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

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

“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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