I was at a conference when two techies walked into the open bar, one an open source supporter and one staunchly anti. They got into it a bit after a few drinks, and Mr. Anti commented loudly, “I wish open source would just go away! It causes more trouble than it's worth.” Statements I obviously have issues with. Now, I know most people don’t understand the role of open source software in our world, or just how many services that we take for granted would disappear without it. If you’re a card-carrying member of the community, you probably know where I’m headed.
Say at the stroke of midnight, all open source software magically vanished. What would still work tomorrow?
For starters, the Internet would “disappear” for the average user. Most Domain Name Servers (DNS) are run on open source software like BIND, which turns www.whurley.com into the IP address of the appropriate server. The majority of basic Internet users would be literally lost in translation. Of course, BIND isn't the only open source software for DNS. And not all DNS solutions are open source.
So assume DNS still works or perhaps you memorized 22.214.171.124 instead of www.google.com. Even with name servers functioning, Google would drop off of the face of the Internet. Google is primarily powered by Linux—arguably the most popular open source operating system on the planet. No worries. You'll just pop over to Yahoo!, right? Wrong. Yahoo! is one of the largest consumers of another popular open source operating system:
FreeBSD. Now you’ve resigned yourself to trying 126.96.36.199. We all know they're not running open source, and they've been working hard on that search feature for quite some time.
Ok, MSN is up and running, now execute a search. I heard a sweet Shakira remix on the radio this morning; I’m going to search for that. MSN returns a list of sites offering the song . . . I’m clicking on them . . . and . . . nothing. No dancing? No Latin rhythms? Over 60% of all Internet sites are powered by Apache, an open source web server. Before I even click on a link, my chances of success have been reduced to 4 in 10.
Of the 118,023,363 sites surveyed by NetCraft so far in the month of May, just over 70 million of them wouldn't work if open source software were to disappear. Of course, Apache isn't the only open source web server and . . . you know the rest. I could go on and on about how none of your online transactions would be secure without OpenSSH and OpenSSl and all the other services users access every day that wouldn’t exist in this scenario.
Open source is not a new trend. It’s not a fad. It’s everywhere, whether you recognize it or not. From the embedded Linux in new wireless routers to Firefox, the world's most popular open source browser, open source powers the Internet and countless other technologies.
You already know I’m a true believer, but what do you all think? I’d like to hear your thoughts on how the disappearance of open source would affect you.