Information wants to be free, and the relative absurdity of someone ‘owning’ an idea is part of a philosophical shift in thinking of how intellectual property is generated and used according to Wellingtonian Dave Moskovitz.
The NZ Open Source Use in Business judge, for the NZ Open Source Awards 2010, says an increasing worldwide trend to the free way of thinking is unlocking tremendous value in general economic activity.
There were 33 entrants for the business section alone in the awards, with winners to be announced on Nov. 9. Moskovitz says that the organisers will look to split up the business section next year, reflecting that till recently business open source hasn’t been that important.
“But this is significant,” he says, “open source is becoming more mainstream than it used to be.”
The computer and internet driven software awards is based on the ethos that open source is “people getting together and releasing source code of programs and systems to the public and allowing others to improve them,” he says.
New Zealand companies such as Silverstripe and Ponoko are built on the free software platform, which anyone can use and improve, where the two Wellington entities charge for their services which are associated with the free software.
Open source relies on geeks; especially those who are passionate about taking ideas such as software and improving them – for their own and everyone else’s benefit.
“You get a lot more innovation and it’s very conducive for that,” Moskovitz says. “Under open source you can get a lot of bits that can be stitched together very quickly.”
Part of what open source software provides, such as the Linux operating system, is a robustness and freedom from viruses that plague other proprietary software systems.
“As Linus Torvaldus [the founder of Linux] says, given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow,” Moskovitz quotes. Because the code is there for all to see, as soon as a geek sees a flaw or vulnerability they’ll make a patch. “It provides a security that is much greater than for proprietary software systems,” he says.
Such a “socialism nirvana” as he describes it does work. Examples that the general public may know about, though they may not realise that they operate under open source, are Wikipedia and WordPress. Apache, which globally is the most commonly used web server, operates under open source, as is the web itself in ensuring that packets of information start at one point and end up where they’re meant to.
Another lesser known example is New Zealand start-up web-based company MusicHy.pe; itself attempting a commercial play in a world where young people expect music to be free.
The potential of open source for New Zealand is the same for the rest of the world Moskovitz says.
“For a start it provides a lower cost structure for people and companies who want to run software on their computer,” he says. “For us to compete on that world stage, not having a huge software bill can make a huge difference.”
The ability of others such as kiwi company Catalyst IT, which uses open source around which its 150 employees provide specialist services to its clients, also shows its potential.
Open source’s flexibility, the willingness of computer geeks to improve a system or program for free for the good of all, and a philosophical attitude that good ideas are for everyone will see open source growing in the future Moskovitz says.
Note: the NZ Open Source Awards has categories in government, education, arts, project, advocate, contributor and People’s Choice, as well as the business category.
The open source business finalists (from 33 entries) are:
• Ponoko – the hub of a global personal manufacturing eco-system that brings together creators, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers to make almost anything
• Silverstripe – a NZ-made content management system that has been downloaded more than 325,000 times globally in less than four years
• MusicHy.pe – an online music venue that uses a custom built ‘Appreciation Engine’
• Adaxa – the Adaxa Suite of combined ERP, CRM, Document Management, VoIP, CMS and 81 tools