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Free Software: Technically and Ethically Better

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Summary: The BBC helps daemonise the idea of crowdsourcing, Google shows that proprietary software falters, and Bradley Kuhn (FSF/SFLC) explains why "proprietary software licensing produces no new value in society"

THE BBC is losing talent fast, by its very own admission (as published early in the day). Even Jonathan Ross is leaving. Earlier today we mentioned the corporate bias that the BBC helps push (including that of the Copyright Cartel) and another new example is a critique of crowdsourcing -- the idea of pooling ideas. Here is a rare positive part of this Monday piece which was titled "Should we trust the wisdom of crowds?" (it's a rhetorical "no", as implied by the form of this question)



Open source computer operating systems, such as Linux and Google's Android, the big rival to Apple's iPhone, are written and refined by members of the public.

Another good example of such collaboration is Wikipedia, which allows users to write and edit entries for its online encyclopaedia: "For the first time millions of people can aggregate their talent and expertise," says Williams.


A form of meritocracy works very well. Attempts to dismiss this approach often come from the likes of Jaron Lanier. Here is a new article which explains why more eyeballs can indeed improve reliability and security in the case of code: (more here for background)

Youtube Hacked - Ramifications for the Connected TV Industry?



[...]

Let's start with a fact. Youtube is not like Android - it is not open source software. It is reasonably open however, and does have API's available. But it is web-based and apparently has had some vulnerabilities exploited by creative hackers over the years.

[...]

There are far fewer minds at work on a proprietary project than there are on an open one... less testing, less debugging, less resources available.


People also develop differently when they are aware that their code is 'naked' for everyone to assess. It encourages high-quality programming.

Coincidentally, Bradley Kuhn has this new essay titled "Proprietary Software Licensing Produces No New Value In Society":

Meanwhile, I've also spent some time applying this idea of "creating nothing and producing nothing" to the proprietary software industry. Proprietary licenses, in many ways, are actually not all that different from these valueless financial transactions. Initially, there's no problem: someone writes software and is paid for it; that's the way it should be. Creation of new software is an activity that should absolutely be funded: it creates something new and valuable for others. However, proprietary licenses are designed specifically to allow a single act of programming generate new revenue over and over again. In this aspect, proprietary licensing is akin to selling financial derivatives: the actual valuable transaction is buried well below the non-existent financial construction above it.

[...]

Software freedom is another principle of this type. While you can make a profit with community-respecting FLOSS business models (such as service, support and freely licensed custom modifications on contract), it's admittedly a smaller profit than can be made with Open Core and proprietary licensing. But that greater profit potential doesn't legitimatize such business models, just as it doesn't legitimize strip mining or gambling on financial derivatives.


Glyn Moody responds to it by claiming that:

This idea of getting money for work already done is precisely how copyright is regarded these days. It's not enough for a creator to be paid once for his or her work: they want to be paid every time it is performed or copies made of performances.

So ingrained is this idea that anyone suggesting the contrary - like that doughty young Eleanor - is regarded as some kind of alien from another planet, and is mocked by those whose livelihoods depend upon this kind of entitlement economics.

But just as open source has cut down the fat profits of proprietary software companies, so eventually will the exorbitant profits of the media industry be cut back to reasonable levels based on how much work people do - because, as Kuhn notes, there really is no justification for anything more.


Microsoft was born out of desire to suppress sharing of code, at least based on the manifesto-like document of its co-founder. A company that arises by striving to maximise wealth at the expense of good engineering is bound not only to produce shoddy software but software that also harms a community of software developers. The next post will show how developers feel about it.

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