Why restricting the openness of open-source makes sense?

by Sharon Lobo    Aug 19, 2013

Open source closed

Most people believe open-source synonymous is with free software. However, in today the truth is far from true. Richard Stallman, the man who kick started Free Software Foundation, in a blog explains the difference, “When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users’ essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of ‘free speech,’ not ‘free beer’.”

He further adds that, not all of users and developers of free software agreed with the goals of the free software movement. As a result, in 1998, a part of the free software community splintered off and began campaigning in the name of “open source”, which later became associated with philosophical views quite different from those of the free software movement.

Though open source is supposedly considered to be open for anybody to modify, this is not always true. Companies, such as Google and Red Hat spend millions on developing and marketing software based on open source and in return they prefer limiting access to the code. So does this actually kill the spirit of open source?

Let take the case of Android, the most popular mobile platform in the world. As, Galen Gruman of InfoWorld points out, “In its early Android days, Google appeared to be sincere about its open source claims and ambitions, driven by the enthusiastic, trusting nature of youth. However, over time, Google has begun to close parts of Android to better compete with Apple’s iOS as the dark side of open source — conflicting directions and unstoppable sloppiness — began to appear. The open source nature of Android was leading to inconsistencies in user experience that hurt the platform, whereas Apple’s sharp focus made each rev of iOS better and consistent across the platform.”

Most of the innovations in technology we see today have been touched by open-source at some point in time, as Arun Kumar, GM, Red Hat India, explains “Any new innovation you see in technology in the last 5 years has probably had its root in open-source. If we consider, Big Data, the first name that comes to the mind is Hadoop, which is an Apache Project. If we consider, the cause of largest revolution in the mobile space –Android, is another open-source project.”

The popularity of any truly open-source software has always witnessed hurdles due to changes in ideology. Such drastic changes give jitters to corporates or device manufacturers, who are reluctant to adopt such software. Again investments are required to bring innovations to open source projects this is where companies like Google and Red Hat come in, which encash on their open-source based offerings and re-invest in innovations.

So while most of the popular open-source projects are not really open, it probably is for the greater good.