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Culture

Open source: world domination or world liberation?

We don't want to replicate our industry's past successes, but right now it seems like we're not really sure what we want at all.

The Cheshire Cat

Linus Torvalds used to talk about "world domination" as his goal for Linux. These days, though, while we seem to be making progress toward this end, we also appear to be increasingly complacent. We downplay the ideology that underlies open source in favor of "safe" rhetoric about lower sales and marketing costs and such.

I wonder, however, if in so doing we emasculate open source's power to truly change our industry. Does it make it that much harder for us to find a new way to serve customers?

It reminds me of Alice's interaction with the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

"Cheshire Puss," [Alice] began,..."Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where--" said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

"--so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

For me, the end game should be "world liberation," not domination. We've already suffered through decades of Microsoft's take on the "world domination" theme. I didn't like it much.

By "liberation" I mean freeing emerging markets to grow on their own terms, not as vassal states to US and European software vendors. By "liberation" I mean freeing customers to innovate with their vendors on customers' own terms, not vendors'.

By "liberation" I also mean that software vendors free themselves to innovate with their customers, competitors, and community.

Open source makes software something more than "just software." It makes software meaningful outside the few big vendors determined to dominate it. Open source, in short, gives software back to the community.

Total world liberation. That's the goal. With that goal in mind, the answer to the "How do we get there?" question becomes much clearer. We don't take shortcuts. We choose our license models based on what will maximize customer value. We aggressively compete with tired proprietary vendors.

And then we win.