Open Source as Infrastructure

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How Open source is making business economic sense

Kiran's argument that business economic sense would consider open source as infrastructure started this discussion.

Some thoughts are documented by Ramkumar

What drives open source by Ramkumar

Searl's writing that support this

"It is the generativity of Linux and the Net that makes both function as an essential yet poorly understood form of infrastructure: a kind that serves ecological as well as geological and architectural functions. As generative technologies, they support origination, production and reproduction to an extreme of fecundity that shames the most reproductive species." "I coined the expression 'markets are conversations' [for] I saw the LAN market change utterly, almost overnight, when the whole market shifted its core topic from pipes & protocols to services"

Ubiquity creates infrastructure. Commoditization moves from Scarcity to Ubiquity.

Infrastructure Discussion

This discussion, we hope will not only substantiate the business economic sense of open source but also a general understanding of community infrastructure. In turn, we hope that understanding the why and how of open source may provide us insights into a culture of infrastructure development. Again in Serle's language: "It is wrong to assume, as we have been doing throughout history, that those primarily responsible for the foundations of civilization are its leading figures and institutions. While those leaders are certainly involved, full respect must be given to the invention, as well as the hard work, done by the uncredited many." Open source analogies could make this aspect tractable. "That hackability-support is what gives us infinite varieties of infrastructure. What we need now is to start understanding new forms of infrastructure on their own terms, and to understand more deeply what infrastructure has been all along." "Can we align infrastructure and generativity? Answering these kinds of questions requires examining topics at a depth one cannot plumb just with news coverage, or by framing queries with the parochial interests of categories and factions. We are in new territory here."


  • Like utilities, roads, etc; basic necessaties for everyday performance.
  • Like decentralized activity that develops and sustains necessary depenencies.
  • Like assumed as available and developed by a culture.


Amortized cost for community in the large; (like tax)

ICT for Development and cost implications

Case of computers for rural India

Kentaro who was head of Microsoft research India [1]

10 myths presentation of Kentaro elicits the role of infrastructure of various kinds that are essential for considering ICTD as solutions. The cost analysis compares the amortized cost of utilities versus the necessary cost of maintenance of the deployed computers in the villages. 40% for maintenance, 20% for training, 20% for distribution and installation, 15% for actual computers, connectivity and power. This indicates that almost 80% a typical ICTD project would maintenance, training and installation of computers/devices. Community capacity for these activities can not only reduce the cost by 50% but also nurture a healthy economy for the communities by channeling these expenses to local entrepreneurs.

Bjorn and Frantisek on choosing open source ERP systems, in the book Open Source Eco-systems refer to the role of open source choice as good for promoting indigenous technological development, and that a UK document on international development asks for a review of policies regarding procurement to carefully evaluate products with respect to such benefits. "Other reasons for the adoption of open source software for developing countries include avoiding being hostage to proprietary software, advancing knowledge more quickly and helping to set up an information economy.

Open Source in International Market Economy

Hold-up problem and open source as infrastructure solution

Micheal and Yuri's article on Gigaom talks about the fate of Flash. Flash is an exception in the history of Public Software Institutions over the last 50 years of Web development which was dominated open source [2]. They discuss the hold-up problem that is fundamental to the dependencies created in the proprietary world. The cost of dependent software is a common experience, where if you want to use Microsoft Office or Pagemaker software, you also need Microsoft Windows and one has to also pay for a Windows license. Pagemaker's dependency on Windows requires that Windows works with Pagemaker and also grants Pagemaker the right to develop software on Windows. If Windows does not want Pagemaker to be run on Windows it becomes a hold-up for Pagemaker and for Pagemaker users who are Windows users. Note that this hold-up is generally not an issue with Open Source Licences as Pagemaker can both work out a patch as it can see the internals or it can release a Pagemaker version which installs the dependent software. They elaborate on the severity of the hold-up problem in the IT sector. "Building an Internet company on a foundation consisting of proprietary software owned by others is akin to building a house without owning the land under it." Most businesses are vary of this hold-up problem, while they are also interested in creating these dependencies that can increase the potential of hold-up of other businesses and especially software used in Governments. [Microsoft's 25% worldwide income is US govt]. Further they say "open Source is an economically powerful solution to the hold up problem". When software used by governments and those that the public depend on are held-up.