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The Cheapening of 'Open Source', Where Source No Longer Means Source Code

Vulnerable terms die hard

Tim O'Reilly
Photo by Brian Solis



Summary: Free/libre software -- unlike "Open Source" -- highlights the main strength of code people are sharing among one another

WHEN it comes to freedom-respecting hardware, an explanation to the public about the benefits is relatively simple. Many refer to particular actions as "unlocking" or "jail-breaking", so there is also familiar terminology one can use. The words "free" and "freedom" would have been very helpful in this context, but the "Open Source" movement sought to bury those words.



Nowadays it's rather common to see articles about the subject accompanied by terms like "open-source" or "Open Hardware" (misnomers because they overlook the main benefit). Some refer to it as a matter of "control" [1]. use it as a metaphor for a process [2], a financial model [3], a business model [4], and even ecosystems [5]. There are many other new articles about it [6-10] and few actually have anything to do with source code.

By going along with a term like "open source" -- a term originally coined and used by the spies (like the NSA) to mean something completely different -- the "Open Source" movement made itself susceptible to brand dilution and confusion. Companies like Microsoft now call "open" some of their proprietary software products and formats.

Related/contextual items from the news:



  1. Open Source Design Offers Greater Control Over Personal Gadgets
    Matthew Casebeer Computer Scientist for MAYA Design, a consulting group that’s focused on simplifying devices and data. He finds that open source design benefits all who share information through their devices, not just computer scientists that work on fixing problems for large groups of users.


  2. It's Time to Build an Open-Source Music Industry: A Chat with CASH Music
    Six years ago, Maggie Vail and Jesse von Doom launched CASH Music, a nonprofit with the express goal of building open-source tools to help musicians reach their audience—and make a living. Vail originally cut her teeth at the Kill Rock Stars label, while von Doom’s background was in web development. Both wanted to streamline the musician-to-audience experience. And so they made the CASH (which stands for Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders) platform open-source, allowing artists and labels to build networks in their own unique and flexible ways.
  3. Open-Source Capitalism and the HOPE Global Financial Dignity Summit
    Open-source capitalism is the same exact thing that made early America a successful nation to begin with.


  4. Open source bioinformatics firm raises €£1m
    Proof that open source can pay arrived today in the guise of Cambridge bioinformatics company, Eagle Genomics, who closed a €£1 million funding round that it said would allow it to further develop its core platform technology and scale up operations including a doubling of staff.

    Having started in human health and expanded into the areas of crop science and personal hygiene, the company also plans to move further into non-traditional areas for bioinformatics such as consumer goods, food safety and animal health.


  5. Can A Smart Beehive Network Of Open-Source Hives Help Stop The Bee Apocalypse?


    The Open Source Beehives Project aims to lower the barriers to backyard beekeeping with simple, low-cost hive designs. With bees dying by the millions, they need to spread the buzz.


  6. Public Labs Open Source Smartphone Spectrometer Let's You Find Your Wavelength


  7. Out in the Open: The German Plot to Give You Complete Control of Your Phone
    When your last smartphone started to get a little long in the tooth, you probably just bought a new one. Maybe you kept the old one around as a backup. Maybe you recycled it. But, chances are, whatever you did, you didn’t physically upgrade the thing. You didn’t toss in more memory or a new processor or any aftermarket parts.


  8. An open source robotic lawn mower


  9. ArduMower Open Source Arduino Based Robot Lawn Mower (video)
    If like me you would prefer to be dining something else rather than mowing the lawn, you might be interested in this awesome open source Arduino mower which brings a little more fun back to moving your yard and has been under development for some time.


  10. Open-source through the lens of a microscope




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