Dare Obasanjo just put up a posting with the title Open Source is Dead. Dare does happen to be a Microsoft employee, but his posting is none of the standard anti-Linux/OpenOffice/Apache/Firefox FUD. Instead, he voices a question that’s been floating around for a while:
… how much value do you think there is to be had from a snapshot of the source code for eBay or Facebook being made available? This is one area where Open Source offers no solution to the problem of vendor lock-in.
Let me out!!!
In other words, as the Web replaces Microsoft Windows as the world’s favorite desktop/laptop software platform (it may be there already), what good is Open Source to ordinary computer user? Even if a web site happens to be built on Open Source software (like the LAMP stack), I’m still locked in:
- How can I move my address book and archived e-mail from Hotmail to Yahoo or GMail?
- How can I move my blog (with all postings and comments) from Blogger to Bloglines or WordPress?
- How can someone move her contact list and comments from MySpace to Facebook?
- How can a buyer in Yahoo’s auction thingy verify my reputation on eBay?
- How can I move my old flight plans from Aeroplanner to FBOWeb?
- How can I move my sales contacts and data from Salesforce.com to Highrise?
- How can I move my pictures with their tags from Flickr to Smugmug?
A crack of light under the door
These are huge problems, and the solution is probably going to have a lot more to do with Open Data than with Open Source. There are already a couple of minor successes:
- Blog reading sites almost universally support OPML import and export, so that you can save the list of blogs you read from one site and move it to another.
- Online wordprocessors and spreadsheets, of course, support the Microsoft Office formats and/or the OpenDocument formats and/or RTF and CSV.
That’s not much, though. Open Source (and its predecessor buzzword, Free Software) have been very important over the past couple of decades, giving us choices beyond the Microsoft/Apple duopoly that chained our desktops (and forcing the duopoly to open up a lot) and smashing the big-iron vendor cartel that owned our servers, but as the world shifts from desktop to web-hosted software, it can’t take us much further.
Your data is the next big battle
Open Source will still matter, of course (especially for server-side work), but it won’t be an important battle ground any more. Until we can convince (or force) web sites to embrace and standardize on Open Data formats — XML, JSON, or even CSV, as appropriate — we will be in some ways even more locked in than we were in the bad old desktop days. Celebrate Open Source’s victory, by all means, but get ready for an even bigger and bloodier battle over the next 10-20 years.