Sam Folk-Williams recently blogged a response to an earlier blog posting I had written about Open Source and Sustainability. Over the past few months I've been having more and more discussions about this topic with IT executives, and I have been meaning to write and update on the latest. Sam's posting provides the perfect prompt and background.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Maybe it is a good time after all to think about getting a new TV...
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?