Open-source and political philosophy

Alex Singleton of Samizdata asks whether open-source software is a libertarian idea. He writes that open-source lacks the entrepreneur and the leadership needed to succeed. I have never thought that open-source is particularly libertarian (as opposed to non-open-source code). Voluntary association is voluntary association, whether or not it involves bilateral exchange. If anything, the open-source community resembles the ideals of Kropotkin and Bakunin, both of whom rejected state power, but believed that given absence of coercion, individuals would give up notions of private property and organize in voluntary cooperatives. In that sense, open-source is very far from libertarianism as it is understood today.

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guess I should comment since

guess I should comment since I write code for a living!

I agree that leaps of progress from the open source community are few and far between because their incentive structure is so weak. I find it funny when Linux guys hi-five each other when they get a driver for a DVD-ROM working when I could have bought a Wintel solution out of the box years ago.

For me it is more the mentality of those who participate in open source software. It is as if you should be happy and feel privledged to have the software. Participation is largely to be anti-Microsoft which to them likely represents all that is bad with Capitalism. For some reason it is wrong if you make double digit profit margins on software. So, I would say that open source is more like Communism than anything else.

It sounds like you are

It sounds like you are saying that the culture of open source users is communist, not necessarily the open source software itself.

Perhaps Spoonie Luv can

Perhaps Spoonie Luv can elaborate more on my mentality and the apparent straw-man of DVD-ROM drivers. In the mean time..

Open source software is a free-market phenomenon. Profit is not necessarily dollars, in this case it is code contributions, increased knowledge, and community respect. Even the license of Linux (GPL) specifies a voluntary contractual exchange - if you improve the code, make the improvements public. The original creator profits by gaining the code improvements and increased network effects, and the user making the improvement gains by not having to reinvent the wheel.

Now what exactly is "communist" about that?

I knew someone would

I knew someone would coredump after reading my comments!

The concept of collaborative development is not unique to open-source software. Every software outfit I have worked at has an internal library of classes, modules, and design templates. However when you remove the financial profitability from the equation, the collaboration is limited to those who believe in a higher calling and want the public's respect. I, like many others, choose to view my job as a way to make money to do the real things I want to do (i.e. travel, concerts, etc).

A great example of open-source code is the ACE/TAO library created by Doug Schmidt. But without an academic setting, I highly doubt it would have ever become a reality in our lifetime.

So back to the mental state. Many (not all) folks heavily involved with open-source do not believe guys like myself should have a profitable career in software development. Who is going to pay me to contribute to your code? The open-source guys aggressively fight software patents because they do not think it is intellectual property. I respectfully disagree.

I'm sure you're a smart guy that has no problems reading your email using a command line prompt, but the masses want a feature rich method of handling messages and the occasional virus or worm is a small price to pay for the convenience of commercial software.

So when I say open-source is like Communism maybe it is because everyone in the community is equally unhappy.

Not really a coredump just

Not really a coredump just wanting to clear up potential logical fallacies. ;-)

There are a (significant?) minority who are really out to lunch on the make money from software bit. On the other hand the majority of open source developers do make their money by developing software. On the gripping hand...

Intellectual property is another beast entirely. Incidentally, the Free Software Foundation has been known to protect property rights quite vigorously, even though FSF is run by a self-proclaimed commie. Software patents are a difficult animal to deal with. Many software patents are granted that totally baffle me (Amazon's "one click" is one example). Even I, the extreme-capitalist, am rubbed the wrong way about that. Some of these patent grants are obviuosly governement enforced monopoly over common ideas.

Who will pay you for your contributions to my code? No one. It is a free market, you want pay in a form that I am not offering, therefore no deal. Have a nice day. If you ever want to accept my terms or I want to accept your terms then we'll talk.

While I am comfortable with a command line email client, I prefer and use an open-source calendering/PIM/email GUI client, Evolution. Has everything Outlook has except the virus propogation feature. :-)

Of course we are all less than perfectly happy - why else do we act?


Of course we are all less

Of course we are all less than perfectly happy - why else do we act?

Hey - a Misesian!

yes, the patent issue is

yes, the patent issue is tricky. In defense of the Patent Office (since my sister works there!), the "one-click" patent awarded to Amazon is interesting.

Both Amazon and the USPTO have stated that if anyone can present 'prior art' of the "one-click" patent then the patent will get revoked. No one has. Amazon's CEO also has consistently fought to reduce the length of software related patents to 3 years, which also makes a lot more sense to me.

In the 2 years my sister has worked at the Patent Office she has rejected hundreds of applications and granted two! Each patent goes under a lot of scrutiny and most patents are granted with very little scope, but the lawyers after it is granted attempt to apply the patent very broadly.

Hey - a Misesian! Can't be,

Hey - a Misesian!

Can't be, I don't even know how to pronounce it. :-) meez-es-ee-an??

BTW, great blog.

Dave, Thanks. I hope you

Thanks. I hope you stick around.