Open Sources 2.0

Posted by Brian Thu, 04 Feb 2010 00:20:01 GMT

Open Sources 2.0: The Continuing Evolution

4.5/5

Much has changed in the world of open source since the publication of the original Open Sources in 1999. Open Sources 2.0 is another collection of essays that discuss many of these changes, touching on a wide array of topics in open source software and in the application of open source principles in other areas. As with any collection of essays there is no coherent narrative, so I will discuss several essays that I enjoyed. This review would be very long if I discussed all of them as only a few were uninteresting to me.

Jeremy Allison, a lead developer of Samba, contributed an article comparing the POSIX and Win32 standards. POSIX is a series of related standards that defines the interface for a UNIX operating system, while Win32 is Microsoft’s de facto standard API for Windows programming. Allison’s Samba experience makes him uniquely qualified to compare the two. He gives a balanced take, looking at one bad and one good feature of each. For POSIX he looks at the horribly broken locking calls (AT&T submitted a terrible proposal in the standardization process and nobody else cared to complain) and its impressive record of future proofing. For Win32 he gives kudos for excellent Unicode support before any other vendor, and a big thumbs down for a powerful, but overly complicated security model. It’s actually possible to write very secure code with Win32, but it is so difficult to use the security model that nobody really wants to. He concludes by advising you to stay away from de facto standards.

Andrew Hessel contributed an essay focused on applying open source principles to biotechnology. He describes how current IP practices have contributed to rising drug development costs and waves of mergers and acquisitions as firms try to consolidate fragmented IP. He makes an interesting observation that DNA is binary code as only two base pair combinations are possible and extrapolates upon that to wonder if an author of synthetic DNA could copyright OSS style. Very few biotechnology companies now can produce and market and product profitably so the value of proprietary IP may be overstated in this industry. I don’t hold out much hope for this approach being adopted by any large players.

Overall, this collection of essays is extremely thought provoking. The focus here is not code, but the issues surrounding open source software. By extension several essays also look at how thee principles can be applied in other areas. Highly recommended.

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