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Open source in 2001 

A new hand-drawn block diagram describing the open source world of 2001.

There's a circle in the center of the page which represents the idealogical firewall of open source. Describing that would take a short essay. But let's assume it's really there. Source code flows from inside the circle to the outside. Interestingly, none of the major open source scripting tools and runtimes are controlled by a GPL license, nor is Apache. So, for these projects, technology flows out of the circle without restriction.

Two circles intersect with the open source circle, one for BigCo's and one for Independent Developers. I made these circles separate because the two groups behave quite differently. Independents don't want to be everything to everyone. Even though I put AOL in the BigCo circle, interestingly, they behave more like an independent. But they are so big they must be in the Big circle. I made the two circles the same size, because I believe if all the indies work together (a big if of course) they're just as powerful (if not more so) than The Bigs. Two new additions to the Independent circle are VA Linux and CollabNet, both of whom are now mixed commercial and open source developers. UserLand is in the Independent Developer circle.

Inside the open source circle at the center of the page are the various parts that make up the idea of open source today: Leaders, Developers, Money, Press, XML, and Slashdot.

Leaders are the most visible, they're the handle by which most people pick up open source. They are quoted in the press, the VCs invested in them, they're linked to from Slashdot, and they have even exerted power in XML. The system is built on the presence of the leaders. People have said that we should ignore the leaders, but to have done so would have missed what's going on in the connection between money and open source and press. As the pure open source companies reposition, and the idealogical leaders scramble, we can see clearly that money played a big role, as it always does.

The developers inside the main circle are those who create open source without a business model. People who moonlight, teens who are in school, or people who otherwise do open source strictly for love. Source code flows out of the circle, created by these people, but they're very often unsung heroes.

Money fueled the hype, but that's now over. If we redraw this picture in 2003, it will not be inside the central circle. But the money is still floating around, it's not totally spent yet. If open source is to survive in the future, money will flow into the circle from the BigCo and Independent Developer circles.

The Press will take a lot longer to fade out. They present open source as the Enemy of Microsoft. In never-ending battle of Boy vs Boy, the courageous leaders of open source take on the Evil Empire. They will not be assimilated. It's David vs Goliath for the 180th time. A battle to the end.

Slashdot is different. It's the community voice of open source, with a lot of mealymouthed idiots thrown in at no extra cost.

And finally XML. When this picture is redrawn next year, I think XML is going to be much bigger part of what's going on. It's about open interfaces, choice, and no lock-in. It makes ideas flow through the firewall, even if apps are GPL-licensed. It's the lever under Stallman, and if we're smart and really courageous, it also routes around Microsoft.

PS: Robert Barksdale, a Frontier developer, did a rendition of my open source diagram in a Frontier theme.

PPS: Josh Lucas, who works at CollabNet, has some touching comments. He's a really sweet guy.

Pointers from John Robb 

These pointers are from John's weblog. He's the COO of my company, UserLand. We're lucky to have a guy who looks at software strategically as well as from a business standpoint. He's picking up the threads I started over the last few years. It's really starting to work. Thanks John!

7/8/00: "Apps apps apps. Ship apps."

Brandon Wiley: Freenet XML-RPC interface.

Say a prayer for the baby boomers 

Continuing the thread on age started yesterday..

When we're children we respect older people, that is, we listen to them. Childhood is a time of heavy software development. The computer inside us learns how to exist in the civilization it's born into. Think about it, the same evolution-created body can boot up in the 15th century or in the 21st, and be a part of either society, even though they're vastly different. Childhood can't work without a lot of listening. Then at some point we figure we've got all the info we need, and it's time to disconnect from the adults, and start creating our own world. This is called adolesence, the teen years. It often extends into the 20s and 30s and beyond. Listening cuts off dramatically at this point and the adults sometimes have a hard time dealing with this. (My father used to joke about how he would get smarter as I got older. Heh heh. Maybe so.)

We go through different kinds of adolesences, I don't think there's a universal experience, perhaps just a common one, and perhaps my view is skewed toward the male adolesence. No sisters, just a brother, no cousins, I had classmates of course, and I had a rough adolesence, rougher than most of my peers. I really wanted to make my own way, and the culture of the time encouraged that ("don't trust anyone over 30"). Some of my friends just glided through this period, went straight to college, and jobs and marriages, etc. I had to invent stuff. I was pretty driven, and guess I still am.

I'm a baby-boomer, born in 1955. The generations after mine are now really hard on us. I heard a report on NPR with interviews with post-baby-boomers, saying we're very self-centered, we didn't create any art, and we're filled with contradictions, and are basically a failure because we didn't live up to the lofty ambitions we had when we were younger. I also get a lot of that in email, pushing back on my writing. "Your generation is flawed," I hear coming back from younger readers. I interpret this as "I don't want to listen to you."

In defense of my generation, we did create some art, some important stuff. We don't have a Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Chagall or Picasso, or even Murrow or Cronkite; perhaps no one of us stands out as a creative genius, and we didn't overcome the admiration for wealth and materialism that we rebelled against. We still worship BigCo's and their leaders (a big mistake, they're not very smart or creative or even honest people, imho).

But the tools and writing style of the Web didn't exist before we came along, nor did videogames, we changed popular music, maybe not as much as we think, and medicine has made a lot of progress. It took a lot of creativity and hard work to make all that happen. It wasn't all done by baby boomers, but a lot of it was.

In good ways and bad, we're not all that different from previous generations. We like our SUVs, and condos at Tahoe, and we're struggling with our own mortality, and perhaps our breakthrough writers and composers and painters will make their mark later in life, if people are open to creativity from older folk. One can always hope.


Last update: Saturday, September 01, 2001 at 6:35 PM Eastern.

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