Why open source won't cure cancer

This essay by Jaron Lanier is one of the smartest things I've read about the open source "movement" and its influence on software design:

Twenty-five years later, that concern seems to have been justified. Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.

Before you write me that angry e-mail, please know I’m not anti–open source. I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But a politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts.

Well said. Really when you cut through all of the warm fuzzies and get down to what happens in practice, there's an argument to be made. I too agree that there is a time and place, but it won't cure cancer.


  • Are there any open source projects that are truly innovative in any significat way? Any that introduced new technologies or concepts? I can't think of any. Maybe that means I'm not an open source acolyte or maybe it means that open source is much better at creating a community driven copy of what someone or some company created to make money. Seems like the brand name and generic drug scenario applies here.

  • I've never understood how warm fuzzies were an incentive to work and improve open source. Warm fuzzies won't put water in my hot tub, so to speak. Few things drive excellence the way competition does.

  • I am not so sure about that see: https://cabig.nci.nih.gov/

  • suggestion: try reading "the cathedral and the bazaar" or meeting Linus and the kernal team, or joining a LUG.

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