The Financial Times should know better than to publish such an ill informed article.
The FT ran an article today called Why open source is unsustainable.
The author, Richard A. Epstein is an academic – the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service professor of law at the University of Chicago and Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution – no less.
The problem is the column shows little or no understanding of the industry or how it is evolving. Hell even Microsoft is now open sourcing code. Wake up Rich there is coffee brewing.
Check out this statement:
“The open source movement shares many features with a workers’ commune, and is likely to fail for the same reason: it cannot scale up to meet its own successes.”
He goes on: “The bottom line is that idealistic communes cannot last for the long haul. The open source movement may avoid these difficulties for outside contributors who work for credit and glory. But how do the insiders, such as Linus Torvalds, cash out of the business that they built? And in the interim, how do they attract capital and personnel needed to expand the business? Traditional companies have evolved their capital structures for good reason.”
This is all well and good, but again misses the point. It seems to me the big problem is that Mr Epstein thinks only in terms of “rational agents” “companies” and shareholders”, when to nail an analysis of how open source works and why you also need to consider community, group psychology, the huge strength of our desire for approval and status, not just fortune (glory is important Rich!), the history of open standards and open interfaces, the role of big IT companies in accelerating, and decelerating open source adoption. The notion of Linus wanting to cash out… really does show a lack of understanding.
Epstein also argues governments shouldn’t mandate open source technologies. Apparently “Governments are bad at forcing technology by playing favourites.” Well excuse me Mr Epstein but i spent five years in the 90s tracking European Journal of Tenders notices, which make public all public sector tenders, and proprietary technologies in general, and Microsoft in particular, benefited massively from a bias towards its technologies in the public sector. When the feeling was IBM bad, alternatives good. In fact there is currently an antitrust case in Europe looking at exactly this issue. Epstein should take a look at Navy IT purchasing in the UK and US–where Linux friendly voices inside these organizations are shouted down by top down Windows mandates. So you’re a Unix engineer with 25 years of experience of building embedded control systems–what the hell do you know? we’re a microsoft shop. and then the command and control system goes BSOD…
Why should government be able to mandate particular proprietary technologies, but when it mandates something more open the apologists for the status quo cry foul? When i hear this same argument from Microsoft–that government shouldn’t mandate anything but Microsoft it just strikes me as specious.
In a way i didn’t want to post this entry- why give this shoddy analysis, based on theory and faith in “free markets” rather than a fact-based reality, space? Because it annoyed me enough to generate a few hundred words.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said (in an entirely different context and for a different reason) – What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.
As i understand it the industry is growing up and maturing – using more and more standard componentry. Value comes in packaging and splicing and service engagements and brands, not in “proprietary”. Open interfaces are more important than open source, as Tim O’Reilly does a great job of explaining in his architecture of participation narrative, but if open source is up to the task then it will be used. Epstein’s view seems very 1980s. Open source has now effectively won the debate (the question is it useful or not?), in the same way free market orthodoxy put forward by Epstein won the middle ground in the 1980s and 1990s. Its a question of margins and standardization. What’s important is getting new services to market quickly, and those services will include lots of different componentry, some of it open source. Simon Phipps did an excellent job of nailing the new reality when he likened software development to taking an editional stance. Constantly rebuilding everything makes no sense at all–that is what happens when everything is proprietary.
It’s just weird to put forward an anti open source screed without including some analysis of HP, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle and their respective startegies and approaches. Practice matters. Facts matter.
But i suppose someone must represent the forces of reaction…