4 September 2010

Geek's Corner: The Future of Free Software

If you haven't read the interview post where Chris McCormick discusses his generative acid album Squeakyshoecore, check it out here.

As Chris is a champion of Free Software, I asked him what he thought will happen in the struggle between open-source ideals and existing corporate ideas about intellectual property. His answer was so interesting and well-put that I decided to lazily report it
verbatim. He touches on a lot of issues within programming that I was unaware of, especially Apple's insidious coding strategies.

"I used to be very optimistic about Free Software and open source, but lately with the rise of the iPhone I have become less optimistic. It was easy to be optimistic when the largest corporation, Microsoft, was becoming irrelevant in areas where Free Software was succeeding. Now we have this weird situation where actually most of the software people use every day was compiled with [GCC], and often contains Free Software, not just on the desktop, but in microwaves, phones, servers, routers, TVs, operating systems, video game consoles, missiles, etc. You probably use things created with Free Software thousands of times per day. However most people don't realise this. The massive success of Free Software ismostly invisible to ordinary people. They don't realise what a profound and positive impact Richard Stallman has been on their lives.

If your readers want to read more about Free Software with a capital F, and Richard Stallman, they can check the
wikipedia page.

So now we have the iPhone which is a deeply subversive device in the opposite direction to Free Software. It takes all the great stuff from the open world (including millions and millions of lines of code written by volunteers and Free Software coders), and closes it up with DRM into this beautiful, incredibly functional device that people go completely bonkers about. People become utterly infatuated with this gorgeous experience, even though it places such harsh restrictions and control over them. It reminds me of a sadomasochistic relationship, with Steve Jobs as the bondage queen, whipping you every time you touch an Apple product.

I always thought that it was impossible to subvert the open paradigms because they are so beautifully viral and appealing, and because they destroy the "tragedy of the commons" myth in such a pragmatic way, but now we have this great example of where it's very possible to subvert those ideas, and to use the power of Free Software against itself. It's possible to derive all of the benefits from that wonderful world and then turn around and not give anything significant back. This is the first big threat that I think Free Software and these open ideas face. A company like Apple can stand there and pretend to be all about "the good things" whilst simultaneously taking so much from the world and giving back only virtual prisons (of great beauty!) and broken promises (see Steve Jobs on DRM)."

More writings by Chris on his blog, including this Kurzweilian prediction for the coming decade. Although he seems optimistic about the coming of the singularity, I'm not gonna ditch my stockpile of baked beans and automatic weapons just yet.

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