Life Without Open Source?

by Ostatic Staff - May. 12, 2008

By Aaron Huslage

Let's face it, open source software runs the Internet. Without it we wouldn't have basic services like DNS, or even the web server that's sending you this page. This isn't a new phenomenon. People have been writing and distributing OSS software since the Internet was born. I'm always amused when people characterize it as a new-fangled thing. That does a complete disservice to the hard work of folks all over the world, and the phenomenal software they have written.

I've been thinking about what life would be like without open source software. How could you get through much of your daily life without it? Absent open source, Google would not have been able to easily and cost-effectively build a huge cluster of servers to power its search engine. The reason is Linux would not have been free for the company to modify and adapt to its needs. And Google is only one obvious example here. Yahoo runs its entire site on FreeBSD.

The technologies that have powered the most recent expansion of the Internet--Web 2.0 offerings--are fundamentally fueled by open source software. Ruby, Python, Perl, PHP, Linux and mySQL, to name a few, have reduced the costs of starting many kinds of companies to almost nothing. While 10 years ago a company would have had to buy a lot of proprietary software and services, now a good bunch of coders, designers and sysadmins (sometimes the same person) can put something together with freely available tools for very little up-front cash.

It's ironic that the effects of open source software on our economy are largely unmeasured and may be unmeasurable, but suffice to say the effects are enormous. Life without open source software would not only be quite a bit different, but many people would also be quite a bit less wealthy. The business of OSS is booming and will likely continue to drive the great expansion of the Internet and concomitant transformation of society.