Open source is necessary to avoid monopoly. It's shared infrastructure that gives businesses a level playing field from which to compete on a higher plane. It's an American idea first put forward almost 200 years ago by Henry Clay.
While in Europe over the last few weeks I thought a lot about Henry Clay (right, from Wikipedia).
I thought about him because open source is basically shared infrastructure. Clay's "American Plan," a system of tariffs and central banking aimed at building "internal improvements" like canals and railroads, represented shared infrastructure in the 19th century.
Open source isn't socialist, and it isn't communist. The idea of shared infrastructure is 100% American, it is nearly as old as the Republic, and its founding father is Henry Clay.
I should note there are American conservatives who hate Henry Clay specifically because of this program. The Mises Institute calls him a "national socialist," and says conservatives are wrong to embrace him.
But I'm quite happy to. The question of whether infrastructure should be shared is an important one, a very old one, and a very American one. It comes down in the end to whether there is enough capital around to enable a fully competitive solution.
We faced this question many times. In Clay's day it involved canals. Later it involved railroads, then electricity and phone utilities. Most recently it involved cable TV and satellite launches.
The answer Americans came to was always the same. Build it, then regulate the market so customers weren't robbed. Regulation could come from the state or the central government.
What distinguishes open source is simply that this shared infrastructure is regulated by contracts, and by transparency. Publishing the code is your assurance its supplier can't pull a fast one.
Why is shared infrastructure necessary in software? Because complexity eventually requires it.
An operating system like Linux is too large for multiple vendors to maintain separately, competitively. One may have that power (Microsoft, Oracle) but its size, scale, and expense eventually leads to monopoly, unless there is cooperation in the base.
With cooperation in the base, competition is possible higher in the stack. Dozens of companies base their products on code developed under Linux, through Apache, or through the Eclipse Foundation. The result is competition that could not exist otherwise.
It's a Moore's Second Law phenomenon. The first chips were cheap to make. But as they grew more complex, capital requirements squeezed out competitors. Even AMD now has an outside foundry do its manufacturing.
The same thing is happening in software. Open source is necessary to avoid monopoly. It's shared infrastructure that gives businesses a level playing field from which to compete on a higher plane.
It's an American idea first put forward almost 200 years ago by Henry Clay.