I was amused to read an op-ed piece in Slate, the online magazine, on November 22. Adam L. Penenberg, an assistant professor at New York University, wrote the article entitled "Red Herring."
In reaction to disparaging comments about the open source movement by executives associated with companies that have a closed source philosophy, Penenberg argues that "the open-source movement isn't communism."
He explains: "The philosophy behind open-source software is simple. Instead of zealously protecting source code--the blood and guts of any computer program--open source encourages any programmer to tear apart the code and build it back up again. The theory is that this collaborative process encourages innovation and decreases bugs by increasing the number of people with a stake in the project."
Public criticism from Internet heavy weights started a few years ago, when "Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the open-source operating system Linux 'a cancer.'" In January, 2005, Bill Gates "suggested that free-software developers are communists." Most recently, in November, 2005, Shai Agassi, a member of the SAP executive board, referred to open-source software as "intellectual property socialism."
According to Penenberg, "(t)he Web owes its existence to open source . . . If it weren't for free open-source software, companies like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo!--all of which run Linux (open source operating system)--might never have got off the ground."
Professor Penenberg says: "Gates, Ballmer, and Agassi say that open source is software socialism that stifles innovation. But it's the capitalists who have the tech world stuck in the mud. Microsoft's ham-fisted control over its software has done more to set back technological progress than a thousand open-source projects."
As I have said time and again, Microsoft is the ultimate closed source company. And why not? Their aggressive efforts to protect their programs have given them 95% of the consumer PC market. But Penenberg warns, "the World Wide Web is an entirely different matter."
Even while companies like Microsoft and SAP slam the open source movement, they are not above borrowing its ideas and techniques. Penenberg points out that Microsoft is moving into earning money from advertising with its "Windows Live" system.
And remember Frank Gens' comment quoted in my blog on Friday: "The 'go it alone' model of innovation is an endangered species in the IT industry, and incorporationg a community-based innovation model--e.g., open source--is quickly becoming an important ingredient for market leadership."