Session: Open source vs. Proprietary Tech

Summary of key takeaways:

Our session was a matter of “good” vs “evil”. In the beginning, proprietary tech was considered “evil” e.g., Google and Microsoft. “Evil” refers to instances where profit is more important than social and environmental impacts or when behavior is manipulated to support individual or ecosystem-level agendas.

When we tried to identify less “evil” or “good” tech companies. Naturally, the “good” tech is open source (for example Groupl, Stackoverflow, and others mentioned below).

By the end of the discussions - after exploring potential/current business models, group member experiences with using open and proprietary tools, and other pros and cons- the group determined that proprietary tools are a necessary evil. Some instances can thrive on open source tech, while others need proprietary tools.

Session Notes:

  1. Pervasive software, what proprietary tools are we locked into?
  • G. Drive - pervasive, dominant software
    Started off innocent, then became “evil”
  • Microsoft - offered support to projects and then shut them down
    • What is the un-”evil” way forward?
    • Defining “evil” - military contracts, profit over people and/or planet; manipulation of behavior to favor an agenda individually and on an ecosystem level.
  1. Economics/Capitalism - is there an opportunity to have these open source systems in a capitalistic world?
  • What are good business models for open source products?
    • Golang and Ubuntu - supported by Google, their sponsors make it so they don’t have to worry about money
    • Microsoft is behind GitHub
    • Give up stuff for free
      • Groupl - diversity of contributions, culturally welcoming environment that welcomes ideas
      • Stackoverflow - not in it for the money, open welcoming environment in some cases
      • BCorp - third-party certification, corporate governance, for profit companies that show that they put their social responsibility over profit
        • Difficult certification process, highly detailed
        • Once certified, businesses are protected from being sued
        • PVC - legal structure that offers protection to charters
  • Value creation scenario - business models that fill in user experience gaps - e.g., lack of introduction, experience, and education
  • Business model - brand users pays and others dont
    • Review terms and claims to determine good and bad users and community governance can flag content and it is terminated
    • 501c no charge, for profits pay
  1. Tendencies to bypass open source tools to ones that are more commonly used
  • There’s a need to dedicate time to open source communities to contribute to stack, increase contribution and usability. E.g., addressing questions in a forum outside of company deliverables
    • Creates value outside of money
    • Should this be something that happens individually or on a more community level?
      • Investing in alternative software at companies, universities/academia, and in our private lives?
      • There is a benefit to centralized
        • Groupl works because there are centralized models that allow for a breadth of different things to plug and play into it.
        • Contribution leads to a need to maintain plugs, reviewing code
  1. Reluctance to use proprietary software
  • Proprietary vs open source
    • Proprietary - an entity running the software, black box
    • Open source - sharing the code base; everyone can see (contribute and build) the code
    • It’s like “buying a house”, spectrum of ownership and making choices
      • HOA, buying and fixing
      • HOA- Microsoft
      • Open source - everyone gets to paint their house a different color,
  • Proprietary software - “like the utilities”, a monetary exchange for a service
    • If the utility is open source, then a user can go the utility office (source), plug in their box and fix bugs (code)
      • But, competence and documentation are both needed for it to be successful
  • There are political and economic considerations for open source - free to use, free to discontinue use
  • Alt tech. Can influence reputation with stakeholders
  • Where do clouds fit on the spectrum of open source tech?
    • Rent for cloud use
    • Service is proprietary, users don’t have access to
  • “Regenerative technology software” - AWS users don’t have access to tech not entirely open source
    • What is it running on? How much lithium do they use? How will they run their business in the future?
      • Users don’t have influence over these areas, hidden from view
  • Reliability to commitments - net-zero, zero emissions

**Nothing is solely proprietary
Venmo - built on open source tech

  1. Brittleness and lock-in - tools we use out of convenience and investing in open source tools
  • How can change or adapt to changes?

  • There is an advantage to proprietary - their access to money makes them more resilient, and more stable for users

  • How do we provide stability to open-source projects?

    • Institutions - mobilizing bodies like academia to buy-in to tech
    • Public funds to help develop software as good as corp tech.
      • Create neutral options for different groups e.g., farmers
  • Open source tech - alternative revenue sources - grants

    • Opportunity to look at both sides of the spectrum of farmers
    • Where to draw the line on where it should be free?
  • Money is the bottom line - not something to avoid

    • Gov’t funding is not a permanent solution
    • Funds developed within corporate systems presents a viable option
  • Open source challenge - a large corporate comes in, builds on open source and builds proprietary systems

    • Everyone can and should benefit from it, regardless of who uses it
    • 2 acre or 1k acre farmer, while the latter indicates more success
    • Farmer or corporate companies
  • Proprietary is necessary in some instances

  • Building open source within corporates can influence how code is created?

    • How do you balance larger needs versus end-user needs?
  • Situational, some projects work well with egalitarian formats, and in some cases others work well with open source

  • There’s a moral obligation to use tools that work the best

  1. Hardware - right to repair
  • Open source
    • Scenarios where someone adjust the hardware and it becomes dangerous, “degrades” based on centralized perceptions
      • At some point it no longer becomes “yours”, it’s public
  • Open source in gov’t - have a chance to fix things, you can go to a community - match relationships, build community that matches your project, it’s easier to get things done with certain tech.
    • Content management frameworks - a potential sellable service to govt
    • Content management needs to mold to projects
    • Wikipedia - is able to produce content at a very high level
    • IBM - everything under the hood is open source
    • Somethings are more fitting for open source
  1. Data:
  • Beyond open source or not, data is what people are going after
  • Organization of a data commons is needed in order to support open source work
    • Data commons: standards
      • Democratic process
      • How do we limit standard fragmentation?
        • Is it a bad thing?
        • How do we heard the standards?
        • Example: UC Davis herding different data formats to create a more standardized format
        • Data usage -
          • Grower’s ownership over data, grower’s ability to set restrictions on data sharing
  • Vision: data is open source
    Data is needed for different needs
  1. Action:
  • Is it helpful to encourage open source tools? Does it help the community? How does it positively influence or strain their bottom line?

  • The tool should support the user’s bottom line, e.g., Farmer cares about the environment and their bottom line

    • Products that offer the same services, or positively contribute to their bottom line
  • Proprietary is a necessary evil

  • Properietary software must contribute to open source improvements

    • How?
      • Potential action: create a “This is why you should care (about open source tech)?” doc
        • Covers energy demand and computation
  • Potential action: BCorp could set open source tech reqs in terms