Wide Awake Developers

Bill Joy Knocks the Open Source Business Model

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Bill Joy had some doubts to voice about Linux. Of course, like so many others he immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion. "The open-source business model hasn’t worked very well," he says.

Tough nuts. Here’s the point that seems to get missed over and over again. There is no "open source business model". There never was, and I doubt there ever will be. It doesn’t exist. It’s a contradiction in terms.

Open source needs no business model.

Look, GNU existed before anyone ever talked about "open source". Linux was built before there were companies like RedHat and IBM interested (let alone Sun). The thing that the corps and the pundits cannot seem to grasp is their absolute irrelevance.

It’s like Bruce Sterling’s speech. Harangue. Whatever you want to call it. I see it as yet another person getting up and trying to tell the "open-source community" what they need to do. Getting on their case about not being organized enough… or something.

Or it’s like those posters on Slashdot that wish either GNOME or KDE would shut down so everyone can focus on one "standard" desktop.

Or Scott McNealy, lamenting the fact that open source Java application servers inhibit the expenditure of dollars that could be used to market J2EE against .Net.

Or the UI designers who froth at the mouth about how terrible an open source applications user interface may be. They say moronic things like "when will coders learn that they shouldn’t design user interfaces?" (Or the more extreme form, "Programmers should never design UIs.")

Or it’s like anyone who looks at an application and says, "That’s pretty good. You know what you really need to do?"

All of these people don’t get the true point. I’ll say it here as baldly as I can.

There is nobody in charge. Not IBM, not Linus Torvalds, not Richard Stallman. Nobody.

All you will find is an anarchic collection of self-interested individuals. Sometimes they collaborate. Some of them work together, some work apart, some work against each other. To the extent that some clusters of individuals share a vision, they collaborate to tackle bigger, cooler projects.

There is no one in control. Nobody gets to decree what open source projects live or die, or what direction they go in. These projects are an expression of free will, created by those capable of expressing themselves in that medium. Decisions happen in code, because coders make them happen.

Free will, baby. It’s my project, and I’ll do what I want with it. If I want to create the most god-awful user interface ever seen by Man, that’s my perogative. (If I want lots of users, I probably won’t do that, but who says I have to want lots of users? It’s my choice!)

As long as one GNOME hacker wants to keep working on GNOME, it will continue to evolve. As long as one Linux kernel hacker keeps coding, Linux will continue. None of these things require corporations, IPOs, or investement dollars to continue. The only true investments in open source are time and brainpower. Money is useful in that it can be used to purchase time, the greatest gift you can give a coder. Corporations are useful in that they are effective at aggregating and channeling money. "Useful", not "required".

As long as coders have free will and the tools to express it, open source software will continue. In fact, even if you take away their tools, they’ll build new ones! To truly kill open source software, you must kill free will itself.

(And, by the way, there are those who want to do exactly that.)