Open source

From Anarchy In Action

From Peter Gelderloos, Anarchy Works:

Consider the recent proliferation of “Open Source” technology. Decentralized networks involving thousands of people working openly, voluntarily, and cooperatively have created some of the better forms of the complicated software on which the Information Age economy depends. The usual approach of major corporations is to keep the source, or code, for their software secret and patented, but Open Source software code is shared, so anyone can review it and improve it. As a result it is often much better, and generally easier to fix. Traditional patented software is more vulnerable to crashing and to viruses, because a smaller pool of brains are able to check for weaknesses, and very few specialists are available to fix problems. Those technical support people you call on the phone when your computer operating system crashes don’t get to see the code either, and beyond a little troubleshooting all they can do is direct you to a cumbersome “patch,” or advise you to erase your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. Users of Microsoft products, for example, are no doubt familiar with their frequent glitches, and privacy advocates also warn of spyware and the cooperation between technology corporations and the government. Says one anti-authoritarian geek involved in the creation of Open Source software: “The best advertisement for Linux is Microsoft.”

Traditionally, much Open Source software has not been especially user-friendly, though generally this has to do with the fact that Open Source resides within, with all due respect, a geek subculture, and its typical users are highly computer literate. However, Open Source and participatory technology are steadily becoming accessible to an extent unprecedented by proprietary software. Wikipedia exemplifies this. Started recently, in 2001, on Open Source Linux software, Wikipedia is already the largest and most accessed encyclopedia in the world, with over 10 million articles in more than 250 languages. Rather than being the exclusive domain of paid experts from a particular academic subculture, Wikipedia is written by everyone. Anyone can author an article or edit an existing article, and by allowing this openness and trust it provides a forum for instantaneous, multiple-peer review. The interests of the broader Wikipedia community of millions provide a self-regulating function, so vandalism — false editing and bogus articles — are quickly cleaned up, and facts lacking citations are challenged. Wikipedia articles avail themselves of a vastly greater body of knowledge than the small and generally elitist circle represented by academia. In a blind, peer-reviewed study it was judged to be as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.[1]

Wikipedia is “self-organizing” and edited by an open body of peer-elected administrators.[2] There have been a few publicized cases of intentional sabotage, such as when the televised news comedy show The Colbert Report rewrote history in one Wikipedia article as a gag for their show; but the prank was quickly fixed, as most false information on the site tends to be. A more lingering problem is posed by corporations who use Wikipedia for public relations purposes, tasking paid personnel to maintain a clean image in the articles about them. However, contradicting interpretations of the facts can be registered in the same article, and Wikipedia contains much more information on corporate misdeeds than any traditional encyclopedia.

  1. “Wikipedia survives research test,” BBC News 15 December 2005 [[]
  2. “Editorial administration, oversight and management” Wikipedia, [[]

List of free and open software recommendations from Get Libre.