Evoken

OpenSource Software

61 posts in this topic

Greetings,

I am curious to know what people here think about open source software and the philosophy that goes with it? Is it something that is compatible with capitalism(and Objectivism)? Or is it more of a socialist thing?

For some reason I see the whole OpenSource movement as a bad thing, I also think it is linked with Antitrust laws. There seems to be an opposition to closed source/propietary software and it is seen as a bad thing.

Evo

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think this is an interesting question and I will be curious to see what others have to say.

In my case, I have been experimenting with Linux in recent months for a couple of reasons (1) I have some old PC's and I want to see if Linux will run faster on them, and extend their useful life, (2) I don't want to be caught having to upgrade to Vista without an alternative, because I am tired of the Microsoft upgrade cycling that puts heavier strain on hardware without benefits to me (I am perfectly happy with the look and feel of vintage mid-90's software, and (3) I am uncomfortable having to rely on one vendor (Microsoft) for such an important part of my life, as so much of what I do is tied to a PC.

In the course of reading up on Linux I came across the open source / free software debate, which I did not know existed. My reading so far indicates that it is absolutely correct to label the free software / open source extremists as little different from socialist crazies. They attach a fervor to their insistence that proprietary is bad that borders on the fervor of islamic fundamentalists (ok a small exaggeration, but not much). Check, for example, the ramblings of the Free Software Foundation (http://www.fsf.org/) and especially its leader, Richard Stallman .

On the other hand, I am not convinced that the ideo of OPEN SOURCE is necessarily bad, depending on the wording of the license, because there are certainly benefits to having source code be transparent. Certain companies are trying to set up a business model around that, charging for their time and expertise and other "value added" aspects, and that seems to make sense to me.

I am by no means an expert on this issue and I am sure there are readers who can elaborate or point out the limits of my observations. At this point in my reading, the extremes are fairly well represented by Linspire / Freespire (see especially here where their founder, Michael Robertson praises Milton Friedman and profit-making), vs. the pseudo-socialists like Ubuntu, which is apparently named for and explicitly incorporates some of the views of people like Nelson Mandella. ( * "Humanity towards others"* "I am because we are" * "I am what I am because of what we all are" * "A person 'becomes human' through other persons"* "A person is a person because of other persons")

Also, for an interesting discussion of Linspire's theory of making a profitable business out of open source, I recommend a talk by their CEO, Kevin Carmony, found here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am curious to know what people here think about open source software and the philosophy that goes with it? Is it something that is compatible with capitalism(and Objectivism)? Or is it more of a socialist thing?

Open source per se isn't bad, but there are good reasons to think that it would never have become as big as it has in a better culture - i.e., one where profits are considered to be moral. The original mover behind open source is Richard Stallman, inventor of the GPL license used by Linus Torvalds for Linux, and many other packages. Stallman is rabidly anti-profit. Dr. Dobb's Journal published an article years ago by him, where he presented his view that it's wrong for programmers to make more than janitors. Interestingly (for those familiar with the Objectivist corpus), he even explicitly references Immanual Kant as support for his views, in that article.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Evoken, I think you may actually be referring more to the idea of "free" software, coined by Richard Stallman, than open source. "Free" software is explicitly collectivist and anti-capitalist.

GNU philosophy - "The enemy is proprietary software."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Evoken, I think you may actually be referring more to the idea of "free" software, coined by Richard Stallman, than open source. "Free" software is explicitly collectivist and anti-capitalist.

"Open Source", in my observation as a programmer since 1978/9, is a direct outgrowth and species of "Free software" as envisioned by Stallman. I use open source code - it would now be foolish *not* to use some of it - but I have little doubt that it would not be nearly as popular in a less altruistic world, simply because the rewards for open source programmers are typically meager at best. It is no coincidence that closed-source proprietary Microsoft has billions in cash - Bill Gates wanted to *sell* software.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Open Source" is a misnomer. It should really be called "Communal Source".

To "open" your source is not merely to make it open to the public under some sort of mutually beneficial terms. Nor is it merely to make it available free of charge. It is nothing less than to give up ownership of it to the "community". It is not a good thing--in the same sense that "public" transportation is not a good thing. Yes it's good to be transported, but no it's not good to use taxes to pay for it (open source is partly funded by taxes, partly by altruism).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I see things differently. Perhaps someone can think of a better analogy:

You buy a car and the hood is welded down and there's no way to get in, it even has an under-hood (underneath the car): Closed Source.

You buy a car and the hood is ready to be opened: Open Source.

Okay, enough of the extemporaneous on the spot analogies but I think there's some truth to it, we know we can work with the Windows API (I'm not a programmer) and program for it, this is kind of like having a door where you can open and see 1/50th of the engine and yet being able to work on the engine without having to know what's in there, just that it performs, revs, again the analogy.

So what you get is windows programs by companies other than Microsoft for windows, which is great.

What I also think is great is software like Gentoo that doesn't come with the Ubuntu African socialism Kubuntu educate the poor sacrifice everything overhead.

I personally think programmers and their distros have distanced themselves from the free software stallman crowd since the early 90s, there's also evidence to support this, just in general how FSP is linked to less now than compared to the past where almost everybody was in the free software project guild, that there are projects that make sense such as giving modules 'some rights' and linking to a creative commons page rather than whole distros having big ties to GNU/FSP.

I think this is a result of simply focusing on the distros themselves. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't have much evidence on me now as I don't usually think about these things, but there's one factor.

So in general there's nothing wrong with Open Source qua Open source, infact, most Objectivists I know are Linux geeks whilst I'm still running my Windows and planning my life on Outlook 2007, it's all costing me and I like the looks of thunderbird and am actually considering going Gentoo Linux with the PC I want to buy rather than upgrading to Vista and having to pay more for better hardware, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"Open Source" is a misnomer. It should really be called "Communal Source".

To "open" your source is not merely to make it open to the public under some sort of mutually beneficial terms. Nor is it merely to make it available free of charge. It is nothing less than to give up ownership of it to the "community". It is not a good thing--in the same sense that "public" transportation is not a good thing. Yes it's good to be transported, but no it's not good to use taxes to pay for it (open source is partly funded by taxes, partly by altruism).

I'd also like to add sjw is right in alot of his comments but I'm not necessarily disagreeing but I'd like to add that I'm sure sjw would agree on review of his comments, he is blanketly condemning open source, it depends on the context, and maybe I was wrong for saying Open source qua Open source is good.

The way I approach it is open source is simply source that you can read and change for yourself, because programming is such a vast intellectual concern it's a better idea than any other subject matter to keep things open so others can build on it and over time things will get much better, more features, etc.

There are not many other uses I can think of. You can still make money off of open source software!! Just like you can make money off of a Mercedes Benz whose hood isn't welded shut :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Greetings,

I am curious to know what people here think about open source software and the philosophy that goes with it? Is it something that is compatible with capitalism(and Objectivism)? Or is it more of a socialist thing?

For some reason I see the whole OpenSource movement as a bad thing, I also think it is linked with Antitrust laws. There seems to be an opposition to closed source/propietary software and it is seen as a bad thing.

Evo

The creator of software has the right to dispense it or dispose of it in any manner he/she sees fit.

Both open software and proprietary software are instances of ownership.

If I own something I can keep it, attempt to sell it, attempt to trade it or give it way as I see fit. That is what ownership is.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Evoken, I think you may actually be referring more to the idea of "free" software, coined by Richard Stallman, than open source. "Free" software is explicitly collectivist and anti-capitalist.

GNU philosophy - "The enemy is proprietary software."

One is free to use gift software without buying into the ideology of the giver. One is under no obligation to given any weight or attention to Stallman's ravings.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"Open Source" is a misnomer. It should really be called "Communal Source".

To "open" your source is not merely to make it open to the public under some sort of mutually beneficial terms. Nor is it merely to make it available free of charge. It is nothing less than to give up ownership of it to the "community". It is not a good thing--in the same sense that "public" transportation is not a good thing. Yes it's good to be transported, but no it's not good to use taxes to pay for it (open source is partly funded by taxes, partly by altruism).

Please specify how tax revenue is used to fund Open Software. Thank you.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In the course of reading up on Linux I came across the open source / free software debate, which I did not know existed. My reading so far indicates that it is absolutely correct to label the free software / open source extremists as little different from socialist crazies. They attach a fervor to their insistence that proprietary is bad that borders on the fervor of islamic fundamentalists (ok a small exaggeration, but not much). Check, for example, the ramblings of the Free Software Foundation (http://www.fsf.org/) and especially its leader, Richard Stallman .

With respect, I disagree. It is a large exaggeration. I have yet to see fervid Open Source-ers cut the heads off of people who produce and sell proprietary software. I have yet to see a gang of Open Source Jihadis hijack a plane and crash it into MicroSoft buildings. Further, I believe that such overly stretched analogies minimize the danger that Islamic extremism presents to civilized humanity.

I understand full well your disagreement with the ideology behind some of the Open Source material. I too, am pro-capitalist. To be totally consistent one would have to avoid doing business with sincerely religious folk since their thinking is contrary to reason and liberty. Should we buy a compiler written by a Born Again Christian who wrote his software for Jesus? But we make allowances and compartmentalize the matter. The private beliefs and passions of an individual matters little as long as they stay private. It is what they do overtly and publicly that matters.

Bob Kolker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The way I approach it is open source is simply source that you can read and change for yourself, because programming is such a vast intellectual concern it's a better idea than any other subject matter to keep things open so others can build on it and over time things will get much better, more features, etc.

That is what "Open" Sourcers want you to think. That it's merely about being able to see or change what's under the hood. But that point is a red herring. Read the licenses at http://www.opensource.org. You'll see that no commercial company can let users see and modify the code and still call it "open source". There is no license there that covers that. All of them have the central communist idea at root: the author gives up his creation to the community.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That is what "Open" Sourcers want you to think. That it's merely about being able to see or change what's under the hood. But that point is a red herring. Read the licenses at http://www.opensource.org. You'll see that no commercial company can let users see and modify the code and still call it "open source". There is no license there that covers that. All of them have the central communist idea at root: the author gives up his creation to the community.

If that were true, then why can you go to your local Best Buy or CompUSA and purchase a distribution of Linux? How is Red Hat a publicly traded company?

Open source software is more about a voluntary exchange of ideas than it is about communal ownership. It provides a way for people to work on projects that they feel passionate about and to work on things that they would not normally have an opportunity to do.

Some the best minds in the software development world today are very active in open source projects. It is not because they are socialist; it is because the open source model provides best way to create the product they desire to make.

In my opinion, Ubuntu Linux is the second best desktop operating system available (second only to Mac OS X). As each day passes Microsoft loses more of its market share to open source operating systems. This is not because of some communist conspiracy; it is because the open source software is better.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes it's good to be transported, but no it's not good to use taxes to pay for it (open source is partly funded by taxes, partly by altruism).

Do you have evidence of open source software is funded by taxes? And don't confuse altruism with philanthropy. For example, I don't consider anything Mark Shuttleworth did to start Ubuntu Linux as altruistic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That is what "Open" Sourcers want you to think. That it's merely about being able to see or change what's under the hood. But that point is a red herring. Read the licenses at http://www.opensource.org. You'll see that no commercial company can let users see and modify the code and still call it "open source". There is no license there that covers that. All of them have the central communist idea at root: the author gives up his creation to the community.

Open source software is more about a voluntary exchange of ideas than it is about communal ownership. It provides a way for people to work on projects that they feel passionate about and to work on things that they would not normally have an opportunity to do.

Some the best minds in the software development world today are very active in open source projects. It is not because they are socialist; it is because the open source model provides best way to create the product they desire to make.

Name any developer on any large open source project that doesn't have a paying job elsewhere, or whose job isn't explicitly about working on that project, paid by companies that make money on other things (i.e. IBM employing Linux and Eclipse developers.)

Red Hat isn't doing great. Oracle's recent declaration to offer support for Red Hat's products at half Red Hat's support price shows one of the problems in the basic assumptions on making money from O.S. (free product, pay for professional support.)

I am not one of those who say that O.S. software is useless; I run Linux servers, have often recommended the use of PostgreSQL (an incredibly powerful database server), and I use Eclipse daily for Java, XML, and XSLT work. What I claim is that, in a different world, with more programmers and companies interested in software as a product, and without antitrust and other regulations that help to undermine and mediocritize large software companies, open source would probably have had a tenuous and marginal foothold. And even at that, the best large open source projects today could not really exist without funding (direct and indirect) from profitable companies or via taxation (government funded software development, including state supported universities.)

It takes a lot of time, mental energy, and skill to work on successful software. Unless it's a hobby activity, nobody has any right to expect or demand that programmers work for free.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If that were true, then why can you go to your local Best Buy or CompUSA and purchase a distribution of Linux? How is Red Hat a publicly traded company?

So what if they copy what they don't own and save it to a CD and sell it? That has nothing to do with what we're talking about. The issue is about ownership by those who wrote the code. Ownership of the source and being able to read/modify the source are completely different issues, but "Open Source" blends these two as if they were the same. They're not.

In my opinion, Ubuntu Linux is the second best desktop operating system available (second only to Mac OS X). As each day passes Microsoft loses more of its market share to open source operating systems. This is not because of some communist conspiracy; it is because the open source software is better.

Linux is a great OS. But the really hard and unique part was done by a commercial company. Linux just copied the ideas and reimplemented them. I love Ubuntu, but that doesn't mean I love the way it was created.

And I never mentioned any conspiracy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I see things differently. Perhaps someone can think of a better analogy:

You buy a car and the hood is welded down and there's no way to get in, it even has an under-hood (underneath the car): Closed Source.

You buy a car and the hood is ready to be opened: Open Source.

I think a problem with this analogy is that when you buy a car, you own the physical entity -- meaning that you are free to do with it as you will.

However when you purchase a software (or even a book) you are purchasing a license that defines limits for the product's usage. (Obviously, it's the vendor's right to specify whatever limitations he sees fit.)

My understanding is that open source is like a book with a license that enables you to edit and freely distribute the text (but still within certain limitations).

Justin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am gathering that it is fair to say that the Stallman viewpoint on open source is anathema to Objectivism.

Does anyone know how far the Stallman-viewpoint license underlies ALL Linux operating systems?

In other words, if all the Linux distributions are pretty much permeated by Stallam-esque socialist antipathy toward profit-making, how far is it fair to conclude that fans of Ayn Rand should not be involved with the use of Linux?

I gather that Red Hat and Linspire (the two I am aware of; I presume there are many others) believe they can profit on Linux by selling software and/or services based on it.

Are they incorrect, using software with non-Stallman licenses, or using some other means of avoiding that issue?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So what if they copy what they don't own and save it to a CD and sell it? That has nothing to do with what we're talking about. The issue is about ownership by those who wrote the code. Ownership of the source and being able to read/modify the source are completely different issues, but "Open Source" blends these two as if they were the same. They're not.

I'm not sure I understand your question. Aside from the company names and logos, there is nothing proprietary in any Linux distribution released under a public license. Mandrake (now defunct) used to take the Red Hat distribution, make a few modifications and optimizations, and release it under their name.

If you write something and voluntarily release it for anyone to do whatever they want with it, it doesn't change the ownership. You "own" the original source code in that you created it, you're just making it available for other people to use. The consequence is that you have no control what they do with it.

Linux is a great OS. But the really hard and unique part was done by a commercial company. Linux just copied the ideas and reimplemented them. I love Ubuntu, but that doesn't mean I love the way it was created.

What do you mean the "hard and unique part was done by a commercial company"? What ideas did they copy and from whom?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am gathering that it is fair to say that the Stallman viewpoint on open source is anathema to Objectivism.

Does anyone know how far the Stallman-viewpoint license underlies ALL Linux operating systems?

In other words, if all the Linux distributions are pretty much permeated by Stallam-esque socialist antipathy toward profit-making, how far is it fair to conclude that fans of Ayn Rand should not be involved with the use of Linux?

It is my understanding that Stallman has very little influence in today's open source and Linux community. Most people (correctly) find his ideas to be crazy. Although, he did create Emacs, one of the best text editors of all-time. As far as antipathy toward profit-making, I would check with Linus Torvalds about the riches he's accumulated as a result of creating the original Linux kernel.

An interesting side note, this forum is powered by at least one open source technology, PHP. And I'm guessing it also uses MySQL, an open source database.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you write something and voluntarily release it for anyone to do whatever they want with it, it doesn't change the ownership. You "own" the original source code in that you created it, you're just making it available for other people to use. The consequence is that you have no control what they do with it.

So according to your definitions, you own it but don't control it? I think we've gotten to the root of why you aren't following me.

What do you mean the "hard and unique part was done by a commercial company"? What ideas did they copy and from whom?

I'm talking about UNIX. Linux is a UNIX clone. The heart of which is the C language. See http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/who/dmr/chist.html.

For the most part, the Open Source community does nothing except copy and tweak things that commercial companies invented and made successful. Sure, coding up clones is hard work. Just as moving blocks for a pyramid is hard work. But that's not the most conceptual, valuable part of the development process. Surely Objectivists should give the most credit to the Creators of the original systems that were laboriously cloned.

One exception here has been mentioned already: Emacs. But that's the exception not the rule.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So according to your definitions, you own it but don't control it? I think we've gotten to the root of why you aren't following me.

You create it and voluntarily release it for other people to use. It'd be like owning a piece of land, donating to a third party organization under the conditions that you can't take your private ownership back, but you can use the land whenever you want. Obviously, this idea doesn't make a lot of sense for physical property, but it works very well in some software development situations.

I'm talking about UNIX. Linux is a UNIX clone. The heart of which is the C language. See http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/who/dmr/chist.html.

For the most part, the Open Source community does nothing except copy and tweak things that commercial companies invented and made successful. Sure, coding up clones is hard work. Just as moving blocks for a pyramid is hard work. But that's not the most conceptual, valuable part of the development process. Surely Objectivists should give the most credit to the Creators of the original systems that were laboriously cloned.

One exception here has been mentioned already: Emacs. But that's the exception not the rule.

I don't think its fair to say that Linux is simply a UNIX clone. Linux is definitely designed under the philosophy of UNIX, but I would consider more of an evolution of UNIX. Every modern operating system is, to some degree, a derivative of an OS that previously existed. Operating System Comparisons

What about when commercial companies decide to make their original products open source for others to improve upon or learn from? Sun recently made Java open source. Netscape made their web-browser open source (which evolved into Firefox, IMO the best web-browser available). John Carmack (Doom, Quake, etc.) releases all his video game engines open source after their economic life-cycle ends. I guess I'm confused why this is viewed in a negative light.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You create it and voluntarily release it for other people to use. It'd be like owning a piece of land, donating to a third party organization under the conditions that you can't take your private ownership back, but you can use the land whenever you want. Obviously, this idea doesn't make a lot of sense for physical property, but it works very well in some software development situations.

In spite of all this, A is still A. Giving up ownership is giving up ownership.

I don't think its fair to say that Linux is simply a UNIX clone. Linux is definitely designed under the philosophy of UNIX, but I would consider more of an evolution of UNIX. Every modern operating system is, to some degree, a derivative of an OS that previously existed. Operating System Comparisons

How experienced are you in operating systems? I've been programming on UNIX since around 1992 (been using Linux since around that era too as it happens). I've used Solaris, HPUX, BSD, Linux, and others. There's a lot more in common between Linux and UNIX than mere philosophy, but it's so patently obvious to me that at the moment I'm not sure what arguments to give you or why an argument should be needed. All I can say is: look.

I guess I'll just offer this argument: Just because something came before something else, doesn't mean that it's based principally on that thing. Linux is clearly a UNIX clone. DOS is clearly quite different, regardless of whether one system influenced the other or whether they might have a common "ancestor".

What about when commercial companies decide to make their original products open source for others to improve upon or learn from? Sun recently made Java open source. Netscape made their web-browser open source (which evolved into Firefox, IMO the best web-browser available). John Carmack (Doom, Quake, etc.) releases all his video game engines open source after their economic life-cycle ends. I guess I'm confused why this is viewed in a negative light.

I think the issue is that you don't understand the essential nature of "Open Source", nor what the capitalist-friendly alternatives might be. I have personally looked into creating a "Capitalist Open Source" system, an Objectivist answer to Stallman's vision, but got hung up on legal issues. I.e., one of the barriers to a proper system that should replace "Open Source" is that people do not understand what the ideal should be, but another real barrier is legal in that our government does not permit adults to freely enter into contracts, but rather straightjackets you into contracts for your own "protection" from yourself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a technical note, there are a large number of independently developed free programs available through the gnu website http://directory.fsf.org/math/ -- many of them commonly used in business and universities. So if you are accustomed to using them on unix-like systems, you will want to know that you can find some very good versions available for usoft OSs: including emacs, the bash shell, wc, ispell, gnuplot, g++, wget ('web get"), etc. I use some of these programs routinely on an XP laptop. They are good enough to have been worth paying for, and many commercial operations use them or are partly based on such open software.

Here is the first part of the gnu general license taken from emacs (note that it relies on copyrights!):

GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE

Version 2, June 1991

Copyright © 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307 USA

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies

of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

Preamble

The licenses for most software are designed to take away your

freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public

License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free

software--to make sure the software is free for all its users. This

General Public License applies to most of the Free Software

Foundation's software and to any other program whose authors commit to

using it. (Some other Free Software Foundation software is covered by

the GNU Library General Public License instead.) You can apply it to

your programs, too.

When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not

price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you

have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for

this service if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it

if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it

in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.

To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid

anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights.

These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you

distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.

For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether

gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that

you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the

source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their

rights.

We protect your rights with two steps: (1) copyright the software, and

(2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission to copy,

distribute and/or modify the software.

That much is a bit philosophically mixed, but not terrible; while reading some of Richard Stallman is enough to make you outright choke, and within the gnu website you also find exhortations to oppose software copyrights on principle, denunciations of the "propaganda term intellectual property", etc., so it is something to be very wary of even while recognizing that competent individuals have developed the programs and serious legitimate businesses are based on using or supporting the software.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites