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Most recent post

Cast A Critical Eye: Discussing the Open Source Movement

By Alex Athans
September 18, 2014

Critical thinking skills are what every university should teach. Being out of school for a length of time may dull these skills. Their important thing is to keep them sharp and ready for use, because if something seems to good to be true, it very well may be.

Recently in our Sustaining Innovation module, we discussed the open source phenomenon with professor Linda Edelman. After watching a brief video clip explaining what open source is, professor Edelman opened the floor up for discussion, the main topic being: Why would people do work and give away the fruits of their labor for free?

Notice the trademark symbol.

Notice the trademark symbol.

Being an attorney, my first thought was that open source participants are squandering all of their intellectual property rights. Further, the movement seems to express frustration that others want to keep their IP. Trade secret protection, for example, expires as soon as the secret is no longer a secret. For some companies, this is all they have.

On the other hand, the open source community has created some wonderful products offered cheaply or for free, and continually revamps and updates them. It consists of enthusiasts who seem to want nothing more than an opportunity to do what they love and have it be enjoyed by others. I myself use open source products, including the fine recording program Audacity.

The main thrust of the discussion, though, was that one should always look critically at anything, no matter how great it seems. While it is my opinion that open source software is a positive thing–how different is it from users helping a corporation design new products?–it never hurts to question motivations or see potential downsides. Pessimistic? Not at all. I prefer the word “skeptical.”

 

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