My previous post lamented the Great Software Stagnation. We could blame technology lock-in effects (the QWERTY syndrome). We could also blame civilization-wide decadence: the Great Stagnation that was alluded to. But a big part of the blame is something completely unique to software: the open source movement.
Open source is the ideology that all software should be free. This belief is unprecedented in the history of technology. It seems to be related to the fact that software is a form of abstract information. A lot of people seem to think music and movies should also be free, but not too many musicians or movie-makers agree. It is bizarre that open source has been promoted largely by software creators themselves.
Not much user-facing software is open source. But it has almost taken over software development tools. Building things for ourselves and other programmers tickles our nerd sensibilities. Nerd cred is a form of social status we have a shot at. Open source has certainly enabled a lot of software startups to get rich quickly building (closed source) software. But it also killed the market for development of better software tools. There used to be a cottage industry of small software tool vendors offering compilers, libraries, editors, even UI widgets. You can’t compete with free. You can’t even eat ramen on free. You get what you incent, and open source de-incentivizes progress in software tools.
Open source strongly favors maintenance and incremental improvement on a stable base. It also encourages cloning and porting. So we get an endless supply of slightly-different programming languages encouraging people to port everything over. It’s a hobby programming club that reproduces the same old crap with a slightly different style. Inventing really new ideas and building really new things is *hard*, with many trials and errors, and requires a small dedicated cohesive team. Invention can’t be crowdsourced, and it can’t be done on nights and weekends. So the only progress we get is the table scraps of the MegaTechCorps.
Open source and Unix and the internet boom are all wrapped up together. They took over around the same time, 1996, and I blame them for the lack of much progress since.
There are signs that open source is changing. Nadia Eghbal has shown a spotlight on the dark side of open source. There are attempts to convert it to a more sustainable charity model. However I believe the more fundamental change is the imposition of Codes of Conduct, which are trying to change the social norms of open source. Will it still function if it is no longer a private club for autism spectrum guys? Open source as we know it is over, for better or worse.