Saturday, October 24, 2009

The future of IT is also the future of politics

This, from the Guardian and Mitch Kapor last week, is so right:
While Firefox is widely regarded as a huge success, Kapor warns that it is not actually the best example of the victory of open source. Instead, he suggests, the movement's main achievement actually lies out of sight – amid the systems that underpin the web itself.
"I tell people that the history of Mozilla and Firefox is so one of a kind that it should not be used – ever – as an example of what's possible," he says. "The accomplishment of open source is that it is the back end of the web, the invisible part, the part that you don't see as a user."
More here.

He's also interesting on the subject of empire.  I'm not sure he's entirely right though.  IBM has reinvented itself.  Not the monolith it used to be before Microsoft realised there was more money in software than hardware - so it's a different company now, of course, but recognisably reinvented all the same.

Not unmade and unpicked beyond recognition.

These massive corporate entities can serve to provide us with power and water and other essential utilities we clearly need on a grand scale - and can be so very useful in guaranteeing so many things.  But what they guarantee - above all - is their own long-term survival.  In the IT business, that means restrictive and proprietorial practices of all kinds.  If the battle between proprietorial licences and open source solutions has been so fierce, it is not for intellectual reasons that this has been so.

The distortions in behaviours brought about by the immense and sometimes savage concentrations of wealth that capitalism - especially the American sort - accrue over time have played their part in allowing some people to continue acting as if monopolistic markets should be the norm.

We can only hope that the future will force both new empires like Google and those who would reinvent themselves like Microsoft to gladly take on board the lessons of open source.

Meanwhile, as far as the UK is concerned, it's time the tenets of the free culture movement moved lock, stock and barrel to our shores.

For we're not only talking about the future of IT here - but also the long-term future and health of British politics.

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