It's shared infrastructure, written cooperatively by corporations, private individuals, and employees of private foundations and the government.
It doesn't just make sense for software. As Don Tapscott notes, there are other industries where the cost of basic infrastructure is such that sharing makes sense. Drug companies, music companies, banks, manufacturers and health care companies could all benefit from having a commons all can draw from.
The lesson of software is that big companies should have little to fear from this sharing. But the legal environment, as I noted yesterday, is running counter to this obvious truth. The reason for that is an assumption, by Americans and western Europeans, that general sharing will eliminate the advantages they have over Chinese, Brazilian and Indian competitors, and that the only protection their own industries can gain is that of the law.
- It's short-term thinking and nations rise or fall in the long-term.
- Chinese, Brazilian and Indian companies can also cooperate.
Cooperation is not socialism. It is a competitive weapon. This runs counter to ideological assumptions, but we live at a time when many truths run counter to ideological assumptions. I still get called a "hippie" for advocating open source, the President is called "anti-business" although his record of supporting business is actually quite good (especially when compared with Republicans), Democrats are still labeled "tax and spend" even though the debt was run up by Republicans, etc. etc. etc.
That's partly the nature of our time, which as I've said many times is a time of crisis. A crisis, driven by artificial scarcity (of energy in this case), pushes every nation, every company and every individual to look out for Number One, and only Number One.
Which in the case of this crisis is a recipe for failure.
This is a complex world. The ability to build a stack of knowledge high enough to compete, in almost every field, is very limited. Lawyers don't generate income, only bills. The way toward growth is to use the abundance of the previous generation -- the Internet and clouds -- to create breakthroughs for the next generation of abundance -- energy harvesting.
We can reach that goal quickly, or we can reach it slowly. The more slowly we reach toward the goal, the more people will suffer. Suffering does not benefit those at the top of the pyramid, as elites may think. Negative growth will, in time, bring the rich down with the poor, and create social fissures that threaten everyone's well being.
Open source is based on contracts, contracts under which people agree to share basic knowledge so that higher levels of knowledge can be built on them. Even when knowledge is shared, it still takes scale to compete, so there is nothing to be feared from it. And the result, in all cases, is abundance that lifts all boats, that creates better markets in which more people can make much more money than before.
Software has shown the way. Clouds would not have been possible under a proprietary model, or more accurately they would have taken much longer to emerge, and would not have delivered the competition needed to drive costs down and value up.
Open source is a friend of competition. Agreements to share basic infrastructure across an industry let all those in on the agreement achieve more, faster than those outside the agreement.
The real arguments of today are over details. The trend is obvious.
It's time for those who have seen this to say so, both in business and in our politics.