“Open-source presumptuousness” by Andrew Binstock was read here with a sense of dissatisfaction. Of course, my hope would be that Mr. Binstock’s comments were intended as an aid to bring about a positive change in the open-source movement. In this, his work clearly falls short of constructive usefulness.

Instead, the general tone of his work asserts a high level of negative intent. In fact, as I read, I can only discern a series of vague and baseless attacks. As I am not a spokesperson for the open-source movement, I don’t generally feel the need to answer these kinds of attacks. But I will answer anyway.

It needs to be understood that the core of the open-source software movement was created by individual volunteers who contributed their work with the goal of producing a useful operating system with licensing that allowed and promoted free distribution. That goal was met and exceeded well before most of the present corporate interests discovered that they could participate in the process, so most open-source licenses tended to protect only lightly against potential abuses that corporate interests are capable of conceptualizing.

Yes, you can tell me that Richard Stallman is a persona, possesses a persona, etc., and that he defends the interests of contributors to open-source software. I should think that he views this effort as innately altruistic. I am sure that he also views the open-source process of development as possessing a number of superior traits by comparison to other models, such as strong peer review and continuous improvement. I wouldn’t argue with that, but sadly, that’s not quite what you said, was it?

The history of open-source software has now become heavily laden with incidences of wholehearted participation on the part of corporations, followed by the sale of a company, resulting in the buyer of the company attempting to withdraw from previous commitments in the interest of increasing corporate profits. A number of very real attacks of this nature against open source have been refuted in the courts, and certainly a number of companies threaten this in the future. Defense is required, so why would you begrudge?

Each time this has occurred, the media has been filled with statements by people, and by “journalists” and “analysts,” in support of the corporations. Open source is thus attacked as a part of an effort to try the case in the media. Critiques have included misstatements ranging from “presumptuousness” to “un-American.” These kinds of attacks may lack the basis in truth needed to succeed in influencing the court, but they do influence the decisions made by corporations.

The result is that less altruism on the part of these companies slows progress in the delivery of new open-source projects. But these projects do not move backwards, though some halt altogether for want of attention. In the long run, the open-source movement will continue to move forward even as corporations fail. Companies and individuals that contribute to open source may do so for various reasons, but open source accepts and embraces those contributions consistently for one reason only: for the good of the public.

It is not “open source” that is innately deserving, but the public worldwide, and the public is worthy of this defense.

Leigh Jones
United States