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Open Source City

What’s the state of the open source movement today, and where is it going?

It’s open source time again in Portland: the Open Source Convention, or OSCON, is back in town. Of course, you could argue that every day is open source day in Portland. The inventor of the wiki lives here. So does Linus Torvalds of Linux fame. As do a number of companies based on open source architecture, like the Collaborative Software Initiative.

The open source philosophy is premised on a few basic and profound tenets. First, that we all have a fundamental right to the codes that run our computer systems. Those computers increasingly define our relationship to our world, the argument goes, so the codes that make them run should be open and transparent. Second, the most efficient and effective way to improve those codes is by letting a creative crowd of programmers tinker with them in a dispersed, collaborative way. When you add both together, you have all the ingredients you need for the open source “revolution.”

Portland isn’t necessarily the capital of this revolution — one of the hallmarks of such a decentralized system is that the whole concept of a capital is anathema — but it’s certainly one of the most prominent nodes of community. Some people have argued that the aspects of Portland’s culture that make it such an ideal location for open source activity (i.e. a creative, collaborative, non-commercial mindset, speaking in broad generalizations) have also meant that fewer local OSS (Open Source Software) projects become commercially viable.

As one blogger wrote two years ago:

I sat across from two Bay Area VC’s a few days ago that are investing heavily in OSS companies. They asked about some of the exciting companies coming out of Portland, and I didn’t have an answer for them. All the companies doing great things with open source were in the Bay Area.

Do you buy the argument that if you want to make a living as a programmer in Portland, open source software is both a blessing and a curse?

Are you a part of the movement more broadly? What’s your take on where it came from, where it is now, and where it’s going? What lessons does the open source philosophy have for life outside the digital world — for research, or business, or democracy?

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