Open Source is Anarchy (In a Good Way)

As a kid, I hated authority. (Oh, who am I kidding? I still do.) I had a dream that one day I would live in anarchy. Why did I need someone else deciding my morals and values for me? I believed that people would be just fine governing themselves. Anarchy does not mean chaos — it just means no government. I believed that no one wants chaos, and that people would be happy and successful, choosing to "live and let live." Of course, as I grew older I realized that ideal is not achievable. But one of the reasons I love the open source software world is that in this world, somehow, my dream came true.

The open source community is like an anarchy. There are no overarching principles, guidelines, or rules by which open source developers must abide. People, naturally, tend to organize themselves into groups. There are organizations such as the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative, which champion similar yet differing views about so-called "free" and/or "open source" software. The OSI publishes a specific definition of "open source," while the FSF favors the term "free software" and publishes its own definition of that term. But we are not bound by these organizations' views or definitions. We are free to do whatever we want with whatever we create.

Some people care about getting their hands on some software at zero cost. Some people care about "free as in speech" software — meaning software which respects the user's freedom to run, redistribute, or change the software. Some people care about being able to look at, and thereby learn from, existing source code. The beautiful thing is that, as a developer, it does not matter on which side you fall. With hundreds of different “flavors” of software licenses to choose from, you can release your creation to the world under whichever stipulations, or lack of stipulations, strike you.

Amazingly, it works. I am constantly astounded by the sheer volume of open source code available. People create and share with the world. People are polite. People jump in and help each other, contributing to a greater whole. People police themselves. High-traffic open source projects are probably more stable, more secure, and more thoroughly understood than closed, proprietary projects, simply by virtue of having had so many eyes on them.

It is anarchy, in the best sense. It is people governing themselves, cooperating to create a whole greater than any individual could create alone.


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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