past decade, free and open source software (FOSS) has become one of the major catalysts in increasing transparency by lowering the barrier to access the best software technologies. Software Freedom Day (SFD) celebrates this important role of FOSS in making this change happen globally.

Some news is good news--online coaches will help shape $5 million ideas

The August 7th press release from Miami reads

Fifty coaches are standing by online to help innovative thinkers apply for the Knight News Challenge, a $5 million-a-year contest to move journalism into the 21st Century. The coaches-made up of past jurors and winners-will give News Challenge hopefuls a better chance of winning up to $5 million in prizes annually. They also hope to attract a more diverse range of ideas.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has funded the contest with $25 million over five years. Its goal is to discover new ways of using digital technology to meet the information needs of geographic communities. Last year's contest received 3,000 applications. It named 16 winners.

And the best news for the open source community? The rules stipulate that applications must:

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