Fake Steve Jobs points me to this article by Jaron Lanier, in which he puts forward his opinion, which seems to make sense to me, that Open Source development is not the saviour of the world.
Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.
Before you write me that angry e-mail, please know I’m not anti–open source. I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But a politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts.
Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash—the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals.
Lanier is not simply some ignorant technology hack either.
Jaron Zepel Lanier (born May 3, 1960 in New York City) is a virtual reality developer. He was a pioneer in, and popularized the term "Virtual Reality" (VR) in the early 1980s. At that time, he founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products.
It seems to me that Lanier is correct in his assertions: whilst Linux has become increasingly stable (and is thus perfect for servers), it has failed to produce any really innovative technologies.
And by "innovative technologies", I mean two separate things here.
- Making existing technologies easy for the layman to use.
Whilst many of the innovations in Apple Mac OS X (which is, essentially, Linux at core) have existed on Linux for years, they have not been accessible to anyone who is not a natural computer user. Whilst Linux Graphical User Interfaces have become better, especially in recent years, you are still going to have to find yourself using the command line fairly frequently.
I occasionally use the Terminal (command line) on Mac OS X in order to enhance certain things, it is not necessary for the layman ever to use Terminal. And, for all of my years of day-in day-out use of computers, I am far from being a command line expert: it is not an environment that I feel comfortable in.
Thus the innovation of people like Apple and, yes, Microsoft, is to use innovation to allow users access to powerful technologies without them actually realising what this is that they are doing and, crucially, without them needing to realise it.
- Developing new technologies to push the boundaries of what is possible.
Open Source technologies simply haven't done this to any meaningful degree. Even where there is progress, it is more often than not built upon innovative technologies that others have developed.
For instance, Dizzy showed me a simply dazzling window controller the other day, called Compiz. In terms of eye candy, it is almost unbelievable—here's a video of it in action. Now Compiz is (at least partially) Open Source and one could argue that it is innovative.
However, Compiz could not exist without a graphics API known as OpenGL which was developed, in a closed model, by Silicon Graphics Inc in 1992.
I'll admit that my knowledge of computing interfaces and coding is very far from comprehensive, but I cannot think of any truly innovative Open Source product (not entirely surprisingly, since the Open Source model is a socialist one and socialism has never been renowned for its technological leaps forward). Can anyone suggest one, and one that does not rely on technologies originally developed under a closed system?
As Lanier says, that does not mean that the Open Source model is not useful in some areas—consolidation, for instance, or incremental steps in a technology—but only that it is conservative. As Fake Steve says,
Amen and much love, Jaron Lanier. You big fat Whoopie Goldberg looking freak.
I shall now sit back and await my flaming from what FSJ calls the "freetards"...