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From: Eric Bohlman
Subject: Re: Open Source Consumer Products
Date: 21 Nov 2002 09:59:45 GMT
Organization: OMS Development
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"Geraldo S." wrote in
> I'm counting on the fact that people will quickly see the advantageous
> of Open Source consumer electronics.
Which are? Traditionally, the open source/volunteer development model
works well in areas where there's a substantial overlap between producers
and consumers. Development tools would be the classic example: the author
of a compiler personally benefits if others can work on his code, because
he's a user of compilers as well as a developer of them. With operating
systems, there's less overlap: there are lots of people who just use, say,
Linux without contributing to its development, but that doesn't matter
because the OS developers still gain quite a bit.
The point is that the traditional open source model seems to work best when
developers are producing the sort of stuff they personally want to use.
I'm not sure how well it would work in cases where most of the end users
aren't anything remotely like developers and their wants and needs may be
different from those of developers, and that's the case for most consumer
products. Games may be an exception, I'll admit, and "high social value"
products like aids for the disabled may be another exception, but for the
most part it's hard to get a whole lot of people to volunteer to work on
products that are of at most marginal interest to them. It's been
observed, for example, that the quality of user interfaces for open source
software lags quite behind that of commercial software, even when other
aspects of the software are competitive or better. The biggest part of the
problem seems to be that developers aren't willing to put in a lot of time
doing things that are only useful to "lusers."
The pure consumer who just wants to use, rather than modify a product may
care about "free as in beer" but has very little reason to care about "free
as in speech." It's easy to forget that most people's behavior isn't
strongly influenced by ideology (not even the choice of political
candidates to vote for or the choice of church to attend; the latter, for
example, is mostly a function of what friends and family do rather than
There's also the matter that developing or modifying pure software requires
mostly just intellectual capital with very low requirements for physical
capital. Developing consumer hardware requires lots of the latter,
creating a much higher barrier to entry. So the pool of people capable of
taking advantage of the benefits of open source in the latter case is much
smaller than in the former.
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