Open Source Is Not Communism

Dana Blankenhorn at highlights Kenneth Brown's latest screed asserting such wild assertions as

…open source is the product of disgruntled employees, leftists, and those who hate the idea of private property.

Mr. Blankenhorn asks,

So I want to aim this question squarely at political conservatives. Does this idea resonate with you? Is there something unsavory about open source, with Linux, and with the public domain, something politically incorrect?

To me, the biggest difference between open source and communism is that open source is given, Communism is imposed. I don't know if I count as a conservative, however, but I am a free market capitalist. I'm not a disgruntled employee (IBM pays me to work on open source), I'm not a leftist, and I certainly believe in private property.

Microsoft fears open source because it is a disruptive innovation targeted squarely at Microsoft's platform monopoly. The idea is that a “gorilla” such as Microsoft can be deposed by loosening their death-grip on the specification of the platform enabling general-purpose computing. Microsoft's core competency since the 80's has been to own platforms. After all, they got their shot at the IBM PC because they made BASIC for everything, and IBM felt it needed BASIC for its Personal Computer. DOS was an afterthought. Imagine what the world would be like if CPM-86 won instead.

The fact that alternatives exist and enjoy broad support from a ton of different vendors makes it harder for Microsoft to dominate the market for general purpose personal computing platforms. Open source is also deposing a lot of other platform players from their niches in the process. Like any disruptive innovation you can either harness it or try to deflect it. Microsoft wants to deflect anyone away from a platform specification it cannot control. The same thing happened with Java not that many years ago, you'll recall.

Microsoft's latest reaction to Firefox with vaporware pronouncements about Internet Explorer 7 illustrates this effect. Microsoft would have done nothing if had not been for Firefox. Monopolies are never forced to act unless someone can scramble over the barriers to entry in a market. Rumors abounded that Microsoft was going to stop updating IE for old platforms in hopes of leveraging its web browsing platform power into moving people off of old unprofitable personal computing platforms onto its modern “lock-in” strategy.

I know people that still run Windows 98. I, myself, run Windows 2000 Professional when I need to run Windows. I don't need to be locked-in to a successive upgrade cash stream to make Bill Gates richer. I need to get my work done. Microsoft no longer addresses my pains as a customer.

When I do have pain, though, open source is alluring. I can often download something close. I can either modify it myself if I'm feeling skilled or hire someone else to modify it. Then, under the rules, I release my changes to the outside world to use if they want. My pain is sated and my cost is sating the same pain for everyone else. I don't have to do it if I don't want, and if someone else does it before I do, I benefit. The fact that I don't have to do it separates it from Communism.

You see, Communism is all about the state owning the means of production and (supposedly) providing for the needs of everyone. That's not compelling to me. I still profit directly from my work, after all, and that makes me work as hard as necessary to beat my competitors. Microsoft, if they want my money, will need to work harder too. If they feel they can compete with open source, let them. They have the resources to do almost anything, after all.

Instead they spend their money in shabby whining and name-calling.

Update: I'm adding this one to the Beltway Traffic Jam.

Josh Poulson

Posted Tuesday, Mar 29 2005 09:42 AM

Adjacent entries


« Mark Hurd To Head HP
Referrer Spam »





To track back to this entry, ping this URL:

There are no trackbacks on this entry.


There are 7 comments on this entry.

Very good post. I am currently in college for computer information systems and have never understood why people try to bring down open source. The freedom for anyone to fix any problems and then make it public is invaluable. I've noticed that some governments around the world have started switching to more open source software to run their operations. Having the potential for the whole world to work on a software project is something people should be thrilled about, not trying to stop.

Jason Cuevas

Posted Tuesday, Mar 29 2005 10:45 AM

i love open source, first of all. second of all, communism isnt necessarily imposed or state-controlled. that just so happens to be the model we're most familiar with through modern history. youre thinking of totalitarianism, which has been married to communism as often as it has not. communism really just means things are owned by the community. perhaps a better word is "communal"

occult investigator

Posted Tuesday, Mar 29 2005 09:35 PM

Unless Communism comes along as a result of unanimous consent, it's imposed. It doesn't matter if it's imposed by a dictator or a majority, it's still put upon you and not joined freely.

In contrast, under the GPL for example, no one forces anyone to contribute to open-source unless you decide to modify and use open source.

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Mar 30 2005 05:48 AM

Any form of government is imposed by its constitution and legal system, it's the leaders who may or may not be elected... But anyway! Good post, I can't believe there's morons out there saying things like that about Open Source. What are they so afraid of? Well, you kinda answered that in your article! Good read :)


Posted Wednesday, Mar 30 2005 03:03 PM

I agree with your statement about communism being an imposed system where open source is freely given. I support just about every OS under the sun at work and the open source stuff is hardly imposed on anyone and despite the cryptic man pages and poor support for most open source it is often a great solution and you can't beat the price. In many cases the open source stuff is getting a lot better with the user friendly stuff too. As for the Communist OS? Macintosh. The Mac users seem a bit revolutionary and outright fanatical at times with their seething hatred of Microsoft(capitalist dogs!) to watch out for them Mac people. Boy are they going to be mad when we get them all into Active Directory. Thanks for the good read!


Posted Wednesday, Mar 30 2005 05:56 PM

You can get Linux to run on your Macintosh hardware if you want to rebel against OSX. I've seen folks running Linux on their Powerbooks.

Microsoft and Apple used to be quite good friends, although I think Quicktime is what ultiamtely drove the wedge between them. Remember that Microsoft prefers to own platforms and multimedia players are platforms. Apple wised up. Their killer application is the iPod but their platform is AAC encoding and iTunes to deliver it. Notice how viciously they defend the platform.

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Mar 30 2005 07:28 PM

I have to agree with "occult investigator" here... Open Source doesn't fall under Communism, the form of government, but rather communism as means of sharing resources in which the resources are available to all in the community equally. In essence, that's what open source is. The problem is that most people associate the term "communism" with Societ Russia and Red China, but neither of these states come close to what communism is in its most basic form - a system where resources are shared within the community. And communism (lowercase communism) does not have to be imposed. Open source is an example of how it isn't imposed. Everyone is sharing because they are willing to use software that is open and requires sharing.

The article link from ZDnet is using the negatively slanted definition (ie - Soviet "Communism") on purpose...

BSD Dude

Posted Friday, Oct 28 2005 11:25 PM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)



Affiliate advertising

Basecamp project management and collaboration

Backpack: Get Organized and Collaborate