The Competitive Advantage of Free Software

Posted 7 Apr 2000 at 23:17 UTC by aoliva Share This

This article proposes an analogy between organic life forms and software packages. It uses Charles Darwin's arguments of natural selection, such as ease of reproduction and increased variability, to support the claim that Free Software enjoys important competitive advantages over proprietary software.

I've just got this paper accepted at the Workshop about Free Software 2000, a parallel event to the 1st Free Software International Forum 2000. The final version is available in two formats: gzipped postscript for ISO-A4 paper and browsable html. Feedback is welcome.

It's like the invention of sex., posted 8 Apr 2000 at 03:01 UTC by argent » (Master)

Sex, the sharing of information between organisms, radically accelerated the evolution of life on earth. It's such a good idea that even organisms we don't normally think of as sexual, like bacteria, do in fact meet and exchange genetic material.

Open Source, and Open Systems (the concepts are related but not identical), both provide a way for software "organisms" to more effectively share genetic material than Closed systems do. This lets them change and adapt quicker, so even if they start with a competitive disadvantage (as UNIX did, for example... it was much less featureful than the mainframe-style systems it supplanted) they can solve that problem by adopting "software genes"...

Just as there is more than one kind of sex, there is more than one kind of Open Software. The two main branches are Open Source and Open Systems.

Open Systems promote the growth and development of *interfaces* and *protocols*. New implementations of old protocols, with more features, supplant the older implementations but the *protocols* survive. Nobody uses the CERN line mode browser any more, but because HTTP and HTML were open standards, they survived. The original UNIX code base has been largely abandoned... only SCO Unixware has a real AT&T-based kernel any more (at least as far as I can tell) now that everything's BSD variants (AIX, MacOS X, Tru64, as well as Free/Open/NetBSD), mostly BSD under the hood (Solaris), or Linux, but UNIX as a way of building an OS survives.

Open Sources promote the growth and development of *implementations*. There is One Perl, for example... the Perl API is what Perl 5.whatever does. It's not that open a system, but since it's Open Source it continues to propogate and develop rapidly.

Software Genes..., posted 8 Apr 2000 at 10:20 UTC by argent » (Master)

Pity you can't edit replies, but I can see why that is.

I've expanded a bit on my reply in my Diary.

The advantage isn't what the press thinks., posted 15 Apr 2000 at 02:07 UTC by starshine » (Journeyer)

Advantages Rapid evolution is good, even though it means the mutation rate is up too. (High rad environement? :D ) But the real power, as yet latent, is how well we're not tied to our fellows in the ecosystem.

I mean, some of these things have done really well by getting fuel from the commercial world. Commercial entities feed on their traditional meal of money a options (the psych market's looking pretty rocky this week). But with some of the Open licenses, if one of these guys goes belly up, no biggee. Anyone with the source code can just keep rolling with it.

Contrast poor sad Mosaic, the lungfish of the web. It was a good code base (as in stable from an enduser POV). It had UI features that sadly, many of the most modern browsers lack (so they could stand to have its code reinserted). But the confusion over whether the students or the school owned it, combined with the passage of time, suggests that it's a dead beastie. Perhaps there is a Galapagos ftp site somwehere that still has it, perhaps some student kept it as a momento, but here on the continents, only its distant children in the Mozilla family still stride the earth.

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