The Terrible Twins

Anand Ramchandran

What's currently driving the Internet revolution? New hardware or software? Population pressure on the conventional job sector? The merging of communications technology? The smartest minds in the world? While all of these are certainly factors, I'll say that in addition to the above, there are two important factors which are keeping the Internet and its applications alive: Open Source initiatives and file sharing.

Open Source
It's a bitterly contested argument; but the way I see it, open source wins hands down, and it all comes down to the basic definition of IT: Information Technology is simply a tool used by companies to increase the efficiency of their operations.

By making open source technology available to anybody who wants to use it, we increase the number of companies who are able to automate their work. These companies would otherwise have to make do without these tools, suffering from the disadvantages of not having them.

Going one step further; in good times, maybe people will invest in IT - but when the economy is down, they tend to focus their resources on their core requirements. This tends to halt growth even further, causing the economy to stagnate even more. In such times, open source software cuts across this Gordian knot to reduce the overhead a company faces, while helping the company grow and reach out to newer markets.

I'll bet you ten to one the current resurgence in the economy, led by IT industries, is purely the result of such open source initiatives: More and more schools, offices and banks are networking using Linux as the OS. Every major technology that you and I are using today including upgrades of PHPAffiliate, Java-based scripts and Linux have come out through open source platforms such as Sun and Sourceforge. The people at the top would be well advised to support and enhance such forums instead of trying to bring them down.

File Sharing
This one is more of a double-edged sword: While taking the use of applications to a height not seen for a long time, file sharing does tend to trample heavily on the valid rights and substantial efforts of companies and hardworking people.

This means that while people are benefiting from the use of some readily available technology, the makers are not being paid what they are asking for. This is the basic difference between open source and file sharing.

How do we channel this massive octopus to put it to best use? Regulation is too late. There is no way to control file sharing now. How many Napsters can you close? The way I see it, the only way is to reduce the timeframes for patents.

Let's be fair; you come up with something, you work very hard to make it a good and useful product, and you want to see some returns on your investment. But if the locking period of the source were reduced to, say, one year, that would be a first step towards reducing piracy. I believe most people would be willing to wait, rather than download an illegal copy from a file sharing network, while companies, who need to stay ahead of the market with the use of new technology would still be able to buy it. Not that the problems over file sharing would be solved totally, but this would help give regulation a chance to catch up with the growing file sharing networks.

The time when companies paid heavily to buy IT products is gone. We all should support and nurture open source initiatives, subsidize their efforts, and make the Internet free to access. By charging heavily for basic IT products, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Help IT to help you!