Open Source: past perfect?

What motivates people to create open source software? On the one hand, efforts required for it are greater than those couple of days spent by students on solving their toy assignments, on the other hand it is almost impossible to sell, and it is very hard to do “consulting” kind of business around it. So why is it worth efforts?

Keeping in mind those 7% of strange altruistic people, the resting 93% of OSS developers are apparently developing it because of the following reasons:

  • They are being paid for it by companies, who want to compete with closed source companies
  • They want to find a (better) job, so they need both skills and publicity
  • They want to be popular.

Web 2.0 and mobile apps have seriously disturbed the latter two motivations.

Several years ago, if you wanted to be a cool hacker, you created some OSS software worthy to be included in GNU or Apache repositories. Today, if you want to be a cool startuper, you just create a web service or a mobile app.

Open sourcing web services is useless, because their source is often trivial, and whenever it is not, it cannot be reused, except of creating an exact clone. And web service clones are not interesting, because the original service would usually soak up all possible user base, and without users, Web 2.0 apps are pathetic.

In this respect, uselessness of web services source code is quite similar to the source code of Adobe Flash Player or Microsoft Silverlight. Because it doesn’t matter what you can do with these sources, what matters is which version is installed on the most PCs out there.

With the mobile apps it is even more interesting. Apple’s license agreement is explicitly not compatible with GPL, and Free Software Foundation is understandable scolding them for that. Besides, source code of most mobile apps should be quite trivial, because the most of their added value lies in their interaction design / UX; and in the connected web services.

So, if you want to get better job or get popular, you can just create a web service (and a couple of mobile apps for it). And as a nice side-effect of NOT open-sourcing them, you can even earn some money (from the App Store or by selling the app/service to somebody big).

So what is the future of Open Source? Are we evidencing its peak today? Can it be saved? And… do we want to save it?


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