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Washington Monthly: How Linux and open-source development could change the way we get things done

Mar 03, 2000, 00:37 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nicholas Thompson)

"An army of disheveled computer programmers has built an operating system called Linux based on a business model that seems to have been written with everything but business in mind. Instead of charging customers as much as the market can bear, Linux is given away for free; instead of hiding information from competitors, Linux programmers share their work with the world; instead of working for money, Linux developers are motivated primarily by adrenaline, altruism, and the respect of their peers."

"Despite this unusual foundation, Linux is booming and even beginning to challenge Microsoft's control of the operating system industry. Linux may eventually pull the rug out from under the richest company in the world. It may not. But no matter what happens, it has already shown that money doesn't have to make the world, even the business world, go round. In fact, as technology improves and computers connect and create even more of our society, the principles of cooperation and collaboration that drive Linux may well spread to other fields: from computers, to medicine, to the law...."

"To see the power of this model, consider what happens when you're running Microsoft Windows or Macintosh OS and your computer crashes: You stamp your feet and poke a twisted paper clip into a tiny reset button. You probably don't know what happened and it's probably going to happen again. Since you've never seen the source code, it probably doesn't even occur to you that you could fix the problem at its root. With Linux, everything's transparent and, even if you aren't an expert, you can simply post your question on a Linux-help Web page and other users can usually find solutions within hours, if not minutes. (The amorphous Linux community recently won InfoWorld's Product of the Year award for Best Technical Support.) It's also entirely possible that someone--perhaps you--will write some new code that fixes the problem permanently and that Linux developers, led by Torvalds, will incorporate into the next release. Presto, that problem's fixed and no one will need paper clips to fix it again."

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