Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the nature of software ownership, yet again

Being a Google employee, I shouldn't comment on the specific case, but I do think this is an opportune time to repeat that by adopting software, you make a calculated bet on the future behavior of a group of people. And sometimes those people behave differently than you hoped.

There is no magic bullet that will make software developers behave the way you want indefinitely. Pay for the software with cash, pay for it with attention, pay for it with a gift economy involving the mutual exchange of labor, don't pay for it at all; make it open source, make it proprietary; eventually you will always be at the mercy of developers whose incentives converge only imperfectly with your particular desires.

Well, I should amend that: if you really really want to control your destiny, you can dedicate your life to building a software ecosystem where every user has both the freedom and the burden of control. This requires much more than open source; it requires the embrace of both Free Software and software systems designed to be just as hackable as they are usable — perhaps even more hackable than they are usable. Basically, a lot of people need to (re)read In the Beginning was the Command Line, and the story of Richard Stallman and the printer. And maybe, overall, be a little less sniffy about the more "extreme" (that is, principled and consistent) versions of the Free Software credo.