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Untangling code: Much conventional wisdom about programs written by volunteers is wrong

Jan 20, 2011, 19:05 (5 Talkback[s])


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"IN INFORMATION technology there seems to be a revolution every other week. At least that is the impression one gets when following media coverage of the sector. Yet sometimes the hype is justified, in particular in the case of open- source software, free programs developed by loosely knit groups of developers. Within just 15 years they have completely changed the landscape of the software industry, turning it from a mostly capitalist economy into a mixed one.

"The shift should be of interest—and not just to techies. Software is important stuff; it keeps the world moving. No car, no television set, not even a modern toaster works without some code. Take corporate computer programs away, and the economy comes to a grinding halt. In some cases software has changed how humans behave; spreadsheet programs, for instance, have redefined more than one job.

"At least theoretically, open source could also resolve the main dilemma that bedevils innovation policy. On the one hand, most inventors need incentives to keep inventing. On the other, the social value of an invention is maximised if anyone—not just those willing to pay for it—can use it. Open source seems to satisfy both conditions. Developers contribute voluntarily, and share code freely."

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