Camille highlighted an article from VICE about F/LOSS, labor and sustainability opening about Heartbleed / OpenSSL. The contention I have with it is that it made a slight jab at devices that couldn’t upgrade but had this bad code in it without highlighting how device manufacturers use this anti-upgrade technique to prevent consumers from being independent and service their own hardware (or rely on local vendors to do so). There is something here that stuck out to me a lot:
Clearly, something was broken with a system where the security of the global internet was almost entirely supported by the selfless efforts of one overworked and underpaid programmer. As for who was to blame, [Steve] Marquess pointed to the “commercial companies and governments who use OpenSSL extensively and take it for granted.”
Steve’s point is a big one in this age and companies like Google, Amazon and the likes thrive of it. And to add more to it (emphasis mine):
The ascendancy of open source has placed a mounting burden on the maintainers of popular software, who now handle more bug reports, feature requests, code reviews, and code commits than ever before. At the same time, open source developers must also deal with an influx of corporate users who are unfamiliar with community norms when it comes to producing and consuming open source software. This leads to developer burnout and a growing feeling of resentment toward the companies that rely on free labor to produce software that is folded into products and sold back to consumers for huge profits.
I’m genuinely terrified of having a successfully acclaimed open source project for this reason. I have no problem licensing my code under a reliably free (in freedom and ethics) license but a lot of projects don’t. Something that was true 20 years ago that seems to still be true today though (emphasis mine):
There was just one problem: The free software movement was burdened with a major ethical component, and ethics are bad for business. So in 1998, at the behest of Raymond and the budding media titan and “meme hustler” Tim O’Reilly, a group of high profile free software evangelists gathered to figure out how to make free software attractive to industry. As Raymond later described the gathering, the developers at the meeting mounted a “marketing campaign” in order to “re-brand the product and build its reputation into one the corporate world would hasten to buy.”
All important. And once you make it this far in the article, you’ll note why, for me, open source != free software (they’re not the same thing):
In retrospect, the marketing campaign was a phenomenal success. Open source software is now at the heart of the tech platforms and services most of us use every day, including Microsoft, whose former CEO Steve Ballmer once famously described Linux and other open source projects as a “cancer.” These days, Microsoft positions itself as a champion of open source development, as does Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and even the US government. Free software, if it is mentioned at all, is usually brought up under the umbrella term Free and Open Source Software or FOSS.
Something in here kind of hit me the wrong way. More specifically, I didn’t understand why the concept of a free rider was a bad situation. I think it’s the transportation-as-a-public-utility thing kicking in for me (I imagine a world where taxes completely cover transit so no one has to pay post that for basic service):
The free-rider problem is related to the tragedy of the commons, which describes a scenario where all the members of a community benefit from unregulated access to a common good, but no one is incentivized to individually bear the cost of maintaining that good. When each member of the community uses the common good according to their own self-interest, the good eventually becomes depleted and available to no one in the community. In the case of FOSS, the common good is the billions of line of open source code. While code itself can’t be used up in the same way as other economic goods like food or land, the resource that can be depleted is the attention and energy of the programmers responsible for developing and maintaining that code.
It’s sound here but I do think that there’s a method that can work. But it requires a non-globalist view of the world. That’s not something that’s wanted anymore. The tech industry doubles as a digital imperialistic front (see Google, Microsoft, Facebook).
A kicker is the need to have places to commune and discuss among many forks (copies of code). Super ironic that a company vehemently (and still) against FL/OSS now owns the largest equivalent of a town hall:
GitHub launched in 2008 and although it’s not the only place where programmers come to store, review, and discuss open source software it has become the closest thing that the FOSS community has to a town hall. Today, the online software repository hosts over 100 million code repositories created by some 25 million contributors from around the world. The motivations that compelled these 25 million souls to contribute to open source development are manifold, but according to David Hansson, the creator of the open source web development framework Ruby on Rails, over the last two decades there has been a fundamental shift in the profile of open source contributors.
This whole post is pretty good, to be frank, and it reignited some thoughts I had.