Daniel Lemire's blog

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Closed-source software is the source of innovation?

Geoff cites an article by Jaron Lanier arguing that closed-source software is the source of innovation, that open source software is only polishing copies. The gist of the argument is there:

Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash—the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.

First of all, Page Rank was not designed in a proprietary-software environment. It was designed at Stanford. And Google is not exactly a proprietary-software shop. They use Linux, Python and plenty of open source software. They also give back a lot to the open source communities.

Apple is hot with innovations? Maybe, but before they took a sharp turn back toward BSD and built on open source software, they were going to hell with their proprietary operating system. Several key Apple components are open source software, including their Web browser engine. Wikipedia? Built on MediaWiki, MySQL, PHP, MemCached. YouTube? Built on MySQL, Python, and MemCached.

There is plenty of innovation going on in the open source world. It just does not come in a box with a CD-ROM. Open source software is the greatest innovation enabler in our history.