Who Will Build Our Digital Future? ; Galvanized by an Idea, Networks of Strangers Are Challenging Traditional Firms with Products That Are Just as Good, More Flexible - and Often Free

By Peter N. Spotts writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 2003 | Go to article overview

Who Will Build Our Digital Future? ; Galvanized by an Idea, Networks of Strangers Are Challenging Traditional Firms with Products That Are Just as Good, More Flexible - and Often Free


Peter N. Spotts writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As far as revolutions go, the opening salvo was muffled. But for those within earshot, the reverberations were far- reaching. Last month, China - the largest single potential market for almost anything - selected an upstart computer-operating system called Linux for installation on 1 million computers next year. Ultimately, the country plans to install similar systems on 100 million to 200 million machines.

But the deal represents much more than a software deal - or China's declaration of independence from software giant Microsoft. Analysts say it marks a significant victory for an emerging way of building things. Open and highly dispersed networks of motivated people are organizing around galvanizing ideas, often offering results of their work for free.

Such collaborative networks have long been part of human experience, from scientific research to terrorism. But as the approach moves into the commercial realm, especially the software business, it's challenging fundamental notions about who owns ideas and how best to foster innovation.

"Whether it's the rise of a global civil society, economic globalization, or the war against terrorism, all of these things are extremely information-dependent," says John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "The software issue offers us a whole new way of looking at the world."

Known as "open source" in the software world, the concept is spreading to other arenas. At the end of September, for instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., announced that it had reached its initial goal of posting course materials for 500 of its classes on the Web. Eventually, the school plans to post online material for virtually all its 2,100 formal courses. The material can be used freely by anyone and altered to meet local needs, as long as MIT is credited as the source for the material and no one charges for it.

Its name, "Open Courseware," is a direct nod to open-source software as its model. "The emergence of Linux was like a global barn-raising," bringing free, high-quality software to countries and institutions that otherwise might get left behind in the global information economy, says Steven Lerman, director of MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives. "If we're successful, we'd like to see the same effect" in higher education.

Similar networks have been built around the human genome project and its descendants; the offering by artists of free online music; and a new research-journal project called the Public Library of Science. Even Al Qaeda has incorporated the approach to build its loosely knit network of terrorist cells.

Its most visible manifestation, however, remains software. Although the open-source approach had been around for decades, it took off in 1991, when Helsinki University student Linus Torvalds took a freely available, stripped-down version of UNIX software and modified it for a PC.

He posted the code; others began to use it, found and fixed bugs, added features, and "Linux" began to spread. Today, Linux has moved into a distant-but-solid second place behind Microsoft for software that runs network computers called "servers" in corporations, banks, and government offices worldwide. During the third quarter of 2003, the number of servers shipping with Microsoft's software grew by some 21 percent over the third quarter of '02. The number of servers shipped with Linux grew 51 percent, according to IDC, an analysis firm in Framingham, Mass.

An increasing number of countries, particularly in the developing world, are turning to Linux and open-source software. China's deal may help accelerate that, analysts say. In addition, China, Japan, and South Korea are reported to be joining forces on a new open- source software project that would focus on everything from new applications to a new operating system. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Who Will Build Our Digital Future? ; Galvanized by an Idea, Networks of Strangers Are Challenging Traditional Firms with Products That Are Just as Good, More Flexible - and Often Free
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.