Never say never in predicting the open source future

Never say never in predicting the open source future

Summary: Expansive predictions just don't work in this space. So it's important that we get our heads around what open source is and isn't.

TOPICS: Open Source

One rule I've learned in writing about the future is to never say the word never.

Never as in, "You'll never have a Mac running on Intel chips." Never as in, "You can never be replaced."

This is especially true when covering open source. Never say never.

Expansive predictions just don't work in this space. So it's important that we get our heads around what open source is and isn't.

Open source is a business process. It's not Linux. It's not a specific license, like the GPL. It's not about any special piece of IT infrastructure. It's a business process, as distinct from a business model.

Open source lets a lot of people share development costs. As such it is a lower-cost way of doing business. Extracting that cost is always a challenge because you lose old business models in the process.

And I think business models remain the chief open source challenge. (I think Paul Murphy would agree but I will never say that for certain.) How do you pay for new development, for marketing, and for corporate infrastructure in an open source world? How do you make a profit?

There are many people meeting these challenges, and many who are failing at it. Never predict which will be which. Let the market do that. Or as Milo Mindebinder said in Catch-22, think of it as evolution in action.

Topic: Open Source

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  • "...a lot of people share development costs".

    A lot of companies share development costs. Provides cheap software without legal responsibility.

    That's one type of open source. There are others:

    - producing a product that can be sold for a profit.

    - hobbyists producing software for the challenge and the demonstration of ability.

    - people philosophically opposed to proprietary products in general and Microsoft in particular who produce software to displace the software they detest.

    - people who create software to solve certain problems and spread the results around to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
    (Seems like the wheel has only one solution, but this spread of a solution may forestall the development of better solutions. Not a key point.)

    There are other variants of open source, but this will do for a start.

    What all of them have in common is a reduction in the number of people who can earn a living from software, whether because collaboration reduces the number of people needed, or because free or quasi-free replaces paid.
    That's the single commonality in open source. No matter what the form open source takes or the philosophical views of the participants, Mr. Stallman can be proud.
    Anton Philidor
    • And..

      Automation reduced the number of people that can earn a living in a factory. Advances in farm equipment reduced the number of people that can earn a living on a farm. There are many more examples. Do you decry these "losses" as much as you do with software?
      Patrick Jones
      • Isn't

        it ironic that when history repeats itself people always forget this has happened before and that as always we have adapted and moved forward. Funny, kinda seems that Stallman and company may be onto something after all.

        Naaaaw couldn't be.

        Kudos to you for pointing this out... yet again.
        Linux User 147560
      • A rare event when people decide...

        ... they are behaving righteously by taking jobs away from others. The reduction in employment at bars by Prohibition is the latest similar incident I can identify. In both Prohibition and open source, people who knew what's best took away something vital from other people because of an abstract principle.

        Something that improves efficiency is entirely different. Yes, automation is damaging, but it does have the advantage of creating a new product which supplies employment.
        (I do feel for the people whose lives have been disrupted, whether by automation or when jobs move to cheaper parts of this country or to other countries. Analytically justified, emotionally problematic.)

        Open source in some of its variants is more like vandalism than anything productive.

        That said, I'll identify an example of how open source would be beneficial. Say that someone invents a new software function. And that person cannot distribute the software because of lacking the marketing resources.

        Open source has created resources such a person could use to get around the huge companies that have arisen at this stage of the growth of IT. Might even be able to help with IP problems.

        If the inventor is able to keep control of the software by a patent so that the software can be modified but only by people who have paid substantially for the invention, thatwould be an effective use of an alternative distribution system.

        But even then, I'd first check to make certain the inventor gains huge financial rewards for licensing others to use his work.
        Anton Philidor
        • You can argue and point to "valid" examples all

          day, but in the end you will end up like all others before you... extinct or you will adapt.

          The same was said about cars... by horse and buggy users...
          The same was said about the cotton gin... by processors (I can't remember the exact term)...
          The same was said about guns... by archers...
          The same was said about tanks... by mounted calvary...
          The same was said about e-mail... by the Postal Service...
          The same was said about robots... by the Auto Unions...
          The same was said about the assembly line... by the Auto Unions...
          The same was said about telephones... by the telegraph operators...
          The same was said about VCR's... by Hollywood...
          The same was said about cassette tapes... by the music industry...
          The same was said about CD/RW's... by the music industry...

          In the end, society adapted and the people have benefited as a whole. The mass hysterias never occurred and the massive financial losses predicted for the masses never happened, and as for jobs, sure there were periods of downturn, soon followed by an upturn as people adapted and found ways to capitalize on the new technologies and methods. In the end only a few that had control over the older ways were the ones to ?suffer?. And they have none to blame but themselves for not being adaptable to change. In nature it's called the order of natural selection. Seems Darwin was onto something here...

          You cry a river of despair and yet there is nothing to cry abouts. The concept of open source if far older than you and I combined. It has been around for centuries, but instead of applying to software it applied to crops or architecture or music and even medicine. You argue from a losing vantage point, Anton. A vantage point that has been historically weak and a losing vantage. As for Open Source, it has been around and thriving for centuries. And until such time as we destroy our race, it shall continue to thrive. In the beginning of the computer age, open source was alive and well, and yet large sums of money have been made. Again you argue from a losing vantage point.

          It is the way of the world Anton... you can fight all you want, but eventually the outcome is inevitable... you will either "parish" or you will adapt.
          Linux User 147560
          • Workers for car makers did not volunteer.

            But you did get one right:
            Many workers on the cotton gin were unpaid, just like open source volunteers. They were slaves.
            But the slaves did get subsistence in return for their labor, so I guess they might be better off in some cases.

            Odd view that auto unions disliked the assembly lines. That's where their members worked. The unions wanted their members to be paid more.

            Still, if people showed up and offered to do the work of union members for nothing, the unions probably would have objected.
            But that, of course, never happened.

            No, the example you need to counter my point is one in which people insist on not being paid for their main skills.

            The replacement of workers by more efficient means is a necessity that creates unhappiness. The replacement of workers by volunteers just seems unfortunate for everyone except management.
            Anton Philidor
          • No but many

            things have been volunteered and offered for free to each one of the industries I have mentioned. Besides you state that all Open Source coders work for free, that is simply not true. Many, not a good majority get paid for their labors.

            Another thing, they are a voluntary force, much like our military. Sure our military get's paid, but here is an interesting fact that I am sure you and many others overlook...

            Those that volunteer for the armed forces, to willingly go into harms way with the very real possiblity of not coming home or comuing home disabled, do so with pay, this is true, but they essentially pay themselves. Since the military is paid with Federal Tax money and they all pay Federal Tax they are just like Open Source, they also reap the benefits of their sacrifice and labors.

            Try again Anton.
            Linux User 147560
          • Did not.

            I haven't said all open source coders work for free. I usually try to make my mistakes more interesting.

            As only one example some open source programmers are getting paid a salary by their employing company to make contributions to open source projects.
            I don't think much of the companies using this strategy, but that's a different issue.

            If I understand you correctly:
            volunteers in the armed services pay Federal taxes,
            volunteers in the armed services are salaried from Federal taxes,
            therefore volunteers in the armed services are paid their own money, "they essentially pay themselves."

            The argument needs reconsideration. For instance, the volunteers in the armed services would have to be taxed over 100% of the amount they receive to pay fully for their salaries and benefits.

            I think people in the armed services should be paid more, among other incentives. And I expect that others, including me, would have to contribute to those raises. I wouldn't mind.
            Anton Philidor
        • However...

          with automation, the sum of jobs is still a negative number. Even if you consider the jobs automation creates, that will never come close to the number of jobs it destroys. Your "abstract principle" card is just a red-herring. One could claim that automation is the CEO's abstract principle of wanting more money when they don't really need it. They just wrap it up in a neat little package of "giving sharholders more value" or "cutting costs." Anyway you slice it, these are all the same. Open source just happens to hit your profession instead of someone else's.

          "Something that improves efficiency is entirely different."
          To some open source improvies efficiency. It allows them to not re-invent the wheel and to use the knowledge of a whole slew of people.

          As a related question, do you have hard data on how many jobs have been lost to open source? Or do you know of a place to look?
          Patrick Jones
          • For some reason...

            ... people who fund studies rarely investigate failures. They're usually looking for justifications or baseline information.
            I've complained in the past about the absence of data about open source, and I expect to continue complaining. This is an activity that can be expected to last.

            Automation builds productivity, and productivity allows more products and cheaper prices. So long as workers share in the profits, this is an advantage.

            It's said that a main cause the Roman Empire fell was because, despite all their inventions and engineering skills, they still believed people were necessary to do the work. And if wages were too high, there were always slaves.

            So, automation is fine so long as workers share in the profits and are able to spend the money in other sections of the economy. Luckily, the workers weren't willing to volunteer their time and effort, or we'd be worse off than the Romans.
            Anton Philidor
          • The Roman Empire

            fell because of the following factors:
            1. Government Greed
            2. Government Corruption
            3. Religious Meddling in the Government
            4. They were stretched to thin across the globe for effective communications to properly govern.
            5. They were a war based economy, with noone left to conquer really (then again with all the internal issues See items 1-4) they couldn't effectivly continue on their conquest of the world.
            Linux User 147560
          • History

            Conquest of the world?

            For the last 200+ years of its history the Roman Empire was pleased with survival. They withdrew from sections of the world they'd conquered years before to simplify defense.

            The Vandals, the Goths, the Visgoths; Alaric, Attila the Hun. A lot of people were doing their best to conquer the Roman Empire, and many succeeded.

            Greed, corruption, and religious disputes didn't help, but they were what a Roman Emperor worried about on his day off.
            Anton Philidor
          • So the workers that lose their jobs to automation..

            what profits are they sharing in? What other sectors of the economy are they spending their money?
            Patrick Jones
          • ... have to find new jobs.

            The good news was, many could. And thanks to Henry Ford's innovation of paying people enough to afford cars and other things, there was a time when they probably would be paid well.

            But when an economy contracts, there's deflation. That's too few people chasing too many good and services. That's not good.

            If you're arguing that people displaced by open sourcve can find jobs outside IT, that's fine, so long as they get paid enough. But many don't find jobs, and many among those who do make significantly less money. That, too, is not good.
            Anton Philidor
          • You seem to want it both ways..

            it is ok for automation to displace people because it makes things cost less for you but it is not ok for open source which costs less. It is ok if the workers can find other jobs for less but not ok if software programmers cannot find work making the same amount they were. What about all the people who lose their jobs in any industry and have to take a pay cut. There are many more of those than software programmers.
            Patrick Jones
          • Not about degrees of anguish.

            Reducing it most simply:

            If someone loses his job because he is displaced by a more productive approach, that happens. Much as I sympathize with the individual, I can see the economic necessity.

            If someone loses his job because he is displaced by the work of someone who is willing to provide the same functionality at no remuneration, then the one who wrote the free software is tossing out the paid programmer for the fun of it. Sorry, to satisfy a philosophical principle.

            The problem isn't the software, it's the free when that's not necessary.
            Anton Philidor
          • Sorry, but I don't see the difference

            open source is/can be a more productive approach.
            Why is a machine working "for free" ok and a person not. Is it just free you have a problem with? What if they charged half of what you charge? How about a quarter? They would still cost a programmer (or maybe more) their job.

            Who says these people are doing it "for the fun of it" to toss someone out of their job. These products are something these people want/need. Since many others need the same product, they all collaborate to create said product. Thus it is a more efficient approach.

            And why do you get to determine when free isn't necessary. Why should I pay for something that I can do myself? Are you saying that people shouldn't fix their own homes, cars, etc. because it puts a person out of work? Why should I pay someone to cut my grass when I can do it for free? The same goes for any profession. The only exception are the ones the government requires professionals for like architecture and engineering. Although you could theoretically do it yourself for your own property.
            Patrick Jones
          • The do-it-yourself analogy.

            The existence of a business relies on having customers. Not every potential customer has to use the company's products, but a certain number of people in the target market have to make purchases within a given period of time.

            Let's take mowing lawns as a product, to use your example. Some people mow their own lawns. Enough people choose not to mow their own lawns that a lawn mowing company is able to be profitable and thus continue in business.

            Suppose that you decide to go from door to door, offering to cut anyone's lawn for free. The people who have been paying someone else for the service are very likely to use yours.

            If you continue doing that long enough, the lawn mowing company will go out of business.

            Is there any improvement in the world? No, lawns are still being cut, and probably no better than they were before. Possibly even a bit worse.

            Has anyone been harmed? Yes, the people who owned or were employed by the lawn mowing company.

            Why should you have done that damage?

            Because you like mowing lawns?
            Because you feel that no one should be paid for lawn mowing?
            Because you have the feeling that putting people out of work just because you can is fun?

            Can you see any other possibilities?
            That's all I can see for some variants of open source.

            Are you saying that people shouldn't fix their own homes, cars, etc. because it puts a person out of work? Why should I pay someone to cut my grass when I can do it for free? The same goes for any profession. The only exception are the ones the government requires professionals for like architecture and engineering. Although you could theoretically do it yourself for your own property.
            Anton Philidor
          • I really hate these talkback limitations..

            They make it so you can't have any real type of discussion.

            "Has anyone been harmed? Yes, the people who owned or were employed by the lawn mowing company."

            How have they been harmed? Did I physically hurt them. Did I take away their ability to get a job? No. All that happened was that they could not continue with the same job. If you can show me where they have a right to that particular job, then I will agree with you. However, I do have the right to cut lawns for free if I so feel.

            As for motives, I will agree that the people doing this just for the fun of trying to put people out of work is low. To be honest, the ONLY person in the open source camp that is doing this, IMHO, is Stallman. I don't think any other open source person is doing this to make people lose their jobs.
            Patrick Jones
        • Hmmm ...

          [i]Something that improves efficiency is entirely different.[/i]

          So somehow automation (which allows a few people to do the work that previously took many) is good, but open-source development (which allows a few people to do the work that previously took many) is bad.

          It's all clear now.
          Yagotta B. Kidding