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Toward an Open Source Society

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One of the oldest arguments against anarchism is that it is impractical, that without central authority to keep the peons in line any large project will dissolve into chaos and disorder. Yet the open source software movement provides modern day proof that anarchism works, even when not conducted by anarchists. Source code is the human readable text of a computer program, written by programmers and compiled into binary format for execution by the computer. Without the source code, it is nearly impossible to modify a computer program, or even understand how it works. Proprietary software vendors like Microsoft keep their source code confidential, distributing binary-only software to rob users of the ability to modify it for their own purposes.

They also throw in things like undecipherable file formats that no other software can understand. Customers are left completely dependent on the vendor for bug fixes and new features, trapping them on an endless treadmill of upgrades, always hoping that the next version will fix their current problems without introducing too many new ones. Usually they are disappointed.

Open source software projects, by contrast, make their source code available to everyone. Anyone with an Internet connection can access the code and submit changes to the project maintainers. Non-code contributions can include bug reports, testing, documentation, and tech support. Development is thus conducted by a community for mutual benefit, instead of a corporation for maximum profit. This advantage is not just hypothetical. Successful open source projects in all areas of computing are slowly burying their closed competition.

Anarchist hacker Richard Stallman probably deserves more credit than anyone else for starting the open source movement.

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