What if other things were open source?

Think of something other than software that would benefit from open source ideas, and that could be organized to meet that challenge. Get back to me.

Thomas the Tank EngineA fellow named Hank Green, writing in Boulder, Colorado, gives me a great topic for Thanksgiving discussions.

What if other products, other than software, were open source?

Green uses the example of model trains to explain how open source works. Model railroading is entirely closed source. There are over 176,000 enthusiasts out there, but most have systems that can't work with anyone else's. He concludes:

Through the power of the Internet, Open Source professionals and hobbyists took what used to be a thousand model trains scattered across the world and made them transcontinental.

Very interesting. If model train systems interoperated, however, prices would come down, and there's no assurance the number of enthusiasts would grow to keep profits humming along. Some of those proprietary operators would go out of business, too. Thus, while it may be in the interests of enthusiasts to have a single standard, it's not in the interets of the industry, so it doesn't happen.

It wasn't in the interests of the software industry to see source made freely available, either. So how did it happen?

The medium you're using now. People were able to organize themselves into projects online, across countries and across seas, then get something done everyone benefitted from.

Could that happen with model trains? Maybe. But it would require that, first, a few brave vendors support and endorse the concept, and for enthusiasts with incompatible set-ups to take another route to train-running pleasure.

So here's our Thanksgiving exercise. Think of something other than software that would benefit from open source ideas, and that could be organized to meet that challenge. Get back to me. Happy Turkey Day. (Falcons favored by three over Detroit. Give the points.)

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