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Software Books Media GNU is Not Unix Book Reviews

The Success of Open Source 122

JoshuaDFranklin writes "When confronted with the reality of Open Source, academics often ask what processes allow it to happen. In his new book The Success of Open Source, Berkeley professor Steven Weber answers that question. He presents a clear, logical picture of how Open Source development works in a variety of projects, and comes to the intriguing conclusion that the process may be generalizable to other areas of production. The results, he argues, would 'make the consequences of the first-generation Internet seem quaint.'" Read on for the rest of Franklin's review.
The Success of Open Source
author Steven Weber
pages 320 pages, 5 line illustrations
publisher Harvard University Press
rating 9
reviewer Joshua Daniel Franklin
ISBN 0674012925
summary Weber argues that the success of Open Source is due to a production process than may be generalizable to other arenas.

Weber is an academic and makes no apologies for it. He is not presenting an exciting new business plan, advocating a particular method of software development, or calling hackers to revolution. He is simply describing his findings after extensive research of the Open Source development process and drawing conclusions from them. As such, this book may not appeal to everyone in the Open Source community. However, Weber's ideas are timely and informative for anyone who wants to explain or advocate Open Source. He likens his work to The Machine that Changed the World, the story of Toyota's production method (224):

That book made two simple and profound points: The Toyota "system" was not a car, and it was not uniquely Japanese. The parallels are obvious. Open source is not a piece of software, and it is not unique to a group of hackers.

The first part of The Success of Open Source is a historical case study that examines the origins and social development of the Open Source community. It begins with Unix and hacker culture. For those who have read Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution and Peter Salus' A Quarter Century of UNIX, there is little new material here, but Weber offers a new and interesting perspective on the events. For example, he offers the insight that "hacker culture" existed before widespread network connectivity, drawing into question whether cheap bandwidth is really essential.

From there, he covers the development of the BSDs, Apache, and Linux, focusing again on social structures. He describes diverse events such as the messy expulsion of Theo de Raadt from the NetBSD core, the creation of Apache by an informal group of interested developers, and the establishment of Alan Cox as de facto Linux networking lieutenant. Weber draws from an impressive array of firsthand accounts, including mailing lists, websites, conference speeches, and personal interviews.

I get some interesting trivia out of this, such as Larry McVoy's original Unix is dying troll (98). Unfortunately, since Weber's narrative is mainly topical, it is occasionally redundant in telling one story from multiple social angles. Other claims are close to flamebait, such as suggesting that Richard Stallman is an example of a "failed leader." (168)

For the second half of the book, Weber moves on to Explaining Open Source in the terms of his discipline, political economy. He sees two broad categories of principles to the Open Source process: Microfoundations, including individual motivations and the economic logic of the collective good; and Macro-Organization, solving the problems of coordination and complexity. (133) While I doubt each reader will catch every academic nuance in these chapters, Weber is thankfully sparing in his use of specialized vocabulary and writes his overall argument in clear, easy-to-follow logic.

This section also contains the most insightful observations in The Success of Open Source. While there are too many to list here, one is the concept of Open Source Software as antirival. As more copies are made and put into use, value increases as a result of a larger market and the small percentage of users that contribute bug reports and possibly patches. This turns the traditional "free rider" problem into an advantage.

Though Weber does not mention this in the text, one can see part of this principle in proprietary vendors' providing free downloads or turning their backs on rampant piracy. It also does not take a great leap of logic to see application of the antirival model to other fields such as music or academic research.

As is customary in social science literature, Weber uses his conclusion to both recap his argument and to raise questions for future direction of research. What is the best organization method for property distribution, as opposed to the current methods based on exclusion? How can the Open Source production process be used effectively to improve prospects for the developing world? What is the best way for closed, hierarchical systems to interact with open, network-based ones? While some of the issues involved are offtopic for this book, hopefully future work will examine these questions in depth.

Though Open Source has been mentioned in many recent works, The Success of Open Source is the first academic book that focuses on the Open Source community as its object of study. It gives a readable, thought-provoking, and occasionally funny account of what Open Source is and means, making it an extremely valuable resource for those who want to engage and discuss these issues on an intellectual level. As Weber states, his positive, constructive outlook "may not be fully satisfying, but it's not a bad place to start." (272)


Joshua Daniel Franklin is a graduate student at the University of Washington's Information School. This review may be redistributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License. You can read the table of contents, preface, and an excerpt of the first chapter of The Success of Open Source at the Harvard University Press website. The reviewer's website has an list of errata. You can purchase the The Success of Open Source from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Success of Open Source

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  • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <[ardrake79] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:15PM (#9175978) Homepage
    "The results, he argues, would 'make the consequences of the first-generation Internet seem quaint.'"

    Open source is great and all, but isn't this statement a bit over the top? It almost sounds like he's trying to sell something. Just MHO.

    • by Random BedHead Ed ( 602081 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:28PM (#9176130) Homepage Journal
      You never know. The strength of the Internet has always been in providing access to information - more than in selling things or distributing media. Those things work, but getting information to the masses has always been the Internet's strong point. Who would have thought that this same medium would allow people to collaborate and build an operating system? Without the internet it wouldn't have happened, and now that operating system is a crucial part of what runs the Internet. We might look back on the development of the Linux kernel and other open source software as one of the strong points of the Early Internet.
    • by Erratio ( 570164 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:31PM (#9176173)
      I think you're just interpretting it as over the top, perhaps getting a little too defensive. Looking at the incredibly brief history of the Internet and the already widespread impact of the increasingly virtually instant propgation of information, all the things we're doing now will seem primitive 10 years from now (and open source is of course inextricably linked with that). He's not denouncing the importance of the progress so far, he's just saying that it grows exponentially and as grand as things may seem now, they will be dwarfed in no time.
    • by scmason ( 574559 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:43PM (#9176284) Homepage
      If we consider the fact that writing is never a neutral endeavor, then he is trying to sell something. He is trying to sell his idea and insight. At one time, a couple of hundred years ago a few people tried to sell the idea of open (free) capitolism, and it worked. The argument on open source is not just about whose operating system supports the most digital camera's. It is an attempt to convince the world that there may be a better method than the one that exists. It is NOT an attempt to overthrow the capitolist system, but a way to improve the current system through open standards.

      Thank you for your ear.

      scm
    • by Anonymous Coward

      IMO, the only people shocked by the success of open source are those who are deluded enough to think that people only do things for money. The sort of person who puts a monetary value on everything... is likely to be the sort of asshole who screams "COME ON! TIME IS MONEY!", whenever she doesn't get her way.

    • Open source is great and all, but isn't this statement a bit over the top? It almost sounds like he's trying to sell something. Just MHO.

      Over the top? not at all...

      The first generation internet was open source, and that was precisely why it was widely adopted and subsequently "suceeded". Many "internets" had been tried before but failed basically because they werent free (as in beer) for everybody to use and free (as in freedom) for knowledgable people to make improvements and give back to the commu

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman@gm a i l .com> on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:19PM (#9176034) Homepage Journal
    I have a question. Why should Open Source software and closed source software be at each other's throats? Shouldn't the two be cooperating more than fighting? Here's the advantages I see to each of them:

    Open Source
    • Spreads the cost of software across a large number of parties
    • Encourages interoperability and standards support
    • Prevents the wheel from being reinvented every day


    Commercial/Closed Source
    • More time focus on usability
    • Quick response to critical issues
    • More resources to throw at high quality software


    These advantages are not mutually exclusive. Thus I might use Apache as my webserver because of its tremendous standards compliance and support, while I'll use Oracle for its scalability, performance, and corporate support. Instead of deciding that everything should be open or closed, let's focus on making things open when it makes sense, and supporting things that are closed when it makes sense.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Why should Open Source software and closed source software be at each other's throats?

      because they're different and opposite in philosophy

      • by joggle ( 594025 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:27PM (#9176114) Homepage Journal
        Why should everything I write be open source? I mean, come on, some of the stuff I write is aweful and I'd hate for anyone to have to deal with it.
      • because they're different and opposite in philosophy

        Says you and Stallman. The Apache people seem to think otherwise. And I'd say that they've done an exceedingly good job of making their point. As have the Mozilla people.

        Stallman's philosophy is that every piece of software in existence should be free. That raises the question of who's going to pay for all the R&D, usability studies, artwork, customer support, etc? In Apache's case, a large number of interested corporations and individuals have helped foot the bill for a greater cause. Same for the Mozilla project, save that Netscape/AOL ate a large portion of the bill. RedHat, SuSE, and other commercial entities continually help foot the bill for GNOME, KDE, the kernel, dev tools, and other desktop development.

        And yet, SuSE (wisely) held onto YaST and SAX long enough to give themselves an edge over the competition. If it was open source to begin with, what would SuSE's advantage have been?

        The ideas are not mutually exclusive. Only the desire to not work together makes them mutually exclusive.

        • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:37PM (#9176883) Homepage Journal
          ``Stallman's philosophy is that every piece of software in existence should be free. That raises the question of who's going to pay for all the R&D, usability studies, artwork, customer support, etc?''

          This is strikingly similar to the main argument in support patents (and I mean any patents, not just software patents). I used to agree with it, until I sat down and thought about it more thoroughly. Here's my view:

          You ask who pays for research (development, support, etc.)?
          Answer: The people who have an interest in it. As it stands, that is corporations: by innovating (developing new products, giving better support, etc.) they gain an edge over the competition. If they can protect their invention with a patent, they can even exclude (or collect royalties, licensing fees, etc. from) competitors, allowing them to make even more money. Ultimately, this is said to benefit the consumer, as they get better products.

          What set me thinking is the flaw (as percieved by me) in the patent system. The idea is to reward companies for doing (and supposedly funding) research. Now, consider one such company inventing something and patenting it. This grants them a monopoly on their invention, even if another group comes up with the same invention independently (and thus, supposedly, having done just as much work for it). I find this unfair and objectionable.

          So let's see if there is a solution. I think we want R&D to continue, service to improve, etc. etc. Now, it's corporations funding these things, and then, in return, being granted some privileges, even in cases where this is not completely desireable. These companies ultimately present the bill to the people who benefit from the investments (after all, companies want to survive, too). But what if these people funded it all in the first place?

          What I envision is a system where funds are collected and pooled (like taxes), so that they can be spent on R&D and the like in a manner that all can benefit from. With the results available for everyone to use, there can be competition, and the market forces can work for us all instead of for the select few who control the patents etc.
          • There's a flaw in your counter-argument. You're equating software development with patents. However, keeping source code closed does not in any way prevent a competitor from developing the same technology simultaneously. Thus the advantages of funding R&D while turning a profit still hold true.

            What I envision is a system where funds are collected and pooled (like taxes), so that they can be spent on R&D and the like in a manner that all can benefit from. With the results available for everyone to
            • ``You're equating software development with patents.''

              Ok, perhaps I tried too hard to make my arguments seem broadly applicable. The case runs mostly against patents (not copyright, which I see as a Good Thing). However, some of it could also apply to other cases. One of those is software development: if many parties build on a shared base, they all benefit from improvements to it, as do their customers. I think that pooling funds for such projects (GNU could be an example) makes sense. That said, software
              • As for your statement about communism; yes, my idea shares certain characteristics with it. However, the main reasons that (so-called) communist systems have failed is that they tried to make things work without rewards, and power was concentrated in the hands of few, with no real checks in place.

                Actually, I should use the more correct term. What you propose is "socialism". A dash here and there isn't necessarily a bad thing, but funds like Social Security show how badly a government manages these things.
                • 1. Who decides what projects get money?
                  2. How do they decide how much money to give?
                  3. How do they prevent pie in the sky projects (e.g. a "real soon now" warp drive) from eating up the budget, year after year?

                  These are all very good points that need to be addressed in any system. You mention how market mechanisms work to address them in the case of private research. My take is that these issues can be adequetely addressed in publicly available research, too.

                  First off, if the right decissions can be ta

          • by bladernr ( 683269 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:18PM (#9177306)
            What I envision is a system where funds are collected and pooled (like taxes), so that they can be spent on R&D and the like in a manner that all can benefit from.

            This is exactly the R&D system used in the former Soviet Union. A good friend of my was a physicist there and worked, of course, for the state, and told me how it worked. A certain portion of proceeds collected from other ventures went to R&D. Of course, the "public" owned the output, because the public did the investment.

            The USSR invested amazing amounts of money in R&D, and had some good results (for those that don't know, a USSR scientist came up with the stealth technology the US makes such great use of). However, by any measure I've seen, money invested in research produced less results in the USSR than in the US. Also, in spite of patents, etc, the US public gets the greater good (see health care statistics - mortality, fertility, life expectancy - in the US as compared to the USSR in the same time periods).

            The collectivization of R&D sounds good on paper, but the "real world labrotories" of the USSR, N Korea, China, and so on, have had poor luck (even resetting for factors like development level). Countries with privatized R&D (US, Western Europe, Southeast Asia) seem to get more bang for the research buck.

            • Now that's interesting. If my approach has been tried and failed to perform as well as what we have now, I don't think we have a reason to try again.

              Still, there are lots of circumstances that influence the result, other than just the system per se. The soviet system lacked rewards based on performance and ways to control those who were in control. The countries you mention also started out with much less wealth than the west, and had many internal conflicts and tensions. These seem to me more likely expla
              • The soviet system lacked rewards based on performance and ways to control those who were in control.

                Not quite true. If you got into the graces of the Communists, you could get a really nice high rise apartment and have lots of money. Otherwise you had to live dirt poor. So there was an incentive to do well.

        • "And yet, SuSE (wisely) held onto YaST and SAX long enough to give themselves an edge over the competition. If it was open source to begin with, what would SuSE's advantage have been?"

          More interestingly, if they had been open source and available for the other distros earlier, might YaST have become a standard?

          And in all seriousness, if the only advantage your distro has is in the toolkit chain, might your efforts be better spent not worrying about the distro as a whole and instead focusing on those too

          • YaST is a "glue" type of product that gave SuSE a competitive advantage. Releasing it as a commercial product would only have created one more difficult to install binary that would make your life easier if you could only get it installed.

            The alternative would have been to be a technology licensor, and attempt to license it to RedHat and Mandrake. My guess, however, is that SuSE would have met with a "DIY mentality" and been shunned.
            • ok except for one thing, SUSE failed and was ultimately bought out cheap.

              Redhat on the other hand open'd all of their useful "glue" and it's used widely and Redhat remains the leading commercial Linux distribution.

              The theory is nice, but the end results aren't working in your favor.
    • by Allen Zadr ( 767458 ) * <Allen.Zadr@ g m a i l .com> on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:22PM (#9176071) Journal
      I find your example of Oracle/Apache quite funny, being Oracle comes with two Apache products, httpd and tomcat.

      I, also, use Oracle, but that's because of an interoperability requirement that was pre-existing to my ability to put Linux across my server base. Otherwise I'd have used PostgreSQL.

    • > while I'll use Oracle for its
      > scalability, performance, and corporate support.

      There's probably a size/performance metric floating around here too. For database under a terabyte, PostgreSQL [postgresql.org] is probably fine.

      The question then becomes - how much data will I be packing into this database? If it's only a few hundred GB or so... PostgreSQL may be sufficient. And the customer will save a lot of money... good times.
      • by Allen Zadr ( 767458 ) * <Allen.Zadr@ g m a i l .com> on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:34PM (#9176200) Journal
        US$15,000 for a single CPU instance of Oracle.
        But, they won't sell it to you without software updates support for the first year.

        That's some serious dough... but the good news is that if you don't run Oracle in a commercial/production environment, you can download and develop against it for free. So, really, Oracle also tries to benefit from the OpenSource mentality. If no OpenSource project supported Oracle directly, then Oracle wouldn't be nearly as popular. So, they let you download and run it (and have allowed this for over 6 years).

      • I'm certainly not arguing that PostGreSQL is a poor database. I use it myself and love it. But everything that I named (scalability, performance, corporate support) all offer certain advantages in many corporate situations. PostGreSQL evens the playing field by allowing small competitors to have many of the same capabilities but without the same scale.

      • PostgreSQL has been known to support well over a terabyte recently. We're looking at PostgresSQL 7.5 now, which may have PITR, two-phase commit (the foundation of replication and other features), Win32 compatibility, and several other things.

        I'll admit it doesn't have the replication, PITR, clustering and other features that Oracle has that enterprise users need, and even if we do get them in 7.5, it won't nearly be the quality that Oracle has, but it can handle as much data as you can fit on a disk effort
        • > you are going to see more serious enterprise
          > features being developed by interested 3rd
          > party corporations for PostgreSQL

          In my mind this is due - at least in part - to PostgreSQL being under the BSD license [postgresql.org]. It seems to make contributors less leery than other licenses.

          I know that I've had significant contributions to PMD [sf.net] from folks who said that if it were GPL'd they wouldn't be contributing - but since it's BSD, they did.
          • Actually, people are wary of PostgreSQL because of its BSD license. If Red Hat makes significant contributions, some other company can take the contribution and incorporate it into their own proprietary version of PostgreSQL without contributing their changes back.

            PostgreSQL is a rather strange project in that it is license agnostic. Ask about licensing on the lists and the core contributors say, "No one cares as long as you don't try to screw us." The general feeling is that people behave like it is GPL i
            • > some other company can take the contribution
              > and incorporate it into their own
              > proprietary version of PostgreSQL
              > without contributing their changes back.

              Let 'em. No harm is done to PostgreSQL, and a programmer who is more familiar with the code is liable to contribute bug fixes and features and such in the future. It's the story of OpenSSH's success.

              > Ask about licensing on the lists and
              > the core contributors say, "No one
              > cares as long as you don't try
              > to screw us."

              Hm, t
    • I'd have to disagree and include you closed source under opensource.

      There is no deadline so there is plenty of time to focus on usability. I might agree if you say that because closed source software has deadlines it forces usability to be addressed sooner. Sadly I don't see many closed source projects that have very good usability so that reasoning evidently doesn't work out very well.

      I get much quicker times on support from most opensource. I can ask a question on a mailing list or irc and almost instan
      • There is no deadline so there is plenty of time to focus on usability.

        It took Mozilla five years to reach a usable product. Opera did it in two. There is a certain advantage to customer facing commercial software. At the very least it plugs a market demand until the software becomes a commodity. It also blazes a trail so that commodity software like Open Source can do it right.

        Sadly I don't see many closed source projects that have very good usability so that reasoning evidently doesn't work out very well.

        Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, RealPlayerOne, MSAccess, Quicktime (Sorenson), and iTunes are all examples of commercial products that people pay money for, and would like to have ported to Linux. While Open Source alternatives exist for some of them, they are either comparatively immature or have certain legal encumbrances that prevent them from being introduced into a commercial distro.

        I get much quicker times on support from most opensource.

        How long did GNOME 2.0 go without a way to add or remove menu items via the GUI? 2.0-2.4, that's how long. Open Source addresses things faster if it's in their interest or meets their ideals. That's not a criticism, but a fact of how it works. Money talks, and the potential loss of a support contract will often make software houses bust their butts to solve problems and add features that would normally be considered "boring".
        • Opera became a usable product faster than Mozilla did but it wasn't nearly as ambitious and IMO isn't nearly as usable as Mozilla now. Both Firefox and Thunderbird are excellent. Opera isn't horrible but it could be better, especially since, as you said, it was out ahead.

          Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, RealPlayerOne, MSAccess, Quicktime (Sorenson), and iTunes are all examples of commercial products that people pay money for, and would like to have ported to Linux. While Open Source alternatives exist for some o
    • Good point, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by soloport ( 312487 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:36PM (#9176215) Homepage
      Not sure they are at each other's throats. Open Source seems to be ok with closed source software. Where the hurt begins is with the fear closed source companies have of Open Source.

      Based on fears alone, a lot of FUD is used to "fight fire with fire". It's like a common spousal spat that occurs when one spouse feels threatened by statements the other has made, which were entirely misinterpreted -- but were interpreted as such only because the defensive one has some unfounded fear on the subject.

      The attacks fly until the defensive one gets their assurance that their worst fear won't happen.

      When the FUD flies, the Open Source community reacts. Naturally.
      • What is this spouse of which you speak? I have spent most of my life immersed in geekdom and have never encountered a spouse. What is it? What does it do? Does it run Linux?

        Please stop trying to confuse /. readers and choose more appropriate analogies in future.
      • Open Source seems to be ok with closed source software.

        Then why can't I get a Linux kernel driver that isn't kernel version specific? Or software binaries that don't require me to fight with the version of GLIBC I have? Or a software packaging method that doesn't require me to chase down 5000+ dependencies just to install a video player?

        Open Source doesn't like the idea of commercial anything, and commercial anything often fears shrinking profits and lost business opportunities. However, the two sides of
        • Not sure about "doesn't like". Your examples sound more like "rapid release" syndrome. Think of how many moving targets other operating systems throw at VARs (answer: very few, with very infrequent releases).

          The stability you are seeking may be realized by installing Linux once and leaving it alone for a few years (patches and bug-fixes not withstanding).

          For example, we have been running Red Hat 8 for more than a year. Everything just works, including Quake III and The SIMs, natively and QuickBooks,
          • Can Adobe create a single binary that installs, works, and takes advantage of Windows 9x, NT, 2000, and XP? Can Adobe create a single binary that does the same for RedHat 7.x-Fedora Core 2.x, SuSE 8.x-9.x, and Mandrake 9.x-10.x?

            Can 3Com release a WinModem driver that will work for all Linux 2.x kernel versions?

            These are conscious decisions by Open Source companies and programmers to make it difficult for Close Source software. Binary drivers are particularly sticky on this point, as Linus has stated that
    • by skifreak87 ( 532830 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:37PM (#9176225)
      It's quite simple. If my business sells closed-source software and that's my main way of profitting, I don't want you finding alternatives, or using OSS which interoperates flawlessly. As m$ has shown w/ word processors, ability to interoperate w/ the current status quo is a huge selling point. As a company that sells software my goal is to sell as much as possible. Format lock-in becomes a good thing, I don't want you looking at any alternatives or anything that interoperates that isn't mine.

      For a dominant company, there is no advantage I can see to anyone but the consumer to interoperating w/ competing software (competing in the non-monetary sense in this case) and some possible disadvantages if there software is better than mine.
    • by javax ( 598925 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:52PM (#9176364)
      Are you working for Apple or what? =)

      But serious: They (Apple) are playing this game very well - they released Darwin, support OpenDarwin, Konqueror, Fink, etc. while keeping their crown jewels (Quicktime, Quartz, Cocoa, ...) locked away.

      And what do we get out of this hybrid approach? The best Desktop Unix ever. Lets hope more companies choose this approach!
    • I have a question. Why should Open Source software and closed source software be at each other's throats? Shouldn't the two be cooperating more than fighting? Here's the advantages I see to each of them:

      ...you only hear about them when they clash. Nobody is talking about McDonalds vs fine cuisine, and if there was some new form of low-end food nobody would compare that to gourmet food either. You hear about OSS clashing with POTS (plain off the shelf) software.

      Basicly, OSS is eating away at established
      • OSS is also a chain reaction, which they fear. Imagine OSS does 99,5% of what a company needs to do. So they write the other 0,5% (as OSS, not their core business + they get community support and maintenance). Now suddnly some other company went from 99,2% -> 99,5%. So they write another 0,5%. Suddenly the snowball is rolling.

        From a market perspective, this is a good thing. Lowering the barriers to entry forces companies to produce more innovation and cheaper products to keep ahead of the competition.
      • OSS is also a chain reaction, which they fear. Imagine OSS does 99,5% of what a company needs to do. So they write the other 0,5% (as OSS, not their core business + they get community support and maintenance). [Emphasis added]

        Point made but you're missing the shift in equilibrium.
        They write the other 0,5% for what they need to do.
        They write another 5% for what they want to do.

        The equilibrium point of what is worth writing and how well it is worth writing shifts. It's a slow and persistent process.
        They fe
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You paint a false dichotomy when you pair "Commercial" with "Closed" against "Open." This error is the classic mistake of someone who does not understand Free or Open software. Closed source can be non-commercial -- just look at all the free for download stuff on the net, not shareware, not donationware, not pirated, just free. But not open.

      On the other side, lots of open source is commercially developed -- IBM's commited $1B (american billion) to open source development.

      The only real dichotomy is Free
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Forgot to list why they will be competitors - completely different economic models:

        1) Proprietary software relies on knowledge hoarding and is rooted in the concepts of scarcity to increase value.

        2) Free software relies on knowledge sharing - the more you give it away, the more it is worth, which is part of the "economics of plenty."

        Since it is human nature to want to share good stuff with your friends, the scarcity approach is ineffective in a world where the cost to share or copy approaches zero while
  • by stevesliva ( 648202 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:36PM (#9176209) Journal
    This turns the traditional "free rider" problem into an advantage.
    How exactly? What forces the free riders to assume the cost burden of open source development? Is there an open source tax that I'm not aware of?

    IANAE, but AFAIK traditional free rider problem would involve a public good that everyone can exploit provided by some subset of the population that has some sort of cost involved in providing that good. Open source development is still costing the developers something, regardless of the fact that it may be for the greater good.

    • by ornil ( 33732 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:53PM (#9176371)
      IANAE, but AFAIK traditional free rider problem would involve a public good that everyone can exploit provided by some subset of the population that has some sort of cost involved in providing that good.

      IANAE either, but it seems to me that the important advantage of open source is that it makes no difference how many free riders there are, since the only additional cost to the developers is bandwidth, which is cheap or even free (if you use sourceforge, or something similar). So even if one out of a thousand users contributes something, and there are millions of users, things are going quite well, despite 99.9% free riders.
      • The hard cost to developer's is equipment and bandwidth (but they'd likely purchase that stuff anyway...).

        The soft cost to developer's is the time that they spend. Time isn't free. If you spend time developing OSS, then you don't have it for anything else. This is call an opportunity cost.

        What can be worse for developers in general, is having managers get the idea that development doesn't have a cost. If that idea becomes common among managers, then salaries among working developers will take a BIG hi
        • What can be worse for developers in general, is having managers get the idea that development doesn't have a cost. If that idea becomes common among managers, then salaries among working developers will take a BIG hit.

          This is already going on, and the result is relentless cost pressure on corporate development. If you are a CIO, and can get full operating systems for free (Linux), how do you justify the budget for some small business application and its team of developers?

          Answer: you can't. You offshor

          • by Anonymous Coward
            I agree... but it is faulty management logic driving bad decisions. Most management people and too many ordinary folks don't understand "for the greater good" esp. in a production and/or economic sense. Software developers do. Why? Simple, it is a *complete* waste of one's time, effort, and energy to completely at every corner have to reinvent the wheel for essentially NO OTHER REASONS than legal ones (i.e., ownership, copyright, etc.). Programmer's benefit from sharing *and* being altruistic so long as it
    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:01PM (#9176452) Homepage
      As more copies are made and put into use, value increases as a result of a larger market and the small percentage of users that contribute bug reports and possibly patches. This turns the traditional "free rider" problem into an advantage.


      The idea is that as your usage base grows, some small percentage of that base will become active contributors, as opposed to just free riders. In other scenarios not involving open source the opportunity for a free rider to become a contributor may not exist, or be limited to bug reports. Basically, with open source increasing your market share can also mean increasing your development force.

      I'm not sure that turns free riders into an "advantage" per se, but it does help explain how open source projects scale. Clearly, giving "free riders" a chance to not be free riders if they have the talent and time is better than making it impossible for them to contribute.
    • What forces the free riders to assume the cost burden of open source development?

      Self-interest, of course. If I use an open source product and want to fix a bug or add a feature, I either report the bug or feature request to the developer (providing, in effect, free QA resources) or do it myself (providing free development resources).
    • I agree that the meaning of this passage in the review was unclear. My take on it was that, if you have *active* users who are contributing feedback, bug reports, even patches, then they are not really "free riders" at all; they are co-developers. In a way, OSS is an economic system that is (partly? mostly?) decoupled from the traditional monetary-compensation paradigm. The code is the currency. Silent users are the "free riders"; those who participate are "paying" for their ride.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Speaking of *BSD, I once had to make a technical support call to them. Here's the guy [syr.edu] they have answering the phone these days. He told me he had to go into the vault to find the answer to my question. He put me on hold, and then the line went dead.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:39PM (#9176245) Homepage
    "...interesting perspective on the events."
    "...Larry McVoy's original Unix is dying troll"
    "...it is occasionally redundant in telling one story from multiple social angles."
    "This section also contains the most insightful observations..."
    "Other claims are close to flamebait..."
    "However, Weber's ideas are timely and informative..."
    "and occasionally funny account of what Open Source is and means,"
    "While some of the issues involved are offtopic for this book, ..."

    Now the only question remaining after this review is whether any portions of the book may be over or underrated. Also, knowing if the author has a karma bonus would help in what is otherwise a tie of positive and negative mods.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      "...Larry McVoy's original Unix is dying troll"

      I hope I see this one in metamod. McVoy's paper was not a troll, but a cogent summation of the state of Unix in 1993. People forget where Unix was going in the early '90s, before Linux and the *BSDs took off. Basically nowhere good - proprietary fragmentation was killing it.

      It's also interesting to note that what happened is basically what he suggested as a way out, being a loose standardisation on free software.

  • by Sean80 ( 567340 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:41PM (#9176262)
    I've thought long and hard about how the ideals of Open Source could impact businesses. Primarily of interest to me has been the concept of "intrinsic motivation" wherein people are about a thousand times more likely to be motivated to do something if they choose to do it themselves, rather than being told to do it. Open Source then obviously has a massive advantage over the traditional business model in terms of motivation, because I can simply log on to Sourceforge, and choose to participate in a project which interests me personally, without having been told to do it.

    I'm not aware of any statistics in this area, but I'd love to see them - for example, just how much more productive is somebody working on Open Source than in a traditional business setting? Further, can this model be made to work in a business setting at all? Take a simple example of a business which allows its employees to work on whichever projects they choose. The company designates a specific set of projects, and you are allowed to migrate at will to those which most interest you. What would be the end-game of this strategy? Would programmers, for example, congregrate around the most "interesting" projects, even if those projects weren't the best for the financial health of the company? Would other projects die for simple lack of interest? What guarantees do we have that the optimal solution in terms of "interest" would be the optimal solution in terms of "making money"?

    Of course, the Open Source model really points to a future where corporations are largely irrelevant, and everybody participates in an extremely organic, dynamic model where we all act as free agents, working on the projects which most interest us. But, don't even get me started on that topic.

    Nonetheless, I can't find anything which is more intelectually fascinating than these topics at the present time. Anthropic cosmological principle! Bah!

    • Perhaps if companies paid 'contract wages' based on the perceived value of a project, but allowed employees to work on any project. Employees with a current excess of funds could work on enjoyable 'low pay' projects, while employees at short ends would work on the less fun 'high pay' projects.

      I can see many potential issues with this, such as the hassle of time tracking and the likelyhood of abuse, but think of the morale issues... rather than being stuck endlessly in a project you detest, you can 'take a
    • by TekGoNos ( 748138 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:28PM (#9176792) Journal
      > just how much more productive is somebody working on Open Source

      Well, this is impossible to mesure. As programming is mainly a creative activity, you cannot mesure productivity per hour.
      A programmer doesnt only work while typing in a text editor, but also in the bus/his car, while thinking about how to resolve a bug. And this "off-the-keyboard" activity is impossible to track accurately. Especially as a motivated programmer will probably have more "off-the-keyboard" activity then a payed drone who doesnt identify with his programm.
      So to compare productivity, the best you can do is compare people who work full-time and compare productivity per day. As people who work full-time on an open source project are most likely paid to do so, a true comparision between the occasional volunteer and a payed employee is impossible.

      However, a comparision between employeea who choose their project freely and normal employees who were ordered to do one would be interesting.

      > a business which allows its employees to work on whichever projects they choose.

      Google allows (and encourages) it's employees to work part of their time (10% IIRC) on whatever they want.
      Almost everything Google offers (beside standard search) actually started as such a "pet project".
    • It's old, and it's called syndicalism. [anarchosyndicalism.org]
    • Of course, the Open Source model really points to a future where corporations are largely irrelevant, and everybody participates in an extremely organic, dynamic model where we all act as free agents, working on the projects which most interest us. But, don't even get me started on that topic.

      ...and (other than anti-corporate religious belief) how is it different from a free market economy where people choose to work on whatever most interests them provided that someone else is willing to pay for it?

      1. Primarily of interest to me has been the concept of "intrinsic motivation" wherein people are about a thousand times more likely to be motivated to do something if they choose to do it themselves, rather than being told to do it.

      I'm big on that too. I even emphasise that people really *don't* do what you tell them most of the time and have to be internally motivated.

      For example, kids;

      Using candy or goodies as an external tool is manipulation that leads the kid to expect to be bribed in the future.

  • by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:56PM (#9176398) Journal
    I find it exceedingly niave to make broad assumptions about any one methodology as the 'one' methodology. Perhaps we have an inate xenophobia that prevents us from accepting different systems without judgement (look at religeon if you want some examples of how destructive this can become).

    The reality is more complex than most of us can comprehend. Additionally, external issues outside of the applications themselves also hold sway (boycotting particular companies due to questionable business practices, for example).

    It is not an all or nothing proposition. As time goes on the environment changes, and some activities become more effective than others.

    Commerce will not disappear, neither will groups of people working freely for a common goal, without expectation of compensation.

  • All of the oozing and bleeding goes away after a while. Then you're left with just the smell... Success!!

    Oh... Success of Open Source. Whoah...never mind.
  • by ebusinessmedia1 ( 561777 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:48PM (#9176978)
    The concept of open source is now thoroughly out of the box, and already moving into areas beside IT. Here are a few examples:

    1) ""Researchers in Australia and India are sidestepping agriculture patents held by the likes of Monsanto and DuPont to develop competitive technologies and foods (such as a high-protein potato) that are, by design, open and unrestricted. In pharmaceuticals, India is skirting patents to create generic AIDS drugs that are orders of magnitude cheaper than those made by the transnational drug companies ..."
    http://www.mediajunk.com/public/archives/200 4_01.h tml

    also,
    http://www.wacc.org.uk/modules.php?name=N ews&file= article&sid=815

    2) The California Open Source Textbook Project www.opensourcetext.org has been created to provide open source printed books for K-12 students in California, and eventually the world.
    www.opensourcetext.org

    3) MIT's OpenCourseWare project has been created to provide free university curriculum to students
    http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html

    4) Wikipedia is a great example of open source content with it's many open source projects
    www.wikipedia.org

    There are many other examples, currently, of cooperative efforts to share intellectual capital.
  • Heh, Soviet response to SDI is to slowly take over software market and then spread communism into all areas of human live! Slow and easy revolution :)

    I can see it now...
    "If you are licensing under GPL you support communism!"
  • While there are too many to list here, one is the concept of Open Source Software as antirival. As more copies are made and put into use, value increases as a result of a larger market and the small percentage of users that contribute bug reports and possibly patches. This turns the traditional "free rider" problem into an advantage.

    Do you mean the 'network effect'? If so, why not call it that? "Antirival" -- sounds like a bug spray.

  • Well, it isn't much different from, for instance, a business where workers can contribute ideas (and are rewarded for it)...
  • Eric S. Raymond's Homesteading the Noosphere [catb.org]. Am I the only one who likes this essay more than The Cathedral and the Bazaar? Don't get me wrong, I like both essays, but Cathedral was primarily about one person realizing the promise of open development. Noosphere was his plunge into the why of it. Raymond argues that open source operates as a gift culture, where status comes from giving the best gift instead of acquiring the best toys.

    Sounds like the academic world is starting to think along the same

  • I'm surprised the reviewer of this book didn't take the time to look into Weber's history. He's not a tech guy; he's a professor of political science. Not long ago I downloaded a draft paper of his called "The Political Science of Open Source" which seems to be a draft for this book - the themes overlap nicely. Weber is working at BRIE, the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy. The paper is here [berkeley.edu].

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