Open thread: How do you describe open source to the uninitiated? | Opensource.com

Open thread: How do you describe open source to the uninitiated?

Posted 18 Nov 2010 by 

Colin Dodd (Red Hat)
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It happens all the time. You're at a party, someone asks about your work, and yet again, you have about 45 seconds to describe one of the greatest innovations in human history.

There's the public utility metaphor. The shared infrastructure "like a bridge or a road" idea. Waterworks. Rural electric co-op's.The car with the hood welded shut. The Wikipedia analogy. The scholarly tradition. Libraries. The scientific method. Bucket brigades, quilting bees, and barn raisings. Seed banks and sustainable agriculture.

When we try to explain open source ideas to people

who have never heard of them, there are lots of ways to go, but few of the paths lead to absolute clarity.

In our never ending search for the grand unifying metaphor of all things open source, we're wondering how you talk about open source when it's your turn to speak up.

 

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7 Comments

Glenn

I explain the licensing as "Acting in the best interest of the software, rather than its users or owners."

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giulivo
Open Enthusiast

I used to go through one of the metaphors you've mentioned. Specifically the "car with the hood welded shut" worked well in many occasions. But it also leaves few questions unanswered.

So, lastly I changed my approach and started using the definition of free software which is very well written on the GNU website.

Wording accurately the sentences is very important; this is the piece I usually start with:

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. “Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

I also add a short description of the four essential freedoms and then use Linux as practical (and well known) example of how those have been successfully applied to build an operating system.

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Ercolinux

If I'm in short of time I make fast examples like the one of the cooker who teach his recipes in his restaurant or the one of the car.
But if I've more time I make a reverse approach: I depict a normal scenario for closed source software, with application and operating system people knows well. Then I show for each of the 4 freedoms the advantages of the open source over the closed one.

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Josh

Suppose you have an electrician who is re-doing her bathroom... and then suppose you have a plumber who needs a new breaker box in his house. Instead of paying others to do this, the electrician and plumber can help each other out. With no money invested (except for materials), the plumber gets a new breaker box and the electrician gets plumbing work done in her bathroom. The issue is this: while the plumber is working on the electrician's bathroom (and the electrician, the plumber's breaker box), that is the only thing they can be working on. The thing they are giving, their time, is scarce.

So let's expand this a bit. Suppose that 20 people need a software program of some sort, and this program will take 200 hours to create. Now suppose they all have 10 hours to put into the project. Each person who puts in 10 hours will create value for *everybody*, not just one other... while their time is scarce, the object they produce with that time can be copied over and over again to benefit each one of those other 19 people.

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jhibbets
Open Sourcerer

I would challenge anyone attemping to answer this to go beyond software. How do you explain open source beyond software and/or licenses. I admit, I struggle with this. How can we tell everyday folks what the crux of open source is?

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jhibbets
Open Sourcerer

I would challenge anyone attemping to answer this to go beyond software. How do you explain open source beyond software and/or licenses. I admit, I struggle with this. How can we tell everyday folks what the crux of open source is?

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Colin Dodd

That's a new one for me. I really like that.

It shows the multiplier effect nicely- 10 hours from each participant that benefits all 20 participants.

There's an idea of compounding value that I haven't been able to illustrate and this idea comes the closest.

Thanks.

CD

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