Where Linus Gets It Wrong
Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond are truly the founding fathers and patriarchs of the Free/Open Source movement. The fruits of this movement are well-known even for the non-geek audience. They include the Linux operating system, Firefox browser, OpenOffice suite, MySQL database, plus a plethora of PHP-based content-management systems like WordPress and Drupal which are the driving engines behind the blogosphere… and the list goes on and on.
Despite the fact that the three patriarchs often disagree with each other, their authority is overwhelming enough that when any of them states an opinion, it would be unimaginable for mere mortals like us to disagree with or, God forbid, criticize their ideas. Nevertheless, the “free” in “free software” stands for “liberty”, the word that precisely characterizes the Free Software community, a community where any opinion has the right for existance and search for ultimate truth is the path of continued “disrespect” towards authoritative opinions. Besides, we the bloggers are well-known for our arrogance so, the heck with it! We are going to disagree with Linus Torvalds in this posting.
Linux.com published a feature story: Linus explains why open source works in its August 10, 2007 issue. In this article, Linus is quoted as drawing strong parallels between the open-source software and scientific query. He tries to explain how the scientific model of ascertaining the truthfulness of a hypothesis through peer-review is similar to the community-driven development process of free/open source software. This, he concludes, makes open-source software development model like a scientific research.
False! Sweet but wrong, Linus.
Let’s get rid of the romantic view of science and look at hard facts. How does the scientific model really work? It works in one of two ways: the research is either conducted in corporate labs under an absolute secrecy, or funded by universities. The former case is similar to proprietary software development, with zero outside review, so we disregard it. The research conducted in universities and other research institutions is often peer-reviewed, published, collaborated on and widely discussed, but does it resemble the open-source development model? How many collaborators can a single scientific research project have? Maybe four or five labs around the world. How many contributors does a successful open-source project have? Hundreds
As Linus himself admits - Diversity is integral to the open-source model, but that’s not quite true for a scientific query! In conducting scientific research, approving nods from a couple of authoritative peers is considered more than sufficient. Rarely do a sufficient number of “random” scientists contribute to research in an effort to achieve any level of meaningful diversity. This is the polar opposite approach to that of the open-source model.
Linus concludes by stating that it’s all about advancing knowledge and that knowing more is what mankind really wants. Well, I hate to break it to you, Linus, but there are plenty of people that just want more money and are not too bothered about their ignorance. :) Sad or not, we have to accept the fact that money makes the world go around. If we want something to work, we need to figure out a way in which higher aspirations make business sense. The Open Source community has spent years trying to prove that open-source is a viable business model. Let’s not ruin that with some naively romantic, but highly visible remarks, shall we?