November 8, 2006

Bulk view

Seven pages, double-spaced

That’s what my previous blog posts and this morning’s list of actors
come to: seven pages, double-spaced. Add another page for the actor
network map, and I’m getting close to the *maximum* of 10 pages.
Tomorrow I’ll go through it, add references to back up my wild
assertions, and edit it to be more scholarly. =)

Thanks for putting up with my blogorrhea. I really appreciate being
able to think out loud. If you have any ideas, feel free to comment!

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Back to KMD2004: competitive forces

(This is not even a draft – more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I’m taking)

Although open source can greatly help developers advance in their
careers and provide low-cost, custom solutions for local markets,
other factors discourage local developers from gaining open source

First among these factors is the lack of time. Most open source
developers are employed by software companies. In a software industry
where the benefits of open source are not clearly recognized,
developers are unlikely to have the leisure time to experiment with
open source.

Second, language may pose a significant barrier for local developers.
Local developers who are not comfortable with English may find it
difficult to participate in most online communities, where English is
used as a common language.

Third, customers may need to be educated about the benefits and risks
of open source. Customers may prefer the brand name of an established
proprietary solution, or may resist change. Customers who have read
about open source may be too optimistic about the benefits it can
offer, only to be burned. Developers must carefully manage
expectations as they sell solutions to their customers.

Lastly, some actors actively work against the adoption of open source.
This is discussed in the next section.

Open source solutions can directly cut into the revenue stream of
proprietary software developers and distributors. Some proprietary
software vendors adapt by offering open source products. Other vendors
attempt to discourage open source adoption through aggressive
discounts of closed source software, marketing campaigns, and even
anti-open-source articles and advertising.

Use trackers enforce the copyright of proprietary software products by
imposing heavy fines on organizations found to violate the licence,
but do not educate users about more affordable open source
alternatives. This has the effect of stifling the local IT industry
due to higher capital requirements. Use trackers can also harass
companies that develop with open source projects through audits and
other actions.

Proprietary software companies and use trackers such as the Business
Software Alliance also exert a powerful influence on the very frame of
the controversy. The metaphors chosen and promoted by these
organizations are based on physical property and use words such as
theft and piracy. Open source advocates argue that the near-zero cost
of duplication and distribution of software makes it fundamentally
different from physical goods. Because proprietary software companies
have successfully framed the debate on their terms and laws and public
understanding reflect these changes, open source advocates have a more
difficult time arguing the benefits or even the legality of their

Proprietary software producers can also weaken support for open source
through litigation. Patent disputes can scare developers and consumers
away from contested software, or even open source in general. Patent
disputes generally play out on the global stage, but affect the public
perception at the local level as well.

The open source license is a controversial tool. Different actors
within the network attempt to align other actors according to their
goals, and how these actors resist the attempts of other actors.

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Taking a break from my KMD2004 cramming to post this cautionary note from an IBM evangelist (see, they do exist):

Being an evangelist has it benefits, but you soon get
tired of the frequent flyer miles; the anonymous hotels; the
loneliness; the adulation of knowing the right thing at the right
time. I can’t tell you if now is a good time to jump, or not, what I
can tell you about mistakes, they’re the only thing that you can truly
call your own.

This is something to keep in mind. I’m excited about living on my own,
but someday I might tire of it. I’m looking forward to going on all
sorts of speaking tours, but someday I might get tired of going up on
stage or being “on” all the time. Someday I might get tired of always
being in a different timezone from the people I love. Someday I might
hate missing birthdays or casual get-togethers.

But while I’m young and unattached and eager to learn, I might as well
sacrifice that comfort for learning. I want to learn how to listen,
how to connect, how to sell. I know how to converse with a hundred
people. I want to learn how to converse with thousands. I want to
learn how to speak geek and speak suit. =)

(Thinking of it, though: If I’m going to be travelling a lot, it
won’t be fair to uproot my cat from sunny Philippines where she gets
fed regularly and where she can hang out with our other cat… I miss her!)

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… Oh my goodness, a Distinguished Engineer blogged about me… Gwee!

Strengthening their network

(This is not even a draft – more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I’m taking)

Developers who go into open source can develop or strengthen their
connections to other actors in the network.

  • Developers who can offer more low-cost solutions adapted to the local market become more relevant to local IT consumers.
  • Developers with open source experience and enhanced skills become more relevant to employers and colleagues.
  • Developers often turn to user groups for help with open source projects. These communities span geographic boundaries.
  • Developers can improve their standing in the community by asking questions in an intelligent manner and helping other users with their questions.
  • Developers can further improve their standing in the community by contributing code, documentation, or other resources. In this way, they can create a personal brand, and may even connect with potential employers in other countries.
  • Developers can also participate in local open source communities. This allows them to share local challenges and even take on larger projects. Open source use and development provides them with an opportunity to strengthen their connection with other local developers.
  • A strong local community of developers contributes to a national brand and perceptions of a strong IT talent pool, which is important for attracting international investments and for encouraging the growth of the local IT industry.

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Indirect benefits of working on open source

(This is not even a draft – more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I’m taking)

Working on open source also has indirect benefits for local
developers. Surveys show that open source development helps developers
learn some skills more effectively than they would in formal computing
courses.(Give examples, cite link)

Because most open source projects are freely available for download,
developers can experiment with new technologies at little financial
risk. In the process of customizing and packaging the software for
use, local developers improve their technical skills. Open source code
and customizing it allows local developers to learn from projects far
larger than any they could work on in a formal computing course.

Because open source is typically developed by large,
geographically-distributed teams, tools such as version control
systems and mailing lists are essential. Open source developers
quickly learn not only how to use these tools, but also how to work
with other people.

Developers who contribute code and other resources back to the global
open source communities can also benefit from informal
apprenticeships. Their contributions can be peer-reviewed by more
experienced developers, and they can get feedback from users and
co-developers around the world.

Open source provides a way for developers to improve their skills and
gain real-world experience even if proprietary software companies do
not have development opportunities in the area. Open source can also
be a form of nearly-free knowledge transfer between global developers
and local developers.

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Open source acting on developers

(This is not even a draft – more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I’m taking)

So how does open source change the picture?

Open source acts on local developers by making it possible for them to create low-cost high-value-add customized IT solutions for local consumers or even the export market. Here’s how it works.

The local audience wants low-cost customized IT solutions. Developers
don’t really have that option with closed-source software, which means
there’s an underserved local market. This provides the economic
incentive for developers to explore open-source software.

First, local developers can start by selling mature open source
solutions, particularly in terms of infrastructure (mail, file
servers) where open source software has been proven to do well on the
global market. They can configure the systems and provide support.

Local developers can customize open source solutions or building on
top of those platforms. For example, they could develop a
database-backed website using open source tools and integrating other
open source modules. This is even more attractive for local developers
because they retain all the value added.

Lastly, local developers can offer products and services to the global
market. For example, Infoweapons built an IPv6 DNS and firewall
appliance using open source code. This allows local developers to take
advantage of lower labour costs. It also contributes to a trade
surplus. Deep access to source code and skills learned in the process
of working on open source make it easier for developers to create
innovative world-class applications.

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Blogging away my writer’s block

It is often helpful to think out loud on my blog, where I can be more
informal and less structured. =) I’m working on an actor-network
analysis of open source in developing countries, so I’ll think about
pieces of it over here before editing it into a more scholarly form.

Okay. Network dynamics.

It is instructive to start with the closed-source view of the world.
Software developers in developing countries can take proprietary
software solutions such as Microsoft Office or the Oracle database
server, develop solutions on top of it, and sell these solutions to
the local market. This allows developers to meet the needs of the
market without spending a lot of time writing everything from scratch.
The solutions also gain credibility through their association with
global brands. However, this presents certain problems:

Cost. Although studies of the total cost of ownership show that
labour costs far outweigh license costs, these studies do not reflect
the case in developing countries where labour costs are lower and
licence fees are disproportionately high due to weak currencies and
other factors. See really crazy chart of GDP per capita vs licencing
costs for Microsoft Office.

Trade imbalance. Think of all those dollars flowing out of the
country… I heard that Microsoft partners make 9 dollars for every
dollar Microsoft makes – but that just means that 10% is going out of
your economy, versus open source which lets you keep all the value-add
inside the country.

Lack of deep access. Without access to source code, developers
can’t customize closed source programs to really fit local markets
through localization, customization, integration, etc. in ways
unanticipated by the global developers or in ways that were not
profitable for the global developers to support.

Dependence. Local software developers become dependent on the
proprietary software companies, which could change its licencing terms
or discontinue product lines.

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