Open-Source and We
A survey on Open Source Software and their relevance
S V Ramu (2002-04-21)
Internet - The Great Leveler
One must be closeted in their own world of mailing and online newspapers to not to notice with awe the vastness of Internet. Even some passing usage of Google like search engines should have convinced you how vast and deep the Internet is. Many reports say that even the best search engine, Google, is hardly scratching the surface of the enormous amount of information that is available in the cloud, called internet; and it is fast growing.
Many a times, I try to do something new, and while searching something in the net, stumble upon a treasure trove, that is both inviting and disappointing. Even my cherished ideas, I find, is already researched to death and even made as a standard! Internet has been an eye-opener in many a sense. How many times have I found just the clarification I wanted, when I'm stuck with an error message. More we browse the net meaningfully and exploratively, more will we be humbled, and hence we will be that much smarter by taking our 'Greatness' lightly.
'Everything is already done':
In fact, humbleness is not at all an issue. You will be humbled through and through alright. The most common issue is our depression that all our 'indigenous' ideas are so eagerly ripped and patched so many times by so many people, that we wonder if there is anything new at all possible.
Small World community:
The world has become so small, that we are assured that there is really not much difference between people in USA or India or Antarctica. But for our Geography and History, we all behave similarly when given similar inputs. Human conscience becomes one collective whole, as is the knowledge becoming one big common store.
Maybe due to the need for belonging, or due to the lure of world wide market, Internet is the most massive distributor of knowledge, after the invention of printing press. Never before in history has there been so little inhibition to share so much.
Commonness of thinking:
This openness and ubiquity of information is so acute, that thinkers doubt whether the rich diversity of human civilization will survive at all. Will not many smaller but weaker concepts die out in this maddening race? The replay seems to be, should we worry? 'Let the best idea win' seem to be the philosophy of forced choice.
Will human psyche accept?
Whether or not we accept this seemingly complete erasure of individuality, Internet is here to stay. On the other hand, if you notice the whole proceeding from many leader's perspective, there are heroes and heroines still, who rise above this death like equalizer and leave behind their mark. Maybe Internet looks intimidating only due to its newness.
Great Information store:
Even leaving alone the encyclopedia effort of GNU and the great Project Guttenberg, the internet itself is behaving as one huge encyclopedia. From meaning of words to research paper, the internet knowledge content is mind boggling. Literally everything is out there. And once the Unicode based multi language repositories are famous enough, the milieu of ever expanding information store, called Internet, will only grow.
Greatest querying possibility:
Storage doesn't mean usage. But this great store is highly used too. What with the great list of search engines, as Microsoft once quiped, the internet is much easier to search, than even our machine. When was the last time you felt that you'll as well look up net for the latest, than trying to remember where you stored it? Now-a-days I even don't remember the web site addresses (URL), as Google usually gives that with few easy keywords.
Search before you Invent:
Having been so many times put off by internet's preemptiveness, I now refrain from starting anything, unless I search the net. The best policy seems to be: Be humble - Know your strength - Know more, but think indigenously. Like the PhD. work we need to know the current 'literature' and trends before starting our own. Doesn't that sedate our creativity? It will, if you are not alert. As usual, where learning should stop and where dreaming should start, is the golden line, and the copyright of each geniuses.
Opensource projects and Internet:
Internet's hitherto unseen spin-off for the common man is the openness. Though GNU started roughly two decades before, it is only after the internet becoming famous, that more and more open source projects are springing up. Mesmerized by the unusual stability of open source products, and the unbelievable speed, Group development is becoming the order of the day.
The Open-Source Enthusiasm
The Joy of sharing:
After all these years of using Shrink wrapped software and pirated products, one might wonder, why should Opensource model be such an hit. The simple answer, as Richard Stallman rightly noted, 'The Joy of Sharing'. Unencumbered by licensing obstacles, and humbled by the fact that so many minds have gone into a product, one gladly shares the modifications with their friends and the world.
The honor of peer acknowledgement :
We always want to belong, and be praised. And not by anybody, but our heroes, our peers. What best way is there to get this praise but by sharing our inventions. If for years the research community has been growing with peer pressure alone, why can't we be inspired too?
'Many eyeballs makes the code shallow':
The Open Source community keeps the above phrase as their slogan. All projects, once crossing their inception phase is vastly benefited by the many eyes that is looking into the code. Every body feels that the project is their own, which it is, and hence strive to perfect it. Thus more stable the application becomes. And as the whole thing is with the community, the cost is drastically sliced.
The Vacuum fills up faster:
It doesn't need a genius to proclaim that you can pour more sugar into a jar, only when there is space in it. A clogged mind is not fertile enough for newer thoughts. Many a times secretes clog our brain, whereas healthy sharing, contrary to most business mindset, in fact frees our mind and hence progresses. Does more competition means less individuality? If so how would you classify, Marc Fluery of JBoss or the 'gods' themselves, Richard Stallman and Linus Trovald? The greatest teaching of the internet age is to share and hence grow. Your peers in your domain can teach by challenges, more than all the books you can muster. Being light, pruned of all intellectual burden, a searching mind can think more. These days you must know how to search, how to give away, how to be together, and above all, how to still remain 'you' and think ahead.
The Open-Source Tools
The Free Tools :
Slowly I'm finding that most of my daily computing chores is accomplished fully by free, open source software. I have my GCC compilers, Java of course; I have my jEdit text editor with syntax highlighting and myriad plugins; there is my sophisticated GIMP - The Image editor, which apart from allowing me to draw and startle, allows me to store them in the open and popular PNG format; With the W3C standards like HTML, CSS, XML and XSL, most of my publishing data is non-proprietary; of course the Linux, the FREE operating system, which is growing day by day against its archrival MS Windows; I have my Netscape and Mozilla web browsers, with all its trail blazing XUL skins; Netscape mail client, the AbiWord free document editor with XML data formats, now the OpenOffice, and StarOffice; And once you touch the GNU utilities, you have a treasure trove, with which you can convert image formats, create and execute make files, and much much more;
The Hacker's dream:
As it had been redefined, a hacker is not a cracker. A Hacker is a respected nerd. A wiz in his/her art and loves it. For a hacker these days, the options to learn and set up an office is plentiful. They can use the above tools, rip it open and see its guts, emulate it, bug fix it, improve it, and if endowed enough, even create a new one of their own with a nicer twist. For nothing they can set up an environment. Of course they might have to pay sometimes, but once paid, like their computer itself, they have full liberty to resell it or reengineer it.
The Open-Source Businesses
A community necessity not a business technique:
When open source first came into being, the consumers while being thrilled by dirt cheap prices and unimagined liberty, wondered if there is any hidden catch. It only recently dawned to many that Open Source is the result of the smaller world and consequent competition. Moreover it is also an outcome of the lopsided superiority of the monstrous monopoly. Many a times, have I heard that collectivism won't work in business. Standards are corporate assets, they said. Now, contrary to all that, standards are the assets of the community as a whole, and not any individual corporation's. More and more business are reckoning that Open Source model is the demand of the society and not any marketing trick. There is no catch, OS is the new way of open competition.
Entrepreneur's dream - Equal playground - Drastic cost reduction :
Open source is good for the consumer. This is the ultimate check for monopoly, albeit a community check. Proprietary is good only for the rarified areas; once things are easy and common, open source makes it ubiquitous. And any thing that is good for the consumers makes a good pretext for businessess. The consumer gains, due to lowered costs, the budding entrepreneurs gain through newer avenues to go into and be seen (by giving things for free); and the only losers are the old monopolies, which not many regret.
Survival of the fittest:
Of course even the middle level companies are facing the brunt. The hitherto closed business model has opened, too many players, good players, and hence too much competition. The old secretive way of growing through sealing has been rejected. It is not communism, but capitalism at its best. More innovation to the society, more competition, greater quality, and above all the source is open.
It is a way of life:
Open source is a social change, which is affecting the business. Where vast markets and micro payments is the basis. Long standing businesses mean greater worth. This concept is leaking out of software, to other hardware and services business too. As a way of life, and as an honest way to sell, it is a modern paradigm, though very old in its origin. It is not easy to see money in this modern show. Instead of just asking 'why Open source?', ask also 'how to use it'. The thing you give free today may not be as luring tomorrow. Sometimes, selling it for money makes sense. OS means freedom, not simply free-of-cost.
Be prepared now:
Remember, all this is not happening in some other planet. It is here and here to stay. Know how it is going to affect your carrier choices tomorrow, see how you can cash in on it. Know the ethical angle and know the money angle. At TATTVUM, it is our frank curiosity to know, how far can human mind allow open competition over secretive individualism? How far can we push this model of internet based distributed development, management and business?
Some plans :
We are still feeling our way around. To aid this search, as a community, we will be publishing the best open source tools that we are using and how. For this, we are starting a new archive on standard and checklists. There is one more step we want take in coming weeks, namely a Software archive. But the beauty of Internet amazes us, and we want to use it up as much as possible, before giving our own twist on things. After this research phase, we intend to develop collectively, solidly architectured software, which are commonly useful. As it is, our Article archive explore the theoretical angle of distributed computing, our FAQ archive is to concretize these questions away from the mist of ambiguity, and this Checklist archive will be a concrete list of our answers from the net, and latter we will start our own contribution to these questions and their answers.
True to the spirit of internet, this time I'll be just giving few keywords for you to search in Google or other search engines (the secret point is, I didn't have time to verify the URLs I have). Maybe I can directly give the href as Google's search url, but settled for this. I also realize that there are some spelling mistakes and misrepresentation here, but I believe google will take care of that.
The leading free search engine available.
The mother of all Open Source projects. This is the pioneer, Richard Stallman's home turf, so to say.
The now famous article, on open source model and its benefits. The author is Eric S Raymond. He also has a nice article on 'How to be a hacker'.
I once read his (Ganesh C Prasad) sweeping article in some site called Kaivo (or kavio?), which specialize on Linux and other OSS.
This is a massive free project to convert all copyright expired books as text files and as xml files (HTML writer's guild). You can get the whole works of Cannon Doyle, Jane Austen etc.