Is Open Source Communist?

So the Redmond PR machine has convinced many people that

open source software = communism
proprietary software = capitalism

but this could not, from all the facts I can see, be further from the truth.

Let’s review some of the characteristics of communism, as compared to some characteristics of capitalism, and decide which one is closer to the Redmond approach and which is closer to the open source movement.

Communism requires central control, with one all-powerful dictator.

While there may be some distribution of control at Microsoft (and probably more so now that Gates has retired), I don’t think any Microsoft developers are going to decide on their own to fork Windows and see what happens. There is very much a top-down hierarchy in place, and people do what they’re told.

And while Linus Torvalds has final say on what becomes a part of the official Linux kernel, he’s not deciding how all the Linux developers in the world spend their time. They have complete freedom to do anything they want, and it may or may not bear fruit. That sounds a lot like capitalism: I can try anything, and it may or may not sell on the open market. Linus just happens to be a big customer, but there’s nothing stopping someone from forking the Linux kernel and making their own. They wouldn’t be able to call it Linux, but they’re free to make what they want. Linus has freedom to decide what is called “Linux”, and they have freedom to take Linux and make something new with it. Freedom! Doesn’t that sound like capitalism, not communism!?

Communism makes a few very very rich, and the rest very very poor

If you “got in early” to Microsoft, you could be retired now and living on your own cruise ship. Just like those involved in planning the revolution in Russia or China (or wherever).

In Communism power is seized through force

Communist dictators were obviously not voted into office. (Although by deluding the public with visions of great improvements to their lives that were never delivered on, they did gain a lot of popular support.) Looking at a history of Microsoft you’ll see that they lie cheat and steal their way to success. They steal innovations from other companies and bring them to market more forcefully. This leads to the next point.

There is very little innovation under a Communist regime

Very little original work comes from Redmond nothing that I can think of, and I’ve been looking for something original from them for years. When I thought I found something that they originated the task bar I discovered it was a combination of the dock from NeXT and the menu bar from the original Mac OS. (Drag the Windows task bar to the top of the screen, then compare with an old Mac running OS 9, and you’ll see what I mean. Anything not stolen from the Mac OS was stolen from NeXT.)

Communism depends on propaganda

No one that I know of has a better PR machine than Microsoft.

So there is this one similarity that Redmond (et al) are (no pun intended) capitalizing on: capitalism allows people to earn money for their work, and so does proprietary software. However, this similarity is tangential at best.

Are people compelled in a capitalistic society to work only for money? No, of course not that would be absurd. How many volunteer movements do you think started in the Soviet Union? How many do you think started in the United States?

Does open source software prevent people from making money for their work? No, not really. It might prevent them from making money from the software, since it is usually largely the work of others, but there are many very successful open source software businesses, making bundles of money from support. Open source software in no way whatsoever precludes making money, it just prevents you (in many cases) from making money from someone else’s software. Under the Gnu Public License, if you modify (improve) someone else’s open source software, you can’t turn around and sell it your improvements must be given away freely as well. But the MIT license is growing in popularity, and it does not preclude selling the software you build using code you nabbed from someone or some where else. So not only does open source software in no way preclude making money, in some cases it doesn’t even limit how you make money.

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