by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XIX

This Week's Clue: An Open Source World

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This Week's Clue: An Open Source World
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 8, 2006

When I first agreed to do an open source blog at ZDNet my beat was "the enterprise." I wrote about corporate policies concerning open source software, about open source licensing strategies, about indemnification, and questions about whether the whole idea was legit.

Gradually I chose to expand the beat. I began looking at the open Internet, at open spectrum, especially when the current threats to them rose.

I began seeing open source everywhere. I saw open source journalism, a new open source politics. I called open source a business model, a political movement.

It is all that and more.

Open source is the greatest driver of economic growth since the plane and the automobile. Where those devices brought people and goods together, open source brings minds together. All over the world.

The principle is simple. When we work on the basics together, competition can exist on a higher level. Stop worrying about the operating system and start worrying about applications. Stop worrying about basic applications and start selling services.

The open source principle has worked wonders in the past. The Interstate Highway system is open source in action. The Apollo program represented open source in action. The Internet itself was one product of the Space Race. To call it "socialist" is to brand it, and falsely.

And branding is what its enemies need to do. Open source does have enemies. Many enemies. They are right to fear it.

Right now, the U.S. government is dead-set against the open source principle. They hold up a proprietary principle as being the only freedom. Absolute intellectual property, absolute closed spectrum, and absolute freedom for monopolists to choke off the free Internet. The government calls these things capitalism.

In fact, they are fascism. Worse, they are inefficient.

For a capitalist system to succeed, it must be efficient, competitive and transparent. In a word, open to change.

The last generation has seen this openness replaced by a proprietary system. It is time for balance to be restored. Open source is the principle that can restore the balance.

That's because open source creates a commons. The wealth of a society becomes determined by the wealth of its commons. The more freely we can use knowledge and code, the more we can learn and invent. And to meet the problems of energy and the environment, we will need to learn and invent a great deal.

But there is a problem. It's the problem I've been writing about here since this newsletter launched. It is the thread that ties together every subject I have addressed here - from e-commerce to Moore's Law to Always-On to politics and economics.

It's the business model problem.

The business model for open source software is now relatively straightforward. Instead of hiding code and selling code, you share code, then sell services and support.

In journalism and entertainment it is less clear where the business model lies. Ad revenues alone are not sufficient to support most of the people working in these areas now. As I have written many times before, ways must be found to increase the value of page views beyond what even a targeted ad is worth.

The same problem exists in telecommunications. An open source pipe is not worth nearly as much as the services that ride it. Bits may be bits, but phone calls and cable channels are billable events. This is why 99% or more of the available bandwidth is being hoarded, why the Bells seek monopoly rents and control of our networks.

Those who advocate open spectrum and open networks know that the gross economic activity arising from these wonders will mean more markets for writers and artists of all kinds. It will mean a growing economic pie. What they have failed to do is address these business model problems - how do we get from here to there?

In the end we either leap or we get pushed. The example of Sun Microsystems here is instructive. They have seen their proprietary hardware and software dry up revenues for years. Then they finally saw a glimmer of hope with open source and decided to leap, naming Jonathan Schwartz as CEO, pushing founder Scott McNealy aside.

Will Sun survive? Fact is it doesn't matter.

The best historical analogue I can make to this period is the turn of the last century. The old economic order of protective tariffs and small-scale production was being threatened by advertising, mass production, and industrialization. Many did not survive the transition. New rules had to be put in place to make sure those with power did not abuse it.

The present changes reverse all these processes. Mass production means less. Mass advertising means less. What matters is what what each individual mind can do with the open source tools available. And how they can attract enough attention to their work to get paid for it.

We need to tear down the present hierarchies, and reward those who find the economic models we need. Protectionism will not work, any more than it worked 100 years ago.

Fact is, this column is not a political call to arms. Whether America accepts the open source principle in the short run makes little difference.

Because, as I've said here for a decade, the Internet is a worldwide network, and a national law is just a local ordinance.

Those economies that embrace open source, open networks and open spectrum will prosper at our expense, unless we act now to protect those values within our own economy.

The time for action has come. It's the great story of our time. And it's the story I now intend to follow, full-time.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

Network Neutrality Fight Turning Around?

It's still an uphill battle. But the Bell attempts to kill municipal networks on the state level were turned around, after early victories against a backdrop of no publicity. Could the same be happening here?

The Problems of Abundance

The problem of abundance hit the PC industry starting in the late 1990s. The problem is even more dramatic in telecomm.

WiFi Threatens Service Revenue

There The Cloud, a hotspot network, has begun offering a $20/month (11.99 pounds in real money) all-you-can-eat calling plan that could compete directly against cellular.

The Politicization of Open Source

You can't ignore a political monopoly and expect it to restrict itself.

De-Evolution at Amazon.Com

Now I'm greeted by Amazon ads each time I open my PC, which reminds me never to do business with them again.

Jimmy Carter was Right

Jimmy Carter was a great President. The fault lay in us, not in him. He just didn't lead a great country, only one which thought itself great.

Democrats Get Played on Internet Competition

By trying to appear "tough on crime" Democrats are undermining the open Internet.

A Local Story, A National Threat

Verizon has won a ruling that it can charge local calls to ISPs as toll calls.

Are the Phone Companies Necessary?

Phone and cable companies deliver last-mile Internet service, and phone companies own most of what's used for backbone Internet traffic in this country. But if they both disappeared tomorrow, would the Internet die with them? No.

The Open Source World

Regular readers may notice that I have changed the sub-title of this blog.

The Open Source Purpose of Patents

The patent system is designed to encourage replacement of the patented technology.



Instant Gerrymandering Safe

The Internet Campaign

Lou Dobbs Republican - John Konop

Immigrants Try it Again

The $2 Million Question

Unfunded Mandates Not Just for Republicans Anymore

Rising Tides Lift All Boats, but not Equally

Full Slate of U.S. House Races

ZDNet Open Source

The Most Important Value of Open Source

Will Open Source Stay Non-Political?

Will Schwartz Take Java Open Source?

FIRST Consider Open Source


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is US First. They would be wise to use more open source.

Clueless is judicial approval of gerrymandering. It just makes for wider swings in policy, and more abusive politics.

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