30 May 2011

Answering the ProKook, 1 of 2: No, open source isn't communist

Prokofy Neva is a deranged kook. As long as I've known of him, he's had very little to say that has made any sense whatsoever to anyone in even minimal possession of the facts, let alone advancing an informed dialogue. I know of almost nobody who gives him any credence.

He tweeted, a month or so ago,
 please point me to a prominent SL furry who is in business, making a profit, and stumping for capitalist policies in SL
My good RL friend Avril Korman, known inworld as Axi Kurmin (and no, I'm not revealing anything she doesn't publicize herself), replied:
 I can, but you wont like it. If you want to discuss Real World Politics with , go ahead. You'll be very surprised.
I rose to the bait. This led to being called a techcommunist who undermines livelihoods and promoting a dangerous cult, that of BDSM. The latest blast was no less than eight tweets, one right after the other.

I refuse to argue this topic 140 characters at a time. As anyone who's read this blog knows, I argue exhaustively, using lots of words and examples and facts, and Twitter doesn't fit my discussion style at all. Hence this post and the next: this one will deal with Prokofy's irrational hatred of open source, and the next will deal with his irrational hatred of BDSM.

I've argued before that open sourcing the viewer is nothing but good for Second Life and Linden Lab. That argument hasn't changed in the seven months since I made it; if anything, it's gotten stronger, because without it, the users of Second Life would be condemned to use a viewer they demonstrably hate. Instead, they're getting a choice, and in Firestorm, hopefully a viewer they love while still allowing Linden Lab to move the platform forward.

Prokofy's argument, insofar as I can make any sense out of it at all, is that "OS undermines business & livlihood everywhere". That argument gets made by people like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and Larry Ellison, because open source does undermine their business and livelihood. In the wider world, however, it's demonstrably false.

The simple fact is that, were it not for open source software, I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading it. The Internet is powered by open source software. Every last bit of the software infrastructure that makes the Internet work, from the Domain Name System to the Apache web server to the Firefox web browser to the various email servers and clients, either is only used in open source form or else was pioneered and is dominated by open source choices.

I don't know of anyone who thinks the Internet does anything other than create livelihoods and markets on an unprecedented scale.

As I've mentioned before, I'm honored to be able to count Open Source guru Eric S. Raymond as a personal friend. Not only is he an open source developer, he's also a thinker about open source itself and an evangelist for the whole idea. He was one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative and its first president.

Eric is also a libertarian who has said that communism is the greatest evil ever perpetrated. I would strongly recommend that, should you ever have the opportunity - say, at an SF con, which he and his wife Cathy frequent - you not call him a communist, software or otherwise, to his face.

There's a fundamental reason that open source isn't communist: it's entirely voluntary. Don't want to join the revolution? Don't open source your software. It really is that simple. And if you do, nobody but the rabid Stallmanites will argue with you. You see, it's about choice, something that is antithetical to communism. (The Stallmanites want to deny you the choice to buy closed source software, but I've been arguing against them for two decades.)

I chose to open source my furniture script engine for two simple reasons. First, I have long direct experience with the open source development model, and know first hand how well it works. Second, I want to improve the BDSM ecosystem in Second Life.

I know very well that open source development has many benefits, starting with Raymond's Law: "Given a sufficient number of eyes, all bugs are shallow". I've seen this in action more times than I can count. It works for countless open source projects, often attracting developers and assistance from companies that use the software in their products. I'm the manager for an open source project with about 40 developers and tens of thousands of users, and it wouldn't be where it is today if it weren't for being open source.

The second reason is no less important. I take my cue here from the OpenCollar project. They provide a free, open source collar scripting system that has been incorporated into a wide range of devices, not just collars but many other things. My furniture scripting efforts started out from an OpenCollar-provided free script. I've since totally rewritten it, but the basic idea is still valid: having the scripts be open source lets people who understand BDSM furniture design but not scripting make their ideas real - and sell them to others, if they wish. That makes the pie bigger for us all.

If open source undermined businesses, then it certainly wouldn't be used by them, let alone be the basis for corporations large and small. Just ask Red Hat or Mozilla. It's certainly not undermining mine. I choose to compete in the marketplace based on my ideas and my designs, not my script engine.

"Compete". "Marketplace". "Choose". Those are not words a communist would use, let alone embrace.

Am I undermining the market for BDSM furniture in SL? Hardly. Not only do I not sell very much to begin with - I'm not ThinkKink, by any stretch of the imagination - I've enabled others to enter it and sell things. That's an improvement, not a detriment. Even though there are plenty of free OpenCollar-based collars, there are also people selling others. Amethyst and Mars and MoDesign and Dominatech still sell plenty of control devices, and they're not complaining about OpenCollar.

How do they do it? They compete with OpenCollar. They provide better products to their customers, at least as far as their customers see things, at a price that's justifiable for that improvement. They don't try to drive OpenCollar out of existence by complaining about it. They roll up their sleeves and do it better.

So no, open source isn't communist, and it doesn't undermine business. It improves business by freeing it to compete on what really matters to customers: features and price. That's not anti-business. It's pro-business. Yes, some businesses will have to adapt - but that's true of any business anywhere, any time. A business that does not adapt to changing conditions dies. The real reason that Microsoft is so anti-open-source is simply that they cannot conceive of a way to adapt.

Prokofy is arguing the Microsoft side of history. Events are showing that that's the losing side. I wonder if his phone is Android or Windows 7?

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