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The open source movement, Squeak and Smalltalk
There are basically two approaches to the use of computers, which may be styled open source and hidden source from their approaches to software, or personal and commercial from their basic motivations.
In commercial computing some business entity writes hidden source programs it tries to sell to people who think they need the sort of things the executable compiled from the hidden source may help them do.
These customers are supposed not to know the source for these executables, and the commercial computing bussineses indeed make money from the programming expertise they have (bought).
In personal computing some person or persons write open source programs they give to other persons to help them do things with computers by means of understandable software.
That the source is open to all who use it It (and anybody else who cares) makes it possible to freely share and develop it, but more difficult to make money from it.
I have outlined my own thoughts on these matters in 1999. A related position (earlier than mine) is argued by
- GNU's not Unix! Free as in Freedom (http://www.gnu.org/)
and yet another one, with possibly more commercial potential
- The Open Source Foundation (http://www.opensource.org/)
These differ from my own position in being - it seems - less concerned with science, art and education and in being more concerned with Linux, standard computing languages, and/or 'hacking' than I am.
The best arguments for open source are, to my mind, the following ones
- software is applied mathematics, and should be open and accessible to all, in principle, just as mathematics is and just as natural language is
- my preferred mental models for source code (software) are natural language and mathematics, which must must be free and public to be well developed, well maintained and well researched, and whose creation is and was free and public since humanity started
- Open source - if moved by sufficiently many members of the public and the academic communities - is much better at debugging, maintaining, developing, documenting and explaining code than is hidden source
- Open source is far less prone to bugs, viruses and worms
- Open source makes it much easier to isolate one's own computer, methods and data from the rest of the world, and share only what one wants to share
- Software (code) is not an ordinary commodity like a banana, car or insurance polis: Having one copy of it one can make in principle make unlimitedly many equally good copies against minimal costs.
In short: It is in everybody's interest that personal computing dominates commercial computing, for open source is in the interest of everybody except commercial developers - but "the public" should work for it, in suficient numbers, of sufficient quality, and not for greed but in the interest of all.
This also should give most companies that do not make their profit from developing hidden source commercial software a strong interest in the development of open source computing software: Only open source software is not secretive about its hidden possibilities and dangers - like viruses, worms, hidden ports for the CIA or the competition etc.
The Open Source link above also gives access to commented versions of the so-called "Halloween-files", which are an internal Microsoft report on Linux of several years ago. These Halloween files show that - if you didn't already know it - what Microsoft publicly announces it supports and what it really tries to achieve are two different things entirely.
And indeed what I termed commercial computing these last 15 years or so has dominated much of personal computing and also much of the direction and content of computing in general, and has been able to do so for mostly known economical reasons, related to how to set up and maintain monopolies and oligopolies in commercial markets, and to the difficulty of using computers productively.
The present situation in computing seems to come to this:
It is dominated by commercial computing, but the existence and contents of Linux and Squeak show that it is possible to tame commercial computing, and how to go about it, and why: Open source is in everybody's interest, except those who make money from hidden source. (This may be quite honorable, honest, finely crafted and admirable - but hidden source will always invite the possibility of hidden bugs and Trojan Horses that no user can defend itself against.)
However, for personal computing to take over from commercial computing requires an effort of the community of those interested in and concerned with personal computing and open source.
This research and programming effort should be of special concern and interest to all academics, since these are by and large the best placed to develop good open source software for all manner of ends, and to be strongly interested in its existence and availability.
[Note: If Newton or Leibniz could and would have patented the calculus, the level of science in 2004 might not have gotten much beyond the 18th C.]
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