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

“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

“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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