Landing : Athabascau University

What is open source? — Open Words

From Ben Werdmuller, amongst other things the co-creator of the Elgg software used to run the Landing and Known, a great social publishing platform, this is among the clearest commentaries on open source that I have come across, including its history, its politics, its (often competing) philosophies and its business models.

The article also contains some fascinating observations on the demographics of its creators (98.5% male, mostly quite well off). I think that his main explanation of such anomalies - that, for those without privilege,  "making money from their work is a far more radical act than giving it away"  - is far from the whole story. It seems to me that (as he mentions) open source can make money, and creating open source software can be an extremely good way to show off one's skills and therefore get good employment, so this explanation doesn't fully explain that open source software creation is largely the preserve of privileged white men. It might be that small initial differences such as this get magnified over time, so it becomes a cultural issue rather than a pragmatic one. This is a possibility that Ben hints at when observing that employers often look to open source project contributions when hiring, thus magnifying the existing gender disparities in the industry, which creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Not sure. It's certainly a huge issue.


  • Based on the number of software released under a variant of the GPL versus any other license shows that FSF was actually quite successful. Here's a count of the top 10 licenses used by packages making up my Fedora 24 install:

    omiday ~ $ rpm -qa --qf "%{license}\n" | sort | uniq -c | sort -n | tail
       31 Public Domain
       34 ASL 2.0
       39 LGPLv2
       74 GPLv2
       84 GPLv3+
       124 GPL+ or Artistic
       187 BSD
       234 MIT
       319 LGPLv2+
       358 GPLv2+

    Also, from a total number of software packages:

    omiday ~ $ rpm -qa | wc -l

    more than a half is licensed under some kind of GPL:

    omiday ~ $ rpm -qa --qf "%{license}\n" | grep GPL | wc -l

    A full Elgg package is also licensed under GPL. A reference to The GNU/Linux FAQ by Richard Stallman is a good resource for understanding why "free" is important.

    Money wise, there is definitely less to make with free and open source software. In both free/open source and proprietary cases the "product" is made once, however in the latter case it is then sold millions of times. Take Microsoft as an example. The question to ask is whether increasing the profit margins benefits the society.

    With regards to women participation, it is worth mentioning that at least in the Linux world there is no shortage of support: FSF, Arch, Debian, Fedora and many others are all supporting this initiative.

    A more elaborate discussion could make it into a chapter for the already discussed Open Source course at AU.

    Viorel Tabara August 3, 2016 - 11:54pm

These comments are moderated. Your comment will not be visible unless accepted by the content owner.

Only simple HTML formatting is allowed and any hyperlinks will be stripped away. If you need to include a URL then please simply type it so that users can copy and paste it if needed.