Free and Open Source Software is a wonderful beast. It has shown countless times that individuals or groups can create anything they want, with their minds and a computer. It has liberated creation with a set of powerful tools that has allowed people to build and experiment with a vast number of ideas.
FOSS is groundbreaking and important, and I don’t think it’s given enough credit.
(Free) Open Source is more than just software
It is a belief in something greater, that people can come together and work on a project, solely because it interests them – that, to me, is amazing.
Another facet of this collaboration is the inherent ability to “scratch an itch”, aka solve a problem you have, and give it to someone else. This curative approach of being able to solve your own problems is one of the most liberating things of all. And building tools to solve problems is even more liberating.
Giving back is baked in the cake
Its part of the essence of FOSS. Giving back is basically fundamental, and required. You are giving back something you made, or helping others, but regardless, it all goes back into the system. This inspires creativity and curiosity, because people are not bound to the traditional terms of exchanging money for service. They are doing it out of interest, not (always) need.
The fog of money
Money tends to create a fog of misunderstanding, and this is especially true in FOSS. What I mean by this is the common assumption that a material or product that costs money is often perceived of having value, as if the two terms are interchangeable. The fact is, they are not.
Value is different to everyone, whereas money is almost always the same. Money is effectively currency – a medium of exchange for goods or services. Value is the thing we are often times exchanging money for – the value of eating food, or the value of entertainment. It is complementary to money, and as a result, not the same at all.
In FOSS, things are given value by their merit alone. Money is not involved. You can certainly hire someone to develop FOSS, but the outcome is still decoupled from the monetary component.
Money clouds the judgment of value, because it has no intrinsic value itself. It is an intermediary, so it confuses the ability to reason about somethings inherent qualities. We look at the price tag of something and make wild assumptions, yet the price has very little to do with value. It is only relevant to the economic system that supports buying and selling goods or services.
This odd perversion is apparent in speculative bubbles, which we still see going on today. Even services fall victim to this misconception, as arguably vital services in civic and teaching categories are extremely underpaid, or put another way, very low in income compared to the top earners – CEOs, media patrons, etc…
FOSS adapts the fastest
Whether curse or cure, FOSS is a constantly changing beast. Because it is not held in place by the whims of corporate influence, it has the freedom to evolve and change very quickly.
This does create fragmentation, but the beauty of FOSS is that you have the freedom to choose what you use. If a hundred variants exist, you can choose whichever you like.
Of course, the natural adoption and popularity of something will still take hold, without the influence of money, and so signals that help better choose FOSS still exist.
All in all, FOSS is great, and we should embrace the philosophy with more vigor than we do now.