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« Students Building Atom by Atom | Main | Preparing for Nanotechnology »

June 23, 2006


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Michael Bernstein

You said: "Open Source was inspired by the Free Software movement, which is militantly dedicated to purely Information principles. Open Source, by contrast, welcomes the collaboration of Commercial (non-free) software manufacturers."

This is misleadingly incomplete.

The Free Software movement is militantly dedicated to the application of Information Principles to Information systems. When Commerce principles are applied to Information problems, the result is, indeed, a 'monstrous moral hybrid'.

The main difference between Open Source and Free Software movements is that OS ignores the morality issues and treats the consequences as an economic inefficiency. While this does certainly allow OS to speak to Commerce organizations in their own language, the latter are all too often willing to sacrifice overall market efficiency for their own short-term profit.

Morally, however, this is still reprehensible from an Information system's perspective.

So, while OS, as an Information system, can more easily collaborate with Commerce systems, it does so only by sacrificing it's own integrity, and compromising it's morality.

Free Software is actually just as willing to collaborate with Commerce, but only in ways that are consistent with it's morality. While that certainly makes it less popular with Commerce systems overall, it makes it's successful collaborations much more powerful and enduring.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael, can you give any examples of OS acting monstrously?


Michael Bernstein

First, we have to define terms. I haven't said OS acts montrously. An organization that defines itself as an OS org can certainly do so, but more common is a 'Commerce' org that says it is adopting Open Source (or, 'only the good parts of Open Source'). Hence you can see references to "commercial open source".

By abandoning the strict Information morality held by Free Software, Open Source leaves itself open to exactly this kind of bastardization and hybridization.

Most people involved in Open Source are aware of this, and as a whole Open Source successfully resists the moral slide, but the very nature of the Open Source compromise ensures that these issues will constantly and continually re-emerge.

Michael Bernstein

It occurs to me that a more mundane example of a 'monstrous moral hybrid' of this sort is a for-profit news organizations that doesn't maintain a 'chinese wall' between the news and advertising sides of the organization. Or, for that matter, the more subtle problem of keeping one between the news organization as a whole and it's owners' (non-news-organization-related) profit-motives and agendas.

I think software development still isn't a mainstream enough activity (unlike news reporting) for the moral hybrids to strike people as wrong, much less monstrous.

Nato Welch

Looking for an example of and "Informative" agent constituting a mmh?

How about those who write worms, viruses, and other malware?

Granted, this is not a "hybrid" problem. But there are plenty of mmh's that are resitrctive commercial entities trying to disingenuously co-opt Informative principles (Think of Microsoft's "shared source" program).


I've always had the feeling that the three systems should be classified as handling negative (destructive), zero (even), and positive (creative) sum transactions, rather than this awkward and ambiguous "zero+negative", "positive" and "even more positive" sum separation.

I'd consider commercial motives to actually be zero sum, because, while you might better off trading away your production surpluses amongst yourselves, resulting in a "postivie" sum, the free market's tendency is actually to //eliminate// these positives, bringing them as close to zero as possible.

It isn't until we start getting into far less conditional giveaways such as made by Informative systems that we really start seeing positive sums.


While I agree that the Free Software movement is definitely more dedicated to defending the freedom of software users and developers than Open Source, I have to say that even the FSF does not restrict commercial exploitation of software in general. The FSF's flagship license, the GPL, doesn't require you disclose modifications, and does not prohibit you distributing GPL'ed modifications or software for a fee. It does welcome commercial organizations to use, modify and contribute, just like anyone else.

The focus of the FS movement is specifically targeted - not at commerce, and not even at commerce in the software business, but on unnecessary restrictions on the use, modification, and distribution of software through proprietary licensing. Bruce Perens has pointed out that this restrictive proprietary licensing model doesn't even cover a majority of software made today - most of it is in house code that never gets released!

Despite Microsoft's FUD campaign, even the FSF is not anti-commercial. They're anti-restriction. Insofar as Commercial systems insist on making profits by restricting users, they will resist; but this form of commerce in software systems is turning out to be a minor, and shrinking one.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Nato, my sense is that black-hat hackers have a wide streak of Guardian in them, thus making them in fact a hybrid.

I don't think Commercial is zero-sum. Granted the ideal is to trade until there's no benefit from further trade, the next instant something will change and you'll have to trade some more. IOW, the end goal you assert requires an infinite number of trades, and an infinite sum of infinitesimals is a positive value.

Informational systems certainly have a much higher value than Commercial. Commercials are limited-sum, while Informationals are (by contrast) unlimited-sum. Any given trade may spark a thousand more, each with better-than-infinitesimal value.


Michael Bernstein

Of course Free Software is not anti-commercial, none of the systems is 'anti' any of the others. But all of them resist the application of foreign principles to their domain.

Of course information can be subject to commerce, and so on.

What Free software resists more effectively than Open Source does is the subversion of Information systems by Commercial principles. The only reason that Commerce sees this as being at all hostile, is because, well, subverting everything to commerce principles is just what Commerce systems *do*, these days.

Again, this is not to say that Open Source does not also resist this subversion, it just does so somewhat less effectively because Open Source rhetoric is *economic* (thus implicitly submitting to Commerce morality), rather than *moral* (thus keeping Information morality paramount).

There are other examples, BTW. Stock markets are an Information institution, for example. You really wouldn't want to see the NYSE subverted to Commerce principles (ie. a company could buy a 'bump' in it's stock price), would you? The SEC, of course, is the accompanying Guardian institution.

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