Why Open Source is Winning
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
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.