Open Source Comes Out

The open source movement, according to Wikipedia, began as a software development term. The “source” refers to the source code for a program, and its “openness” means it is freely available to other developers. The watershed moment for the open source movement (though it was by no means the first of its kind) was Netscape’s release of the Navigator source code. Under the now-ubiquitous name Mozilla, the source became available for other developers, regardless of age, seniority, or experience to mess with. Enter Blake Ross and browser godfather Dave Hyatt. Result: Firefox and a browser revolution that has to keep Bill Gates up at night.

As Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, reportedly said, “The future is open source everything.”

Related to the idea of open source development is the GNU General Public License (GPL), which offers software for free. The GNU GPL was the inspiration, in fact, for the first significant expansion of the open source model: the Creative Commons licenses released by the Massachusetts non-profit of the same name. The result is a mountain of material released into the public domain with a sort of handshake protection. (After all, the freeware/shareware idea depends upon implicit trust.)

The Wikipedia idea is based upon the open source model. After all, anyone can create, revise, edit, or flag an article on Wikipedia. The content, unless copyrighted, belongs to the community. Its successor, Citizendium, will follow a similar model, though founder Larry Sanger says it will allow for ‘gentle expert oversight’. And the ‘sharing’ idea that is inherent in the open source idea has been expanded to include such projects as Flickr, YouTube, KaZaa, Skype. All of these things blur the line between individual and community, between private and public, an idea that provides one of the cornerstones of the American experiment.

[ASIDE: In fact, they undermine the very idea of property, first proposed by philosopher John Locke, whose writings influenced Thomas Jefferson and the other founders. The result, of course, is that the US Constitution protects property as a matter of natural law. Locke said that property resulted from the intersection of human labor and nature. In other words, a carpenter bends wood to his will, building a chair. The chair then belongs to him. We’ve drilled down from atoms to electrons, and will eventually drive down further to other subatomic particles. But I digress.]

That was then.

The developers at the OScar Project suggest Torvalds might be right. The project exists to transcend the idea of car. “In our opinion,” the site declares, “a car is not a vehicle full of high-tech gadgets. Instead, we are looking for a simple and functional concept to spread mobility. Form follows function. . . . OScar is not just a car. It is about new ways of mobility and the spreading of the Open Source idea in the real (physical) world” (emphasis added). The tagline for the project is “reinvent mobility.”

The last sentence in that quote is the most intriguing. Drilling down to first principles–from Ford, to sedan, to automobile, to vehicle, to mobility–might really transform the world. What other industries can do that? And how would it change our world?

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