Open Source and Russell’s Paradox – A New Commons?

Jesus Villasante, a senior official at the European Union Commission in charge of Software Technologies in a spontaneous panel discussion on open source decided to shine a light on the lack of coordination, the influence of commercial interests, and the inability to evolve beyond current corporate paradigms. “Companies are using the potential of communities as subcontractors–the open-source community today (is a) subcontractor of American multinationals.” Mr. Villasante is completely correct in his analysis, although I doubt he will find many who will agree in either the corporate camp or in the open source camps.

Well, I do have extensive experience in this area. I co-pioneered the first Berkeley open source operating system using our own personal resources and with the support of the editor and staff of one of the most popular American technical magazines at the time – Dr. Dobbs Journal. Along with doing a complete novel port to the X86 architecture and new architectural design, we documented the porting process, kernel and architecture. We did not believe that simply reading the source was sufficient to understanding, and it required extensive documentation and open design review to provide releases that were reliable enough for researchers (much less consumers). This was the Berkeley way, and we cleaved to it with the support of the technical press.

Even with many releases, there was extensive documentation and careful attention to design trade-offs and discussion – for example, “Is it better to commit time to a patch if the Berkeley architectural goals from 1982 from Dennis Ritchie intended a new subsystem?” and “Are artifacts such as brk() wise in perpetuating so that some legacy programs can be run while impeding evolution in modularity?”. We addressed these and many other issues.

However, what we found is that various interests in the open source and business communities did not wish any new paradigms or evolution of the operating system if it required any changes to legacy applications (some suspiciously acquired). And this was the beginnings of a lot a bad blood in the Unix community.

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