Saturday, January 31, 2015

Software and the Future of humanity

My day job is proprietary and closed-source software, and is a lot of other peoples I know. It seems to work well, most of the time.

But unlike most other technologies, the workings are almost totally hidden without massive effort with binary software.

The future of humanity is at a turning point regarding knowing what software actually does inside - and this disadvantage doesn't just affect individuals but governments and corporations as well.

At the moment 'we' are trying to trying to tie things down with operating system permissions and network settings; I think this effort will fail - even though it's only just started. Already simple Android applications ask for nearly all permissions and most programs require a set of network permissions to make them work properly. Apple and others can revoke iOS authors licenses killing all copies of that software. But again - the software has to be very bad for that for happen and won't happen in most cases. So how can we tie them down after the fact? I don't think we can.

There are options other than free software and open source. Partially open solutions, for instance, where you can see the code (and maybe even change it), but not redistribute it might be the right license for some software. Wasn't Minecraft like this? There are others - not all were as successful as Open Source but some were.

I also think that people making money of the same, basically unchanged, software for 30+ years seems silly - so free/open source solutions (e.g. LibreOffice and GNU/Linux) will perhaps provide competition and drive all software forward.

To clarify this last point - unlike artistic endeavours where there is something intrinsically special, most software is functional. You can argue that Minecraft is special and straight copies are morally wrong - but we wouldn't want to say no one could produce a computer/video game ever again - a game based on blocks, or with crafting, etc.. That would be silly. The same applies for Novels - Harry Potter is not the first or last wizard/witch at school book, and we wouldn't want that. But for functional software the gap is even narrower between the original and some other version - and this is how it should be.

I also occasionally release open-source/free software, but I know lots of people won't be able to get paid that way - and software takes a long time to write, document, finish and release.  Therefore I don't think free and open-source software can fill all gaps for everyone and every-company all of the time. But there needs to be some way of getting the middle ground accepted. Microsoft tried to do this - but people don't trust them and the software they tried it on could have easily been Open Sourced properly, in my opinion - or at least had lass onerous restrictions.

I'm not sure I know what the solution is. But I can see the problem.


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