Editor's Note: Open Source in Spandex
Jul 21, 2006, 22:30 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
How to Help Your Business Become an AI Early Adopter
By Brian Proffitt
One of my self-indulgent hobbies is collecting comic books, and
after about 25 years of following the adventures of costumed heroes
I've noticed something interesting: no matter how many curveballs
the writers and artists throw at the readers, the man in the red
cape is still the man in the red cape. The guy swinging on the web
fundementally never changes. Sure, costumes change, some characters
die (usually for good) but the very nature of the character, the
thing that makes them unique, never really alters.
There are times when I get the vague sense that developing
software, especially open source, is a lot like life in comic
It goes without saying that I do not actively envision Linus
Torvalds running around his computer lab in tights and a cape. Or
Richard Stallman leaping around cities confronting evildoers with
his GNU-arang--oh. Wait. He sorta does do that, doesn't he?
But I do see parallels in open source development. For all the
new releases of software that we have seen over the years, the
fundemental essense of the applications and distributions we
receive still remain the same.
As any software matures, we tend to see increasingly diminishing
returns on the innovations built into finished applications. Just
as there's only so many ways Mr. Kent can save Ms. Lane, there's
only so many ways you can build a browser. Or a distro. Or a
If I was describing proprietary softwware development, it would
be much the same. Except most proprietary software not only has to
perform but it is also locked into a positive revenue model. Open
source software can and does make money, too, don't get me wrong.
But a there's a lot of free and open source software out there
that's just been made because it was needed.
So, changes in the proprietary arena are even more limited,
because they are weighed against whatever profit model a company
has stuck itself into.
Even with the incremental changes that occur in all software
development, there is--just like in the comic books--a chance that
something new will come along. DC Comics had been rolling along for
almost 30 years, and had a lock on all thing superhero-related when
Marvel Comics came along and reinvented the superhero genre. 20
years after that, Image Comics turned the genre into something new,
with DC and Marvel scrambling to catch up.
In the open source arena, the freedom of the code means that
someone can come along from seemingly nowhere and invent something
new, or change something old into something better. Anyone.
Most of the time, like when we get new releases of SUSE
Enterprise Linux Server and Desktop 10 this week, we see better
software, but no huge new paradigm shift. And the critics wag their
tongues and say how boring open source software is. What's so
special about it, they ask? Go look at proprietary software and see
how uninnovative it is and come back with that criticism again.
For every solid, boring release of open source software, there's
always that chance that there will be something new, something that
will leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Just keep looking. Not necessarily up in the sky.