- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Technology: Towards an 'open' World

Essay by   •  November 12, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,695 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,245 Views

Essay Preview: Technology: Towards an 'open' World

Report this essay
Page 1 of 7

Ever since computer programmers began collaborating online to build software applications, the "open source" movement has been developing into a serious rival to the multinational software companies. Since the term was coined in the late 90s, open source has rapidly matured from an egalitarian approach to software design into a movement whose practices underpin the internet. More recently, it has begun to represent the seed of an ideology, whose approach to openness and sharing is spilling over into the wider world.

The term open source is used to describe software that is "open" for modification. It does this by making the "source" code -- the stuff programmers need to read before a computer program is converted into binary -- available for other programmers to develop. This form of software development was the norm until the late 60s.

Conversely, the proprietary software produced by big corporations rarely does this. Its owners prefer to ship "closed" binary-only versions, which are much more difficult for programmers to read, redevelop and redistribute without the permission of the owners.

Even if you are unaware of Linux, the groundbreaking open source operating system, it is likely you daily use open source software. Most email is now routed through Sendmail, while most websites are hosted on Apache servers, both open source projects. So open source has led to a revolution in the way we think about the production of software -- who owns and controls the mortar that binds the modern world -- and now its ideas are spreading beyond the confines of computer programming.

Open source ideas are breaching the boundary between software and electronics. At IBM, the next generation of computer chips is being designed using the same open methods that have revolutionized software. Claims are even being made that anything from marketing techniques to drugs, beer to washing-up liquid, can in some ways be described as open source.


Open source ideas are breaching the boundary between software and electronics. The next generation of computer chips is being designed using the same methods that revolutionized software.


The main problem with transposing open source ideas on to the physical world is that it involves more than a simple matter of replication. As Richard Stallman -- the Martin Luther of the open source movement -- once pointed out: "You can't download hardware through the net, and we don't have automatic copiers for hardware".

Even so, while hardware or machinery might be relatively expensive to reproduce, designs for them are not. Blueprints for computer chips or formulae for life-saving drugs can be reproduced just as cheaply -- and distributed just as easily -- as computer code.

So many non-software open source ideas abound that earlier this year, the thinktank Demos warned that overuse of the term threatened to muddy the waters. The authors of Wide Open, a provocative pamphlet emphasizing how open source ideas were spilling over into the wider world, warned that "in a strict sense nothing except computer code can ever be open source".

It is clear that the ideas underpinning open source are spreading far wider than the pioneers foresaw. The most prominent area -- outside electronics -- where such principles are beginning to prosper is in the pharmaceutical industry.

According to the Demos pamphlet, a number of "virtual pharmaceutical companies" already operate in ways analogous to those of the open source community. These companies are rethinking the traditional method of guarding in-house discoveries and sharing the development of their products with rivals in order to get drugs to market in super-quick time. Such openness would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

In the old textile town of Huddersfield, the wider application of open source is taking root. At the town's media centre, a small team of designers is developing TileToy, an interactive, electronically powered toy building brick. The team regularly publishes details of the product's development (through a blog) and invites others to help with and share ideas.

According to Tom Holley, the centre's creative director, the way in which the inventors are "opening" the development to a wider community represents an extension of the open source ethic. "The principle is to create a model of product development that changes the relationship between manufacturer and user," he says. "It allows smaller teams to function that wouldn't normally be able to afford a full commercial development cycle."

The question is: can these ideas be used to create something more profound than an educational toy? Or, as Holley suggests: "Can we create an open source dialysis machine or designs for a water desalination plant?" Or, as the authors of Wide Open suggest, could such a sharing of knowledge lead to cheaper crops or result in more affordable cures for disease?

Holley thinks so, and that by adopting open source thinking, it could challenge the "current dominance of multinational corporations".

This may have already happened. In 2002, Ecover, a manufacturer of environmentally aware cleaning products, commissioned a series of poster advertisements that displayed the chemical formula of its leading washing-up liquid. It message seemed to shout: for the sake of the environment, please, please copy us.

Cynics might argue that this gesture was no more than open source marketing (and one unlikely to be adopted by the makers of Fairy Liquid), but in exposing commercially sensitive information in this way, the company demonstrated how it could continue to profit while its secret recipe was laid bare.

Of course, there are drawbacks to openness. Give away your secrets and you might starve yourself of investment capital or forego the advantages of moving to market first. And inventors -- although able to recoup costs through implementation and maintenance of their ideas -- potentially lose out on the financial windfall a successful invention brings. Some have argued that this makes open source software, or otherwise, inherently anti-commercial.

But there are commercial advantages, too. As development is shared by a wide community, the cost can be dramatically reduced as



Download as:   txt (10.9 Kb)   pdf (138.1 Kb)   docx (13.9 Kb)  
Continue for 6 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 11). Technology: Towards an 'open' World. Retrieved 11, 2010, from'open'-World/10313.html

"Technology: Towards an 'open' World" 11 2010. 2010. 11 2010 <'open'-World/10313.html>.

"Technology: Towards an 'open' World.", 11 2010. Web. 11 2010. <'open'-World/10313.html>.

"Technology: Towards an 'open' World." 11, 2010. Accessed 11, 2010.'open'-World/10313.html.