Did capitalism hack the open-source model?

Publié le 21 janvier 2020 par John Pete - Temps de lecture : 6 min -
Provenance : Medium / 4 juin 2019
validéCet article a été validé par Explore


Il s’agit d’une critique du fonctionnement open-source.

La philosophie open source est bien belle mais en réalité tout est tenu par les GAFAM et les gros investisseurs qui aspirent les innovations. Ce sont eux les véritables propriétaires, ils décident ce qui reste en open-source et ce qui ne l’est plus.

L’article interroge sur la condition des développeurs et propose Licensify, une plateforme où les développeurs peuvent choisir dans quelle mesure ils laissent leurs développements libres de droit ou payants.



Exploring the limits of the acclaimed and inspiring open-source model.

Open-source is doing well

How can my startup compete with Google in 2019?

To introduce this post about open-source, I would like to share an entrepreneurial experience. Last year, my startup developed a home-made computer with its own OS and many packaged open-source apps. The computer was to be sold either through a streaming distribution and/or combined with a hardware terminal (running on cheap and ecological ARM cards), and the commercial plan involved a marketing plan heavily based on our ability to provide a piece of low-cost equipment that could serve as both a PC and a media center. We built the product, and everything looked promising, but things were about to change.

The W3C, a supposedly neutral consortium that defines web standards, had voted the adoption of a Google proprietary component, Widevine, to encrypt video streaming contents. Whilst the encryption part is provided “for free” by Google to content providers like Netflix, the decryption service (i.e., the driver that runs on Google Chrome) remain the propriety of Google and only runs under specific conditions, so Google’s navigator has become the standard, and the likes of Opera or Microsoft Edge can only bow before this imposed monopoly.

For us, the new W3C standard meant that our media player couldn’t play videos. Our technology stopped working overnight in November 2018 when Google decided to suppress the Widevine reader from their open-source Chromium navigator (i.e., the “standard” Chrome version does not run on ARM cards). Or, more precisely, our technology still works, but it doesn’t play contents from Netflix, or any other leading industry player. How do you compete with that?

Well, you just don’t compete with that, so we dumped the project.

This led us to consider the role of open-source in today’s digital economy and to build a tool that will empower independent developers and enterprise-grade companies alike so that the people who create great products and projects can actually distribute their work on the market.

Open source applications make our lives better.

We love open-source because it makes the world a better place.

For most of us, the use of open-source licenses goes hand in hand with open collaboration as developers from all over the world have the ability to quickly assemble and innovate on top of pre-existing open source software.

The open-source philosophy conveys values that one can only agree with, such as innovation, freedom, and empowerment. The underlying vision and goal are that technology will make the world a better place. It is anchored in a line of thoughts that holds its roots back in the ’60s and fuelled the digital revolution from the creation of the Silicon Valley back then to the latest AI and Blockchain innovations today.

For these reasons, I feel open-source has a vital role to play, and my startup contributes to open-sources projects (i.e., https://github.com/NectarJS/nectarjs). But, although this might sound presumptuous, I also think that the open-source model presents a significant flaw that will inevitably the software industry to anything but the idealistic future we dream of. This flaw requires urgent attention and fixing.

Large organizations control open-source projects and startups

Open source fuelled tech diversity but failed to prevent business monopoly.

Both open-source and capitalism need each other. Open-source communities need resources, while the macroeconomy feeds on innovation. The coexistence of both systems rests on a fragile equilibrium balanced between the idealistic motivations of the open-source model and the nature of the capitalistic model, which is proprietary in essence.

I should state that I am neither anti-capitalist nor against the GAFA. On the contrary, as an entrepreneur, who believes that we haven’t found a better model than capitalism, and I am a “Google addict.”

However, it seems that capitalism hacked the open-source model, and something needs to be done to restore the balance. Like with any other hack, the open-source hack exploits a breach, a fundamental design flaw that will provide a point of entry and then a way into the system. Once the breach is found, anybody can come in, and out taking what they want for themselves. With the open-source model, the breach is the absence of a business model — not the fact that it is free, but rather, the absence of rules. The laws of physics tell us that empty spaces do not remain vacant for a very long time (certainly not in a greedy world anyway).

Initially, the Internet was meant to be decentralized, and the inventor of the web gave his invention for free, thus making the world a better place. But it also meant that it was up to the corporate world to find a business model for the technology. With this web example, organizations, like Google, found the best business models (again, I have nothing against Google, but it is an easy pick to illustrate this example). At first, they provided a search service in exchange of contextual advertising (remember the days when we had bikes shop ads when we searched the word “bike”), which evolved into personalized ads powered by advanced personal data analysis. Google evolved from being a search engine to becoming the Internet. Yes, think about it, Google routes the content they want to whom they wish to. They hold a vast amount of personal data. They own a significant part of the Internet infrastructure — millions of applications rely solely on Google Cloud to run. Their browser controls the execution of script code applications, and now, they can even decide which video content can or cannot be streamed (i.e., the above example with Widevine).

Okay, this last example is cliché, and Google was an easy pick, but, the problem has become a recurring issue in the software industry. Large corporate organizations vacuum innovations. Another example is Elasticsearch. For years, they provided an open-source software application exploited by giants like AWS who are now seen as forking and redistributing rebundled Elasticsearch for its own purposes. And, the list goes on and on…

Most open-source projects are maintained by large organizations who portray themselves as selfless sponsors. They claim to support healthy communities so that projects continue to develop and stay relevant, but the reality is darker. Maintainers of open-source projects have become their actual “owners”. Sadly, the model allows no room for the projects’ creators who can be washed away with a simple click on the fork button. The “owners” are in a position to hijack the technology. They can actually “buy” any project at rock bottom prices — i.e., the coast of tech maintenance. The model, once based on open-collaboration, shifted towards organized hold-ups and open-robbery.

Freedom starts with freedom of choice.

The situation is aggravated by the rise of script code (JS, PHP, Python, etc…). Any user has access to the source code interpreted in their navigator, and developers cannot protect their code anymore.

Implementing a license manager is complex, and enforcing a subscription model can be virtually impossible. WordPress plugins developers are aware of the fact that end-users can access the code, and then copy or modify it, but they can’t do anything about it. Worse, if they chose to charge for their plugin (freedom of choice), they can’t enforce a recurrent model once the user downloads the code.

Software companies often struggle with their business model, and millions of developers cannot monetize their work as they want.

In many cases, developers (independent persons and companies alike) do not choose the open source model, but it is rather the default choice they are obliged to adopt to then sell some side products and/or services (consulting, set-up development, security, etc…).

We need to fix the model.

So, what does the patch look like?

In the ’80, the Silicon Valey faced a similar challenge with the balancing act between their ideology and the established capitalist rationale. The response was to use the weapons of capitalism to change it. Hippies CEOs decided to move center stage. They changed their dress code and started wearing suits to replace imperial capitalism with entrepreneurial capitalism.

The whole startup ecosystem is still based on this model.

Such a change is needed today. The power has to go back to the developers. They should be free to choose between a full free open-source distribution, a fully paid for service, or a mix. They should be in a position to implement paid for services, and most importantly, to enforce the chosen model.

Having struggled with these issues first hand, we decided to use our software security and white-hacking expertise to build an all-in-one platform where developers can determine if their product (software application, plugin, API, etc.) should be paid for in whole or in part. They can keep a part of the code public whilst protecting any other part that they want to keep private.

We feel that this flexible approach is better suited to today’s environment but please, check our website https://licensify.io, or check our platform https://dashboard.licensify.io, or simply share your thoughts with us.


Se questionner

Quelle est la gouvernance autour de ce système ?

L’auteur propose finalement de remettre un cadre à ce qui est censée être libre.

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