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December 18, 2009
3 Min Read
The only constant thing is change, and change has come my way. As of the end of 2009, I'll be leaving InformationWeek -- so over the next couple of days I thought I'd sum up a few points gleaned during my time here.
1. Linux is not the be-all and end-all of open source.
This might seem crashingly obvious to many people, but it bears repeating. Linux is bandied around almost unilaterally as the most obvious example of open source development at its finest. True, it's quite a success story, but it's only one of many -- and not the only model to follow. Not in its licensing, not in its implementation, and not in the stances adopted by many of its most vocal proponents. It's only one possible approach of many, and it's too easy to forget open source can -- and must be -- a panopoly.
2. Proprietary software isn't going anywhere. Neither is open source.
And it doesn't mean open source and proprietary can't teach each other a few new tricks. Most of the successful businesses that use open source as part of their strategy have taken a hybrid approach -- either open core or open extras, depending on the market they're addressing and whatever existing development/business model they already have. (It's a lot harder to switch to open source than it is to start there from scratch, no matter what you tell yourself.)
3. Open source requires people, not just programs.
The brouhaha over MySQL brought this one back to the surface recently. Software is made by people, developed by people, and kept alive by people. Open source makes it easier to keep a project alive, but doesn't magically create a solid development team around a project. That requires effort, charisma, money, or some combination of all three of those things. To coin a phrase: People before packages.
4. Engineering should come before ideology.
Open source should be thought of first and foremost as a software development strategy, not as a magic bullet for creating digital democracy everywhere. It can be one of many ways to tilt the axis of the world that much more towards freedom and justice, sure -- but it's also too easy to see everything as a nail to be pounded with that particular hammer. Most people pick the ideology that squares with their present and past behavior, rather than shaping their behavior to fit a professed ideology. Expecting them to swap the cart and the horse in favor of benefits they may never reap in their particular case is absurd.
There's a few other points, but I've found most of them fit into one corner or another of the four I've quoted here. Come Monday, I'll look forward and muse about what awaits us there.
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