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The rebel that grew up and turned freedom advocate

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 14:17 -- Anders Liling

In the article Open Source – the rebel with a cause we talked about the almost movie like story of Open Source being the rebel frowned upon by the establishment only to succeed to the general amazement of its critics.

Born of the “free software” and hacker culture of the late 1990s, Open Source software was seen as an unruly rebel. In 2007 Microsoft even went so far as to demand royalties and claim patent violations from the open source operating system Linux.

But Open Source is no longer the rebel kid in the garage, riding his motorcycle and writing poetry that no one wants to read. Rather, Open Source is constantly getting closer to status quo. In 2013, Microsoft even decided to embrace to the development model and incorporated Git developed by Linus Torvalds into its own development tools.

Open Source has permanently shifted how companies and users think about software. In the 2013 annual Future of Open Source Survey by Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners, 61% believed open source would spur innovation and the participants saw Open Source software as leading innovation, delivering higher quality, and driving growth rather than being just a free or low-cost alternative.

The dominance of open source in today’s software development, such as in Android and Salesforce is monumental and the 2015 Black Duck Survey shows that 78% of companies run on open source – need I say more?

But does this mean that Open Source can walk into the sunset for a happy ever after – well no, this isn't a movie. Even though 78% of companies run on Open Source – the same 2015 Black Duck Survey show that many lack formal policies to manage legal operational and security risks. The obvious point here being that just because Open Source has made it into the big leagues it still requires work. To draw a parallel — just because you have the freedom to decorate your house whichever way you want, you still need to lock the door when you leave.

But there is an even more imperative point for Open Source and it's followers to work for – the need to remain free.

In The Master Switch – the rise and fall of information empires, Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School and chairman of media reform organization Free Press shows us how each of the new media of the twentieth century—radio, telephone, television, and film—were born free and open. Each invited unrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination.

”In this age of an open Internet, it is easy to forget that every [...] information industry, beginning with the telephone, has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel. With all our media now traveling a single network, an unprecedented potential is building for centralized control over what [we] see and hear. Could history repeat itself with the next industrial consolidation? Could the Internet—the entire flow of [...] information—come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of the master switch?”

With this historical perspective one can argue that Open Source software has a defining importance for the future of a free information empire. That every single Open Source innovator and creator is a freedom fighter and that the basic principle of openness and transparency may be one of our main tools in the fight for information independence.