Let’s play a game: imagine a world with no open source
software. Imagine Steve Ballmer invented a time
machine, went back to 1953 and prevented the birth of
Richard Stallman, the father of the Free Software Foundation.
Overnight, everything open source vanishes from the face of
the planet – but what changes?
Of course, GNU/Linux disappears. Something like 75% of
the world’s web servers grind to a halt or have to switch to
Windows. You can kiss goodbye to every Android phone and
tablet too. You’re OK as you’re an Apple owner? Nope, the
Darwin kernel is based in part on the open source BSD kernel,
while Safari uses the open source WebKit, to take just two
examples of the open source elements that power both its
mobile iOS and desktop OS X operating systems.
We’d be left in a world of Windows, but without iOS and
Android to compete against, Microsoft would have been happy
to continue flogging us all its Windows Mobile OS and Windows
XP on the desktop. And with so many web technologies based
on open source and open platforms, the internet as we know it
would cease to exist: we’ve already kissed goodbye to Safari,
but bang goes Chrome, Firefox, WordPress, Docker, OpenStack
and OpenSSL – the list goes on and on.
This was just a silly academic exercise, but the point is to
show how widely open source is used. It increases choice:
Android can be adopted and adapted by any company.
It speeds adoption of technologies: source code has to be
made publicly available, so everyone can use it and contribute
to it. It reduces costs: there’s no need to develop technologies
from scratch or buy them in at great cost, and tried and tested
code can be reused. It fuels standards: Docker is a cloud
phenomena that even Microsoft has to embrace.
So as you read this issue, taking in open source media
centres, streaming standards, open server systems, Minecraft
alternatives, filesystems, drawing packages, OpenLDAP,
alternative kernels, programming and so much more, just thank
Stallman* open source exists at all.
*We realise someone else would have championed the
philosophy, but as well as katana-wielding Stallman?