Why Open Source is Winning
June 1999

Open Source is not just winning because it is "free" in a commercial sense. The real key to the success of Open Source software, such as the Linux operating system, is the fact that nobody can control its fate except the programmers. This is very, very unlike any product in commercial history. Let's examine why this is so.

Look at the example of an actor in a movie. He (or she) can control what happens on the stage, but once the film is cut, it is out of his/her hands. The control of distribution, marketing, and cash flow is now in the hands of managers, money men, spin doctors, and various other "suits" who have nothing to do with producing the real product, the act of acting. If a studio head decides to can the film and fire the whole crew, the actor (with the occasional exception of a "big name" star with a lot of pull) generally cannot do anything about it. Their hard work and precise crafting of an alternative, heroic personality is doomed to the discard bin by an act of managerial dictatorship. The suits rule.

A similar condition rules in the case of most software programmers. Once Windows 3.1 was discontinued by Microsoft, it became harder and harder to find it preloaded on a PC, sold in a store, or supported by hardware makers and software developers. Did the programmers at Microsoft make that decision? No, it was a handful of fat cats in the office of CEO Bill Gates who dictated the future course of all that hard work and the long hours spent by overstressed developers in Redmond, Washington. These poor souls had no say in what happened to their work. It is as if years of labor and intellectual exertion disappeared in a puff of cigar smoke.

But Open Source means the power is now in the hands of the developers -- ANY developers, anywhere in the world, anyone who can get a copy of the code on the Internet and who has the skill to program a good piece of code. Furthermore, the distribution of open-source products is mostly Internet-centric, meaning that there are seldom any "suits" who can dictate the end of a great product, just because of some mythical "obsolete" condition dictated by a sales curve. If there is a customer out there, he or she can get the product and use it, no matter what the big shots say.

This sort of worker-centric freedom is made possible by the openness of the software codes under the Open Source regime, as well as the freedom of the Internet distribution mechanism. It means that code survives based on consumer demand, programmer affinity, and code quality, NOT on the decisions of bureaucrats. This is as close to "power to the people" as it gets in an industry that is increasingly dominated by money, monopoly, and mouthy marketing.

Most recent revision: June 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

E-MAIL: os2headquarters@mindspring.com