A Vocal Minority
Benedict Evans has an interesting post up on his blog where he estimates the number of Android users who care that Android is open source. Using statistics of behaviors that infer a particular slant, Benedict guesses that the number of people who care that Android is open is roughly equivalent to the number of Linux desktop users. Given the huge numbers of Android phones on in use, (something close to 800 million), the sixty million “users who care” estimate seems like a small segment, but it is actually a larger number than I was expecting. I would agree that the majority of people who purchase an Android phone are probably not aware of the operating system; they simply want to make calls and post to Facebook. However, it is not that the vocal open minority is small that matters, what matters is that they are there.
The open source community acts as something of a moral compass to the technology world. We are quick to point out when something is wrong, or when something could be wrong. The open source community is composed of the slice of the entire world population who has educated themselves about how computers work. And of that already small subset, we are the further subset of people who understand the moral implications of networked computers, and a further subset of that of people willing to sacrifice small advantages in order to support what we believe to be the greater good. Of course we are a small group.
Being a small group does not mean that the open source community is not important. The technology industry needs this community. The industry needed it in 1991 when proprietary Unix systems ruled the datacenter. The industry needed it in 2002 when Internet Explorer ruled the web and Microsoft was trying to control both the web servers and the browsers, and the industry needs us now as a driver of innovation and an alternative in the mobile market. The web that we know today would not have existed without open source, and open source would not exist without a vocal minority to keep moving forward.
There is a lot to talk about concerning the nature of open source and its importance, thats one of the things we do here at OStatic. Counting the number of users and estimating how many care is an interesting, if geeky, exercise, but whatever the number is, it is far less important than the impact those who care have on the industry. We need to continue making that impact, to keep making the needs of the user first, and keeping the moral compass of the industry pointing true north, or at least as true as we can get. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing out there, feeding us with one hand and stealing our personal data with the other. The spirit of open source is needed more now than ever.