Open Source Matters

This week’s edition of the IET magazine is The Open Source Issue. The arrival of my weekly magazine seemed to coincide beautifully with @leisa tweeting the question: “Why does open source matter?”

In the magazine we have: open source biotechnology, open source cars, open source phones and the story of how AQA (a UK examination board) went open source.

“Open source biotech?”, I hear you ask yourselves. Well, yes, I did wonder.

In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of open source principals is that open source represents the unencumbered flow of ideas. Imagine where the world might be if the first person to work out how to light a fire had done it in secret.

A close second is the idea that lots of brains working on the same problem is a good thing. Very few individuals are great enough to to be brilliant in isolation.

The biotech example is interesting. The biotech world uses patents to encourage innovation as it enables inventors to make some cash from their ideas. The problem is that good ideas, useful information gets stuck in “EvilCos” library and progress can, in some cases get stalled.

Open source may not be the answer to all the world’s woes but it provides a framework for a freedom to collaborate on solving problems that affect all of us.

One of the participants we had in for usability testing was a very impressive young woman of 23. She was studying for her masters in neuroscience and, I quote “I was going to cure Parkinson’s but someone beat me to it so I need to find a new disease”. I may not be able to provide her with research she can build on, but I can contribute to ensuring the interfaces she uses don’t get in her way.

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