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UPDATE: The American Prospect: Should Public Policy Support Open-Source Software

Apr 26, 2000, 02:08 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Band, Jeff Taylor, Eric S. Raymond, Lawrence Lessig, Nathan Newman)

"Round Two is now online. Lawrence Lessig joins us as a participant this round."

"Though Microsoft's trademark blue sky and puffy white clouds may seem ubiquitous today, a devoted effort might turn the company's horizons to black. According to Nathan Newman writing for the American Prospect ["Storming the Gates," Vol. 11 Issue 10], it is not the Justice Department's anti-trust suit that could rain on Microsoft, but a scrappy group of techno-geeks who make up the open-source software movement. They could only do it, however, if they were bolstered by the right government support."

"In contrast to Microsoft's "proprietary software" for which the building blocks (source code) are a closely-guarded secret, open-source software's source code is openly available. This means that programmers who want to wade into the code and improve it can do so. But there's one catch: They have to disclose all improvements and -- under most licenses -- disburse them for free. At the heart of the movement is an open-source operating system called Linux, a version of the UNIX operating system that was developed (primarily) by the Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds."

"The theory behind the open source movement is that with programmers across the globe working to improve software, there will be more innovation. Since software would be mostly free, computer use would be much cheaper. And as open-source software became easier to use, it would overtake Microsoft's expensive and (by then) less desirable proprietary software and operating system, busting its monopoly. Many argue that because open-source software has such beneficial and democratic qualities, government should promote its use through funding or regulation."

"Opponents argue that it would not be fair for government to favor open-source software and that the market should decide which type flourishes. Others -- so-called "technolibertarians" -- argue that government involvement could only get in the way of the open-source phenomenon."

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