Is visibility the key open source value?

Code is King, but if the code can't be seen then the King is dead.

Mitchell Baker of The Mozilla Foundation
In past discussions about open source values I've gone on about many subjects which struck some as political.

But is the key open source value something simpler and more basic?

Like the mere visibility of the code?

Code visibility is the first thing that distinguishes open source from other types of software. As Paul Murphy noted today it's a game changer.

Writing about Sun's problem with fixing a locking problem in mySQL, he writes:

Open source made it possible to identify and remediate a problem that in a proprietary context would probably have been best addressed by buying more hardware and/or more expensive licensing.

The visibility of the code made the problem solvable.

Or consider Big Money Matt's latest, from today. He's talking about code survivability, noting that OpenQRM survived the failure of its sponsor while another (unnamed) product didn't, because it wasn't open sourced:

The code is king in open source, something that no escrow agreement for proprietary software can replicate.

Code is King, but if the code can't be seen then the King is dead.

Finally we have the latest Linux Foundation interview, with Mitchell Baker of Mozilla (above). Jim Zemlin asked her about turning points, and the key, she responded, was the release of code in Mozilla 1.0:

It wasn’t the product that set the world on fire, but it was extremely important to us.

One reason it was important was that it followed a long period of negotiation on the issue of code access, as the code base was transferred from Netscape, a proprietary company under AOL, into the Mozilla Foundation.

The result of those negotiations was Mozilla 1.0, which made the software visible to the whole world. The rest, as they say, is history.

These examples cover different aspects of a project's life -- its birth in the case of Mozilla, its life in the case of mySQL, its possible death in the case of OpenQRM. But there is a common thread in all these stories.

The release of code, its visibility to developers and the public, is the key to making a project viable. Visibility is the lifeblood of open source.

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