Saturday, January 29, 2005

Why They Love the GPL

Slashdot is obviously hugely popular as a site, but as a community it's just completely weak. Heavily anti-bush, heavily jobs-protectionist, this "News for Nerds" is about as rearward looking as a community could get. I don't know why I keep looking, maybe it's in hope that people in technology will start being a little more self-reliant, but my mistake:

There are a lot of good reasons to like the GPL: the GNU Public License. For one thing, it's a David and Goliath kind of thing. It's the little guy standing up to the corporate behemoths that run rough-shod over our daily lives by virtue of their influence, legal and otherwise, on government. For another, it's virtuous.


I've got nothing against open source software in general. I'm also not completely overwhelmed by it. But the attitude presented above is pretty sad. "Corporate behemoths running rough-shod over our daily lives"? Who? What corporation has any control over how I run my life? And "Virtuous"? It's not wrong, but virtuous?

In the vast majority of cases, people work in open source for personal gain or for personal satisfaction. The whole idea that all these people are just so selfless is completely deluded. Note how many open source luminaries leverage their experience into good jobs. They're smart, not heroes, any more than an intern in an office building is.

Also, without the corporate behemoths running (roughshod or otherwise) open source people would have nothing to do. What would they copy if there weren't UNIX, or Office, or Explorer, or Photoshop, etc? Obviously there are interesting new things, but the big things I am exposed to (Linux, Open Office, Firefox, GIMP, etc.) are attempts to replicate functionality brought to life or brought to popularity by evil behemoths like Bell Labs, Microsoft and Adobe.

An interesting thing happened with Firefox, I should add, in that the open source copy (in my opinion) overtook the corporate Explorer. Ever since Microsoft was nearly shut down for using the money they spent on Explorer development to their competitive advantage (the horror!), the advances stalled. Yes, finally, after all these years, open source brought us something better than Explorer 4 era browsing.

I do wonder what we lost, what we might have today, had Microsoft been allowed to have an incentive to continue improving Explorer. I also wonder where we'd be without these evil corporate behemoths, where open source (David) would be without them (Goliath). I can guess, but I'd rather not imagine it. I doubt the open source hero worshippers at Slashdot would agree, though.

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