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THE GROUCH: Why I hate the open source movement

THE GROUCH: Why I hate the open source movement

The Grouch will begin the New Year walking a very fine line. He ended 2004 complimenting Microsoft. This time, he may even sound like he's agreeing with it.

In his youth, the Grouch was a lifeguard at an ocean beach. Baywatch stereotypes to the contrary, the people lifeguards hate most are surfers. They think it's okay to stick their board in the water wherever they please, regardless of hazards and people with legitimate beach and ocean rights. Said surfers, displaying their usual lack of eloquence, reply to entreaties to move out of the bathing area with something clever like "it's a free ocean, dude."

That may be true, but it's not a free beach. Now move out or the Grouch is calling the cops.

The advent of the Internet and the moniker bestowed upon users as surfers is an apt one here. The Internet has developed a strange anonymity and false egalitarianism that has moved from a general consensus into a tyranny of the masses. Along with the technological capability to perfectly replicate bits of data, the Web has fed the rise of what can only be called technological correctness.

The Grouch remembers his first encounter with shareware. He downloaded some product, liked it and sent the guy a $US10 check for the product.

That's open source. Open source is the Library of Congress and university libraries putting their resources online. It's an operating system that you can download, amend and then share.

If someone chooses to share his or her operating system or library catalogue, that's fine. But like giving to charity as opposed to paying taxes, one should do so of one's own volition, not be compelled to by the mob.

This share-and-share-alike mentality has become the have-nots saying to the haves, I haven't worked as long or as hard as you, or maybe I wasn't lucky to be born into wealth the way you were, but I want what you have anyway. So it's okay for me not to pay for music, not to pay for movies, not to pay for software, not to pay for anything that I won't have to serve time for if I acquire it without paying.

The creation of wealth and the desire to do so is the main driver of technological progress. Not just from version 2.0 to 3.0, but from fire to wheel to combustion engine to computer. If you're a reader of this fine publication, it's doubtful that you arrive at your place of employment each day eager to donate your services.

Here's an open source concept worth trying: open source homes. People make their homes available online. You show up and crash there at will.

The only catch is you have to do the same with your home. Ask anyone who has ever owned a timeshare about how well that works.

This is all great in theory, but in practice, it works very poorly. Look at Microsoft - which specialises in proprietary software - and Oracle and Sun, which also specialise in proprietary software but wrap themselves in the open source cloak.

Even with the acknowledged hit Microsoft has taken from the open source movement - which is in part because there are few alternatives - the Redmond giant continues to print money. Oracle's share price is about 60 per cent of Microsoft's. Sun Microsystems' share price has never recovered from the 2000 tech downturn, languishing in single digits, specifically under $US5 per share. So what's the open source movement done for them lately?

Have any of those "savings" boosted their bottom line? Apparently not.

Relying on people's openness and generosity doesn't have a great history of success. It certainly doesn't create wealth. Whether anyone likes it or not, wealth, and people's desire to obtain or increase it, creates growth, jobs, and incentives.

The open source movement's problem - as the blogger at Silicon Hutong [www.siliconhutong.net] states - is that "it doesn't scale". There is a limit to what people are willing to do for free, and as such, it is not a reliable spring of innovation and improvement.

As a technological milestone, writing and sharing open source systems may help to spur creativity. But without sufficient intellectual property protection, and at least the promise of some future compensation, the open source movement is likely to run out of resources.


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