Communities – Thursday’s Question

The Atlas chapter on community discusses the open source software debate and its implications for security. Proponents of open source believe the best way to test a system’s security is to make the source code freely available and let hackers seek out weak points. Anti-open-sourcers think this increases vulnerability. Where do you stand in the open-source debate and why? How does a library taking one stance or the other impact the community it serves?

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  • Loranne Nasir

    I’ve always been pretty pro-open source, largely because I find proprietary software and such to be severely limiting in terms of what I can do with machines that I purchased.  I also think it’s true that releasing the source code and allowing others to try to break it is going to yield the best results. It extends the conversation between developers and the users of their products.

    However, I’m not sure I think it is necessarily the library’s job to push its members in one direction or the other. Librarians should be increasing their knowledge of both options, and allow their communities/community members to decide for themselves which will best meet their needs.

    • Rei Becker

      I definitely agree with you Loranne; pushing patrons in one direction or another would be inappropriate. But I do think that by upholding the mission of providing free information to anyone who asks for it, librarians are automatically placed a more on the side of pro-open source advocates whether they intend to be there or not.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with both of you, but I’m also a good bit more willing to take a stand. The idea that librarians are professionally neutral is a good thing, and something I’m striving for, but if I can get the community excited about driving their own future (Perhaps by open-sourcing a program they can all benefit from) I’m going to do it.

    That said, our world is still largely corporation-driven, and as much as I like the open source idea, if I’m working with other people chances are good we’re using software that’s proprietary and has been dominating the market for years.

    How would you get your communities switching to open-source? Why bother?

    • Rei Becker

      You bring up a good point. People are so used to closed software that it would be difficult to get them to switch entirely, and there isn’t really a good “incentive” to do so apart from personal beliefs about access. It’s not stopping companies from creating open-source merchandise, though. I just found the open-source Wikipedia article, which even lists an open-source cola.

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t a topic I have a LOT of experience in,  but when I was doing my computer programming minor at SUNY Fredonia we used nothing but Open Source, and one of our projects in our… PHP class I think was to create a program that our professor couldn’t break into. Most of the people I met in my minor were extremely pro Open Source. Does anyone come from a programming background, or know someone who does?