Thursday, April 22, 2010

Open Source Software

I have been using Open Office for quite a while and I never really asked myself what is the ideology behind creating Open Source software. I started using it not because I knew how to modify the source code, but because it was free and I wanted to try it. I never thought Word was any better than Open Office though. However, using Open Office did change the way I perceived buying computer software. In particular, it did not seem very reasonable to me to pay for something that I can get for free and that is not really significantly different.
Yet, I still don't think I completely understand the difference between “free beer” and “free speech” in terms of computer software. Even after reading Open Source Initiative, I still did not think programmers were awarded enough for the work they did. On the other hand, when I thought about it in more general terms, I realized that people from many professions do not get sufficient awards for the work they do. In fact, the income one receives does not (and often is not) proportional to the amount of effort one invests or the talent one possesses. That is why, in my opinion, free labor is so important.
Free labor is what makes functioning of the capitalist society possible. Free labor enhances the flow of information greatly, enabling more people to participate actively in the functioning of that same capitalist society. Without free labor, information would circulate much slower which would, in return, cause not the development of the capitalist society, but rather its stagnation.
Taken in that context, the ideology behind Open Source software makes much more sense. Ultimately, Open Source is not something that would destroy programming profession, but rather help it develop to a more advanced level. True, in the very beginning, programmers would most likely experience financial difficulties, but, Open Source software could lead to higher demand of programmers due to the fact that it stimulates individualization of software for specific needs of the users and due to the availability and possibility to modify the source code.
No one could stop the programmers from selling copies of modified Open Source software that would satisfy needs of particular users. In that way, not only would programmers still have their jobs, but the users would have software that would be more appropriate to their needs.
However, the complete transition between standard commercial and Open Source software would be certainly very hard, if not impossible. For that, we have to start perceiving computer software as a tool of our electronic “speech”. Because of that, we should have the right to use it just like we use other people's written or spoken thoughts.

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