I know it came out in December, but I’m just getting to Jaron Lanier’s rather intriguing song in praise of closed-source software.

When Richard [Stallman] told me his plan [for GNU], I was intrigued but sad. I thought that code was important in more ways than politics can ever be. If politically correct code was going to amount to endless replays of dull stuff like Unix instead of bold projects like the LISP Machine, what was the point? Would mere humans have enough energy to carry both kinds of idealism?

Twenty-five years later, that concern seems to have been justified. Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it….

[A] politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts.

Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash—the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.

[To the tune of Duran Duran, “Ordinary World,” from the album “Duran Duran 2 (The Wedding Album)“.]

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