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crypto and public policy

Tim has some excellent points, but what about the user?

Filed under: Free Software — July 6, 2003 @ 5:33 pm

Tim O’Reilly says:

  • paradigm shift: software as a commodity. Small, reusable pieces
  • new killer apps: Google, Amazon, eBay, Paypal
  • open-source licenses don’t work because no redistribution occurs for these killer apps
  • the value in software is moving up the stack, specifically to lock-in via user data.

This is a very interesting and useful analysis. Noticing lock-in via user data is particularly insightful.

But I have to disagree on one point: software licenses do work and are becoming more important. As the killer apps become more and more dependent on collecting, processing, and redistributing user data, the underlying architecture of these applications comes into play: what data is my software sharing with Amazon without my knowledge? How secure is my exchange with PayPal? What are the underlying rules? What is the code of this online world, and can I change it if I need to?

We will never have (nor will we need) the Amazon source code. It makes financial sense for Google to build its search engine using Linux, but if Microsoft can do better using Windows, the user will switch and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet when it comes to the user’s end of the transaction, we do want the source code and the freedom to change it.

So maybe software licenses will be relevant to a smaller domain of software: infrastructure software (browers, etc..) . In a world where the user’s control over her own machine and data is continually eroded, infrastructure software is what counts! Free software lets users stay in control.

And that matters.

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