In this week’s LSB, (most of) the Lift teams sits down for a discussion on all things Open Source. A huge topic to tackle in an afternoon, we decided to focus our conversation around five myths about Open Source technologies in hopes to dispel some of these misconceptions, all the while relating to how Lift is able to leverage the technological fruits of the OS community into great user experiences.
5 Common Myths About Open Source
Myth #1: Open Source is always free
Many people equate open source technologies to simply being free, but we delve into why this isn’t exactly true and clear up some of the confusion surrounding it.
Myth #2: Open Source is not high quality
The myth addressed here is that open source technologies aren’t very good — a myth which is entirely incorrect. Through our own experiences the Lift team reveals how they’ve come to the opposite conclusion: that open source technologies are very often of higher-quality than their propietary counterparts. Look all across the Web, examples of top notch quality are everywhere.
Myth #3: Support for Open Source software doesn’t exist
The helpfulness, accuracy and availability of support is always a major issue with any software — and to say open source software lacks in terms of good, accurate support is simply false. The open source community supports itself through forums and active communities. In that vein there is often much left to be desired when a select group of gatekeepers not only holds all the answers, but also controls the only means of finding them, as is the case with support for many non-OS products. A transparent development atmosphere with answers coming from other users of the software (as well as the traditional gatekeepers) is far more helpful and speedy. How helpful was it the last time you called a 1-800 number?
Myth #4: There is no security in Open Source
Security is a major concern when it comes to all web technologies, but then again, some of the most secure web technologies are Open Source (or OS in origin). Using WordPress as an example, the team looks into how security factors in to any open source project and why Open Source efforts are often just as or more secure than other propietary counterparts.
Myth #5: Making money in Open Source is impossible
Making money with open source products is very possible — however, the ways to do that simply aren’t as obvious. The Lift team discusses some successful examples in dispelling this myth, but admittedly comes to realize that monetizing open source efforts is tricky territory.
Open Source Resources
The Open Source Wikipedia entry is an obvious and apt place to start. The entries on the Open Source Initiative, Open Source definition, a history of Open Source, and business models for Open Source software are also great in-points to Open Source.
Regarding Open Source licenses, Jeff Atwood remarks on why all and any code should be released with some kind of license (he champions the WTFPL) and Grant Skinner echoes a similar sentiment, using Flash and Flex technologies as an example. Skinner’s article digs a little deeper into specifics about the various kinds of Open Source (and non-OS) licenses are available, classifying each of the most popular licenses in terms of what specifications each has in terms of commercial use, derivative works, and attribution.
Somewhat similarly, William Hurley explains why Open Source works especially well in adverse economic times. There’s also an excellent essay from Eben Moglen, a law prof at Columbia University Law School, on destroying corporate software monopolies and software as a public utility, among other things: “Freeing the Mind: Free Software and the Death of Propietary Culture”.
In terms of WordPress and licensing, Daniel Jalkut voices his displeasure, accusing WordPress of violating the Gnu Public License (GPL) — and Matt Mullenweg, one of WordPress’ founding devs, volleys with a response in defense of WordPress’ use of the GPL.
The Free Software Foundation is another good resource, especially this video in celebration of GNU’s birthday by Stephen Fry, as well as the Open Source Initiative. Creative Commons (which, we should mention, is not meant to be a license used for software) is also a great place to look. That may very well lead you to Flickr’s Creative Commons resource, the Flickr Commons, or the NFB-produced doc Rip: A Remix Manifesto, the latter of which sheds some important light on everything from mashups to medical patents with an Open Source flavour. Rip‘s accompanying site, Open Source Cinema, is a great model of an Open Source mentality applied to something other than software — in this case, film production and distribution.
In a similar movement to introduce Open Source-inspired principles into disciplines beyond the software world, Cameron Sinclair’s TED Talk on Open Source Architecture is a quick, but very inspiring, glimpse into the Open Architecture Network‘s effort to improve living conditions for the hundreds of millions of humans living in sub-human living conditions. The OAN is achieving this through Open Source principles, community, and innovative and sustainable design. (Haig actually speaks at some more length about Sinclair’s work and the OAN, praising them for great, innovative and purposeful work, but sadly that was left on the cutting room floor.) Not to be overlooked, some props should also go to Open Source Ecology, which is an initiative to create “tools to build replicable, open source, modern off-grid resilient communities using open source permaculture and technology to work together for providing basic needs and self replicating the entire operation at the cost of scrap metal.” Big words and huge ideas in that statement for sure, but in application the OSE details everything from Open Source Chicken, to Open Source Biofuels, to Open Source Soil Pulverizers.
The examples of Open Source initiatives in all fields of work and play are astounding. Open Source isn’t only changing the way we make and use software, but it’s improving how we eat, how we live, how we dance, and how we have fun. And overwhelmingly, it seems to be doing all that for the better.
As mentioned in the LSB, the internet is really just one humongous read/write machine built on Open Source technologies, and great resources about, for and against Open Source abound all throughout its vast networks of people, servers and signals. This is only a tiny amount of useful links and by no means a complete resource, so please share some more in the comments below. C’mon, open up.