July 02, 2009

free as in "free spirit"

Open source is usually associated with the word "free", and in our minds we see a comfy zero followed by our local currency symbol. Of course, it is a huge misconception to think that open source technology comes at no cost. Okay, you won't have any licensing costs. You can freely experiment with open source technology to see if it could meet whatever demands you have. You probably shouldn't endlessly experiment until you encounter the perfect solution either. Depending on the number of FTE's doing the experimentation that could become costly, and of course there is this thing called "time to market" too. Time is money. When it comes to choosing between open source and proprietary commercial technology, you will at least need to balance those factors. No, open source does not refer to free as in free beer.

The thing with proprietary technology is that it is, well, proprietary. It means that the components that differentiate the technology from the other technologies (open source and competing proprietary technology) are locked away and closed to the public. These components tend to live rather solitary lives and don't meet many peers (if any). If they would be human, they would be wretched and lonely. Sure, they often get royal treatment, but they are never free (and in a cost sense, nor for their owners). Never (well, almost never if it weren't for reverse engineering and hackers) will they be able to share their ideas and their ways of thinking with peers. Not being able to share your thoughts with others would make me very unhappy. If souls would be proprietary they will most likely become either suicidal or delusional.

Open source technology on the other hand would be very happy beings when humanized. They are truly free spirits dancing around with other spirits, sharing in the joy sharing what they are enthusiastic about, in the joy of knowing things could be improved even further. These beings are open minded about agreeing to use commonly developed standards to improve compatibility between them. They wouldn't mind at all if you would replace them with a better implementation, in fact, they would completely understand your reasons. They are fully supportive of your freedom to choose. Being outperformed by their peers only stimulates them to get better, faster, more standards compliant and more compatible. That is why open source technology can reach extremely high quality.

Okay, that is a rather black-and-white picture I am drawing here. I agree. The reality is made of all the colors between those extremes. My point is simply that sharing knowledge is a good thing. It sets you free.

No comments: