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Friday, October 06, 2006

Perspective on Change and Innovation

a few weeks ago I posted Understanding Open Source in the Philippine Setting. I meant it as a way for people to understand what exactly is open source because the waters have become muddled. It is a huge read. the first part was meant to be a primer--- for people who are not familiar with open source development and the second part of the post was where the discussion revolved. i had hoped to have posted it in parts but time was not on my side. there are a few comments on the page and some privately sent to me about the post and i hope to answer them here as well as to summarize my post.

Some people think open source is a product. Some people think it is a fanatical religious movement. it is not, though some people are so passionate about it that it may seem it is. there are many open source products out there, certainly and the biggest if not the most famous is Linux. open source isn't built by any one person, but by a community and that is as far as a movement as it is. software built through open source development does not necessarily mean it was built through an open standard. open source software is a way of software development for people to come together because of same interest or need to build software together, where everything is both shared and inclusive.

some people argue that it is perhaps the best and the perfect way to do software development. i can not disagree that it is highly innovative that it does deliver better result and that shared knowledge is the best way to innovate--- by harnessing the power, the knowledge and skill of developers and users around the world.

why reinvent the wheel? open source can save you research and development costs--- because in this fast-paced world, even the most profitable companies can not develop software on their own. thus, open source makes perfect sense--- collaboration even with competitors can generate profits. just look at nokia, apple, ibm and myriad other companies out there who have seen that this methodology of building software is the way to go.

i come from the school of thought that believes the best solution is the one that works best for you. open source software development doesn't guarantee in default, in all cases that it is the lowest total cost of ownership. nothing does. it is stupid for any organization to simply choose an open source product out of a religious fervor. just because it is open source doesn't mean managers, should stop analyzing whether a particular solution works for you. it is a methodology--- a way of software development in the same vein as software developed from microsoft.

some people believe that open source is the answer to all software problems but they forget that open source development works (and when it does, works spectacular) only when there is a community of developers and users dedicated and interested in collaborating on a particular problem or common need. open source needs that critical mass to generate results. it is with the same reason that research and development exists not only in academe but in corporations worldwide. knowledge, good ideas and excellent results don't just come from a particular source--- they come even from the least person or source that you might expect it from.

i haven't had the opportunity to look into any revised version of the FOSS bill. my major contention with the draft, which we discussed was that it had the sense of a religious fervor to it--- that open source is the only source of good software. it doesn't encourage people to deliver good results no matter where they get it. you see, i am in favor of market forces dictating which product succeeds.

take windows for example--- it isn't by far the best piece of operating system on the planet and when compared to Linux, it pales in comparison. yet why isn't linux the dominant operating system on the planet? market forces. it isn't government's job to force linux into it--- because it would be creating the same problem years down the line: a monopoly. any solution must deliver the best bang for the meager peso we have, if it is linux, then great! if it is a microsoft solution then fine. no religious fervor, no irrational preference what gets the job done and will deliver the best possible result with the resources on hand should be the rule of thumb.

  • legislating a government's recognition of open source development is good. it lays down the foundation of creating a level playing field. it protects open source developers and users.
  • legislating open documents and interconnectivity and open standard benefits all users. encouraging its use through academe is also an excellent approach. it means technology becomes accessible for people from all walks of life.
  • legislating a government's preference in buying open source software or any software for that matter, based on how it is made isn't right. how can we predict every possible response to future myriad circumstances or the needs of every arm of an organization, especially a huge organization like a government? be abstract and let those line managers, those users determine what they need.
this idea of legislating everything is precisely whats wrong with government. we assume by default everyone is a thief. we assume everyone doesn't think. we don't encourage them to be productive, neither do we encourage possible values like trust and accountability. and we don't encourage line managers to think and decide properly. trust people to make decisions, and yes they will make many mistakes but why are we afraid of making mistakes? how else can we learn? how else can that knowledge that comes from making mistakes become institutional knowledge that will help future generations? we already have a system for check and balance--- quasi judicial bodies, higher officials and a part of their job description is to correct mistakes when they do happen. we also have that thing called "Democracy". let managers and users determine what they need and deliver it to them to get the job done.

open source development is good for filipinos as it lays the playing field and gives the lowest access to knowledge to even the poorest among the poor, which can only mean good things and a recognition of this development model from a legal point of view is good. that draft FOSS bill encourages open source, it defines open source and both of which are good. it is in section 6 of that draft, however which forces regulation when there shouldn't be and where i disagree the most. a good product doesn't need to be hand held. whether it is made through bazaar development or by cathedral development makes no difference really if the product delivers the best possible solution with the resources at hand.

open source development is a way of doing things. it isn't the end all and be all of software development. look at it as a way to manufacture a car--- but not the only way to do it. it isn't a product, it isn't a religious movement nor is it always an open standard. we talk about change, we talk about improving our society through charter change, so in the same vein as people encourage the use of open source--- which harnesses the power of developers and users around the world, so too must Filipinos harness the knowledge, the expertise and need of individual agencies and users in not only government but in any organization. To attain change and innovation, we need not look farther than changing our perspective, let people do what people do best and let people think and be responsible.