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Ideological Confusion

By on Mar 28, 2008 in Tech Takes | 0 comments

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I am still not sure whether I support open source or closed source, the debate over which one is better has raged on and on and on, each side is willing to call hits on the other, I cannot simply say what intends to say without sparking off the worst type of debates- the type where people actually care about what they’re seeing (that’s precisely why I love them).I think that the very essence open source is beautiful, it’s open, now that’s more profound than we think for we as a species depend upon free enquiry and we build upon the knowledge of our predecessors. It’s a constant process somebody innovates somebody else in another corner of the globe takes that innovation and makes it better, in short innovation feeds upon itself, but there are certain conditions in which this happens, lets see what some of them are;

Communication: The fact that  an idea spreads is essential for its adoption and improvement, you need to have heard of something before improving it, in our modern world this process has been exponentially accelerated to a point where ideas freely flow within seconds around the globe a la the internet. For the first time in the history of humankind ideas simply refuse to die out, each and everyone with a connection to this wonderland has a voice. Thus, one can safely conclude that this isn’t lacking in the information age (I guess this is the reason why they call it that)

Freedom: Freedom is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects for development of anything, people need to have the freedom to express themselves, new thoughts constantly emerge only when they’re allowed to emerge. If there’s restriction in the access to knowledge or in the expression of the conclusions formed on the basis of that knowledge, progress grinds to a halt and becomes virtually non existent. It’s common sense that it’s imperative to have a lot of different options on the table so that one can always find a better one, censorship will restrict that.

Now how does censorship come into play in the debate between open source and closed source? Patents, DRM, EULAs in the current system amount precisely to that, it restricts the ability of the user to change or improve the functioning of the machine, this in itself is censorship as the users opinion isn’t allowed to be expressed in a positive manner unless it’s on company lines. We in short, as perviously said, depend upon free enquiry for progress, we build upon what is known by others. Restricting this process will be equivalent of grinding the gears of progress to a halt.

Money: Funding is a very vital part of the birth of any idea, true there are some revolutions that have come out despite tremendous odds stacked against them, but they’re the exceptions. Most revolutions simply aren’t created by a lone person working on a paper while sitting on a desk at his low-paying clerical job, there are some exceptions (most notably Albert Einstein) but the odds of a single case out of thousands if not millions aren’t good betting odds. Money is essential to hire the right people for the right job and the tools they need to achieve it, see people don’t work for anything without the proper incentive, they need an incentive to toil, money for most people is precisely that.

Lets take a look at the other side of closed source, compare the GUI of OS X to that of linspire, Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution, you will notice a humungous difference between them, why? Essentially the thing is that closed source brings in money for innovation and they allow companies to hire people who are willing to innovate, if the investment stops so will the innovation. The library of alexandria became what it was only due to the fact that the rulers of Egypt opened their purse strings for the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom that is shared by few then or now, but remember this companies depend upon innovation, it’s there bread and better.

Thus they invest in it and they help in bringing new ideas to the table, that’s why truly successful open source start ups are so rare, they don’t understand the importance of money and the role it plays, even worse they can’t think of ways of making money (think mozilla versus the free software foundation, who’s more successful?). This in short is a recipe of disaster you have a totalitarian utopia on one side and a freedom amongst paupers on the others, what do you think people will choose? Will they buy a machine which they can actually use without memorizing and typing in commands, after all the average user doesn’t have a masters degree from M.I.T. they’re just plain ole John and Jane Does, engineers tend to forget that. Users want an experience and they buy a closed source machine to get that. 

So which one of them is better? To tell you the truth neither, open source guarantees more freedom for innovation but closed source delivers it to your doorstep while shackling you to a complex legal agreement. Tell me would you give away your magnum opus for free? I don’t think so.

I want to propose a fusion of the two approaches, you actually sell the software at a reasonable price to a consumer and allow him/her to modify it to any extent he/she wishes as long as that person doesn’t copy it and indulge in piracy, thus patents are important to a certain extent,  he/she then must be able to use an existing network to profit from their efforts without endangering the chance of future improvements by a third party on their work.

This isn’t something radically new take a look at Lego, see Lego has this kit called the Nxt which allows kids to make functional robots and adults to do rapid prototyping at a reasonably cheap cost, have you ever thought why there are ferrari Lego sets out there? The reason is that ferrari has tied up with lego for making prototypes at a certain stage of development.

Without doubt lego is a successful company and there’s a reason for their success in this area, it’s completely open source,  everything till the design of the microprocessor is available for the consumers reference while building applications for it, they actually encourage third parties to make parts for them as long as they meet Legos stringent quality standards (their pitch is “the best isn’t good enough” and they mean it). This means that almost everyone from students and hobbyists (I once saw the kit in IIT Delhi, as it can be broken up and rebuilt mistakes don’t prove to be costly) learning robotics to companies like, aforementioned, ferrari, use it as a test bed.  Thus it’s a fusion of open source and closed source and it’s a runaway success without stamping upon anyones freedom.

This is what we need, this is the way to go, neither of the two can survive for a long time on it’s own. Each needs the other, so why not fuse them to get the perfect hybrid? Perhaps people should argue less about this and actually do something about it for once. All I want to say is that fruitless confrontations won’t work we need to “Think Different”. 


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