Dr. Michael Kay on Open Source, Anti-Capitalistic Philosophies, and How Free Expectations Can Reduce Investment In Good Software

By M. David Peterson
January 3, 2010

It's no secret that I'm a huge believer in Open Source Software and the freedoms, camaraderie, and opportunities that come about as a result of keeping our code -- and our minds -- open. But I also believe in a Free Market Economy -- and for that matter, /ANY/ economy as I know we can all painfully relate to at the moment.

Even at the best of times trying to find a balance between our ideals -- those things we feel best represent our moral foundation and therefore how we would prefer to live our lives -- and the realities of survival, both at a personal level and as a society, can be difficult.

And when times get tough? In can become nearly unbearable.

There are maybe 10 people on this planet that I can honestly say I view as personal heroes -- those individuals in whom we all have and in whom we each look to on a regular basis as sources of inspiration. Dr. Michael Kay is most definitely one of my 10, and I know many of you feel exactly the same way. Very few people have given more of themselves with no expectation of anything in return than he has. Which is one of the many reasons I feel /extremely/ fortunate to be able to consider him both a friend and a colleague.

This morning Dr. Kay and I were exchanging a few emails. Some related to code, others -- like what follows -- related to the various philosophies that exist as it relates to Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), something Dr. Kay, quite obviously, knows a great deal about having led, as the soul developer, one of the most successful and popular open source projects on SF.net, the Saxon XSLT and XQuery Processor, for nearly ten years running.

In response to one of the emails that I had sent commending him on his decision to take a new approach -- let's call it a "Hybrid Approach", a phrase and idea that another one of my personal heroes and close friends, Lawrence Lessig, has popularized in recent years -- to Saxonica, LTD's business model, he provided some of the greatest insights and inspirational thoughts I've heard in a really long time. I immediately responded back and asked his permission to share his words with the rest of you. As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I gained that permission. :-)

I hope you find the same inspiration in them that I did.

Thanks for your support, as always. For some people open source is a philosophy, one might say an anti-capitalist philosophy, but at any rate one based on strongly-held views about personal rights and the nature of society. For other people open source is purely a business model, a better way to make money. I fit somewhere in between those extremes. Writing software is a creative activity that I enjoy, and I have no desire to earn more money than I need to live comfortably, but I basically believe in the idea that the workman should be paid for his labours; and from a purely practical point of view, I think that a widespread expectation that software will always be free is bound to lead to a reduced amount of investment in creating good software. Mike

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