Open Source

Like many, I find the ideal social situation to be similar to that proposed in the New Testament for the early Church, with all goods held in common. But, as social scientists are confirming, there is a human nature, and that nature does not organize itself optimally in a communist mode. Or else we could just come to the same conclusion by looking at the history of the twentieth century ;-))

Intellectual property is somewhat different that real estate or material goods. The history of the human race is based on progress built on shared ideas and incremental advances in technology for the common good. Still, I suppose I can imagine some possible benefits from some limited intellectual property rights, to protect legitimate investment and hard work in business advancement.

Now when it comes to software, we are one more step further removed from real property. Software is essential to the very workings of our modern society. It is crucial for the common good. I instinctively favor free, open source, no-strings-attached software. Certainly, the same intellectual property rules and laws can not apply to software that apply to other categories of intellectual property. Some of the software licenses that we are told to read and sign are insulting to our very dignity as a species.

Nonetheless, I can even conceive of some rationale for some software licensing rules for some instances. If a person or group of people want to invest large amounts of time and effort building programs and other collections of code to better accomplish certain business objectives, then maybe they should have the right to restrict re-sale of that code. Still, it would be better if they could just compile the code and sell the binaries, and keep the source for themselves alone. But code can be reverse engineered. But that raises the whole question of whether it is good for any concepts, ideas or methodologies to be "owned" by anyone, even for a short period of time. Perhaps. But it must be done carefully, and under limited circumstances, if at all.

Now, public domain software is very appealing to me. If a person wants to donate their code to the public domain, that is the best of all possible worlds. Is it OK for a person or group to be able to release code as open source but restrict its use? Hmm, I guess but I am more comfortable, frankly, with purely free, public domain software as the ultimate in promoting the public good. But does that allow companies (for instance, Microsoft) to incorporate and extend that software in ways detrimental to the public good? Of course, it is true that kind of thing happens today; but maybe only because Microsoft is such a monopoly and is in such contradiction to the public good. In a better system, there would be no Microsoft-like companies and maybe the GPL-like licenses would be unnecessary. The GPL  is an imperfect solution to intellectual property rights in an imperfect world. I prefer truly free, public domain software.

Still, in my heart and in my gut, I am very glad that Richard Stallman exists and that he created the free software movement, including the GPL. If Richard Stallman had not created the GCC compiler and started the open source movement, then GNU-Linux would not exist. Now, maybe Linux would exist if he had created the GCC and the movement with totally free, public domain ideals, and no GPL. Maybe. And maybe the code produced by that movement would have been abused by other corporations. Who knows?

But at the end of the day, I'll take it like it is. I'm glad we have the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, and GNU-Linux. I'm even happy we have the GPL. But I'm also happy we have the BSD type licenses, public domain software , and all the points in between.
In your heart you know its right; given the real world in which we live.

Long live free software.