Raising the bar
I have had the opportunity to have been part of the computing world in some form or another for about 25 years now (yes, I started young). I started as a young home hobbyist building my own machines and writing software from the ground up, then having the opportunity to experience the early days of the open source community with the Berkeley Software Distribution provided to us by our friends at Berkeley CSRG (only to see that freedom being threatened by a series of lawsuits), and then a rebirth and growth of the open source movement (albeit with a few hiccups along the way), and it's enormous impact it has had on the computing landscape. It's been really fun and interesting to see it's impact on not only the general computing environment, but also the massively growing number of purpose build devices out there.
Much has been said and written about how Linux and Open Source Software has changed the way people think of software, and it's progression over time. The rate of innovation and quality of software continues to accelerate, and this is due in large part to the Open Source community, and the software we produce. But, the impact extends far beyond the community and it's direct activities related to software development.
We now have a medium through which any number of people anywhere in the world can choose to work together and solve a problem. We don't need to spend years trying to convince a small number of people on a standards body that something is a good idea, we just try it, and optimize the solution over time. If the idea makes sense, it will survive. If not, it will wither and die, and be replaced by something better. This self-optimized process continues to grow and expand over time, and has caused a basic change in the way we go about the business of software.
It's also changed our expectations, both as developers of software, and consumers of software. In the open source world, we expect continuous improvement over time. If there is no solution available, one is created. If it does not work well, it is either improved or replaced. Software is largely judged by it's usefulness and utility, not by other things. Open Source developers understand that it's about what you do, not what you say, and they hold others to that same standard.
Those living in the world of proprietary software have experienced this change in expectation. No longer can a mediocre piece of software be imposed on the consumer forever. If attempted, there is a significant risk of a better solution being developed and driven into common use by the Open Source community. Also, when there are open source alternatives available, the quality, completeness, and utility of those solutions continues to improve, and over time, the existing static software solutions become less relevant (and valued) over time. One needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
This model is not without controversy, of course, with a wide spectrum of views on the topic. There are those, such as the Free Software Foundation who feel the very notion of "Intellectual Property" is just plain wrong, and there are still others who feel deeply threatened by the open source movement and feel that left unchecked, the economics of the situation would ultimately lead to a collapse of the industry which creates, sells, and maintains software today. The same could be said for the industries involved in other content generation and delivery (music, videos, news, books), with a similar level of controversy.
The dialog will continue, of course. And no matter where one is on the spectrum of views, the quality, completeness, and pace of innovation of software is accelerating as a result. We are raising the bar to a new height of open standards, and open software, which is a good thing for all.
It's a great time to be in the software industry, both from a technical and business perspective, and to be part of this great change. The question is, what's next?