Open Source's debt to corporations

Summary:Jesus Villasante, the head of software technologies at the EC's Information Society and Media Directorate General (try saying that after a few beers), accused American IT companies of using open source programmers to their own nefarious ends. Companies are using the potential of communities as subcontractors--the open-source community today (is a) subcontractor of American multinationals I think Mr.

Jesus Villasante, the head of software technologies at the EC's Information Society and Media Directorate General (try saying that after a few beers), accused American IT companies of using open source programmers to their own nefarious ends.

Companies are using the potential of communities as subcontractors--the open-source community today (is a) subcontractor of American multinationals

I think Mr. Villasante misses the important role companies play in today's open source movement. The strength of open source lies in its ability to draw developers from around the world to improve a shared product. Unfortunately, that's also its fundamental limitation. Since contributors are motivated to contribute in order to "scratch itches," (to borrow the analogy most commonly used to describe what motivates open source programmers), the resulting product tends to reflect the interests of programmers.

As I explained in a 4-part series discussing points made by Eric Raymond in "The Magic Cauldron", that's less of a problem when those interests align closely with the needs of end users, as in tech-oriented server software. As developers / technicians are the primary users, then developers / technicians building stuff they would use themselves yields good results. Where those interests don't align so well, as in products which cater to non-technical users, the model shows its limits.

Similarly, when technology is new and no one has figured out how to apply it to real world needs, lots of experimentation is required to determine the true nature of those needs and provide technology which satisfies them. Again, companies with close contacts to real world customers are often best positioned to find those linkages, while the itchy volunteers of open source are less suited.

In other words, open source should thank its lucky stars that profit-oriented corporations are throwing their weight behind the movement, as they bring the real world customers and customer orientation needed if open source is going to meet real-world needs in the fast-changing technology industry.

I do find it curious, however, that Mr. Villasante made a particular point of picking on American IT companies.  Actually, I don't find it curious so much as depressingly predictable given current trends in international relations, both trade-related and otherwise.  Unfortunately, such silliness isn't confined to the European continent, as a Republican representative of the U.S. Congress thinks it's a good idea to require products purchased by the Department of Homeland Security to be at least 50% produced in the United States.

Who needs economics when we have blind instinct?

[Editor’s note: John Carroll, a longtime ZDNet reader-contributor, now works for Microsoft. Details here.]

Topics: Open Source

About

John Carroll has programmed in a wide variety of computing domains, including servers, client PCs, mobile phones and even mainframes. His current specialties are C#, .NET, Java, WIN32/COM and C++, and he has applied those skills in everything from distributed web-based systems to embedded devices. In his spare time, he enjoys the world... Full Bio

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