Is there an open source community?

But if God took Linus, and Bruce, and even Richard tomorrow (God forbid), maybe in some horrible Portland micro-brewery accident, open source would go on. Contrast this with what might happen if a bus were to hit, say, Steve Jobs.

OSDL OfficesOver at O'Reilly John Mark Walker has produced a lovely history of the open source movement, one it's hard to take issue with, and which I encourage anyone not familiar with software history to read right away.

But his headline is deliberately provocative, and slightly misleading. The headline reads, There Is No Open Source Community.

By this he means there is no single group or cabal driving open source. Bruce Perens, Linus Torvalds, and Richard Stallman don't hover over some kettle casting magic spells. The open source movement has no central point of direction at all. It's an economic movement, driven mainly by the Internet, which has pushed the value of programming down toward zero, and which continues to transform the world around us.

In some ways that's not exactly true. Portland, Oregon has become a major open source center, partly by design, thanks to the Open Source Development Labs (that's their headquarters above, courtesy of Google Earth), and some other investments. The process of pushing licensing schemes is becoming more centralized, each major open source project has a group (often a surprisingly small group) driving it forward, and I know from experience here that open source advocates tend to be both vocal and unified.

But if God took Linus, and Bruce, and even Richard tomorrow (God forbid), maybe in some horrible Portland micro-brewery accident, open source would go on. Contrast this with what might happen if a bus were to hit, say, Steve Jobs tomorrow (again, God forbird). In open source there are no great men, only great committees.

I think of open source as technology evolution in action. First we had hardware, and then Moore's Law drove the value of hardware down to practically nothing. Then we had software, and open source is driving the value of that down to practically nothing.

What replaces it?

Services.

What computers do can be valuable, and people will always pay for value. They will pay in many ways, both directly and indirectly, through advertising. No matter what the raw materials used to create services may cost, the services themselves will be of value, and that value will be extractable by smart people and smart companies.

We see this in open source. Services and support and updates and system integration are all valuable. People pay billions of dollars per year for these things, from people and companies working off open source, and it works. They pay because the customers, in turn, are creating more services which the rest of us pay for.

We have barely scratched the surface of this service economy. Open source is the beginning of something, not an end state. And those who understand this, who proceed based on this knowledge, are part of an open source community that will continue to grow, for a long time to come.

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