The open-source bailout

Bailing out open-source software companies to the tune of $2 billion is a really bad idea. Attempting to fix something that isn't broken is worrisome.

Give someone a blank check to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, and it's amazing all the good that they can (purport to) do with other people's money.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has put together his own list of bailout proposals, which included $2 billion to help fund open-source software makers.

Such a proposal should make open-source advocates like me happy, right?

Wrong. Open source is doing just fine without a government stimulus. In fact, I'd argue that the easiest way to discern a thriving industry is to check on how much money it has to beg off the government. Open source gets some government encouragement (depending on the government), but little to no government cash (depending on the government). Verdict? It must be doing OK.

Government stimuli can do the opposite of what is intended, fostering disincentives to productivity rather than incentives. That's why I (mostly) like IBM Chief Executive Sam Palmisano's suggestions on how to spark the U.S. economy. He doesn't ask for bailouts. He asks for smart touch-ups to our infrastructure, including broadband.

Does open source offer a great way to take advantage of an investment, such that the government conceivably would get more out of its investment than it puts in? Sure. But open source ain't broke. Let's not try to fix it, especially through government means. I worry how that would skew the incentives that are already working to make open source one of the top three forces in technology today.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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