Monday, December 05, 2011

The Philosophy of Open Source

I recently read a book by Henrik Ingo on "Open Life: The Philosophy of Open Source". I strongly recommend software developers as well as technical managers to read it. Here I present some excerpts that I find very interesting in the book.

"If a buyer is willing to pay a lot for it, then a cheap product can be sold at a high price... It is not stupid to ask a high price, but it is to pay it."

"The law of supply and demand can lead to situations that seem strange when common sense is applied to them. ... The oil is no different to the oil that was on sale at a considerably cheaper price just the day before... When supply goes down, the price goes up - even if all else remains equal."

"Often, the kind of stuff branded a trade secret can also be absurdly insignificant, but the important thing is that they don't tell others about it. Today's companies are at least as interested in the things they don't do as the things they pretend to be doing and producing... There's an ominous sense that much of what we do is done with a logic of mean-spiritedness, whether it is in business or in our everyday lives!"

"In a word, Europe's farming policy is based on mean-spiritedness. The subsidies policy is based on farmers agreeing not to produce more food than their agreed quota (to keep the supply low and prices high)."

"The logic of mean-spiritedness that follows from the law of supply and demand, can also be found in all fields of commerce where there is any co called 'immaterial property', including IT, music, film, and other kinds of entertainment, but the most glaring examples of it occur within the world of computers."

"These three demands -- features, quality, and deadline -- would build certain tension into any project. If, for instance, the schedule is too tight, there may not be enough time to include all the features you want. But if a project manager leans on his team, demanding that all the features are included and the deadline be met, then they are compelled to do a rushed job and, inevitably, quality suffers. ... The Open Source community's no-deadlines principle makes excellent sense, and is probably one of the reasons Open Source programs are so successful... One of the most frequently asked questions at the time was, 'When will the next version of Linux be released?' Linus had a stock answer, which was always, 'When it's done.'"

"Why do people do things? The first reason is survival. The second reason is to have social life. And the third reason is that people do things for fun. In that order... Since we work to have fun, to enjoy it, then why do we drive ourselves into the ground trying to meet artificial deadlines?"

"Usually, the vision and business strategies which guide a company are created in the upper echelons of management, after which it's up to the employees to do whatever the boss requires of them...But the principle of 'do whatever you like' would suggest that the management should quit producing the whole vision and business strategies, and focus instead on making it possible for employees to realize their own vision as best they can. (Unfortunately) For many managers such a concept would seem totally alien."

"The lazier the programmer, the more code he writes. .. Typing is too arduous for him, so he writes the code for a word processing program... Because it's too much effort to print out a letter and take it to the postbox, he writes the code for e-mail... So, laziness is a programmer's prime virtue."

"It's not healthy for one's central motivation to be hatred and fear. And what if one day Linux did manage to bring down Microsoft? Would life then lose its meaning? In order to energize themselves, would the programmers then have to find some new and fearful threat to compete against?"

"Since the beginning of hacking, Open Source hackers have always made programs to suit their own needs. ... As a client, the Federal Republic of Germany accepted this logic, and they aren't likely to have any reason to complain. Not only did they get what they wanted, they got a high-quality solution, they got it cheap, and they got it fast. What could be unfair about that?"

"An interesting situation -- IBM had to keep developing Eclipse; yet, financially, investing in it was a bad idea. The solution, of course, was Open Source."

"A company that has calculated its tender openly is much easier to trust. If I were to receive an honest tender of 1,000,000 from a company that operated with open principles, and the tender from a closed company came in at 999,500, I am likely to laugh at the latter and accept the former."

"I once read somewhere about a study which showed that about 20 percent of ants in an anthill do totally stupid things, such as tear down walls the other ants have just built, or take recently gathered food and stow it where none of them will ever find it, or do other things to sabotage everything the other ants so diligently try to achieve. The theory is that these ants don't do these things out of malice but simply because they're stupid... Critics of Open Source projects claim that their non-existent hierarchy and lack of organization leads to inefficiency... If a number of people do some stupid things, we make a rule to say it mustn't be done. Then we need a rule that says everybody has to read the rules. Before long, we need managers and inspectors to make sure people read and follow the rules and that nobody does anything stupid, even by mistake. Finally, the organization has a large group of people who spend time thinking up and writing rules, and enforcing them. And those not involved in doing, are primarily concerned with not breaking the rules...However, Linux and Wikipedia prove the opposite is true... This is particularly true when you factor in that not all planners (managers) are all that smart. Which means organizations risk having their entire staff doing something really inane, because that's what somebody planned. So, it seems better to have a little overlapping and lack of planning, because at least you have better odds for some of the overlapping activities actually making sense..."

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