Emerging Technologies in an Unequal World
Edited by Susan Cozzens and Dhanaraj Thakur
Chapter 6: Turning technology on its head: the distributional dynamics of open-source software
If the current stylistic distinctions between open-source and commercial software persist, an open-software revolution could lead to yet another divide between haves and have-nots: those with the skills and connections to make use of free software, and those who must pay high prices for increasingly dated commercial offerings. Wallich (1999) Open Source Software (OSS) has attracted much attention in both the information technology (IT) literature and within the IT industry globally. It offers an alternative production model for software with several concomitant benefits for society and the economy. As a growing segment in both national and global economies, this emerging technological project deserves our attention. In this chapter, we look at seven of the eight countries from our overall study. For each country a case study was completed that drew on interviews with local OSS experts and other stakeholders, data from surveys and other secondary sources. This chapter presents a synthesis of these findings and an analysis of the distributional dynamics of OSS. Champions of OSS have argued that it is superior to proprietary software products in terms of cost, reliability, the ability to modify software for local/specific needs, security, etc. These claims are supported by the evidence in our review. However, we posit that although the benefits of OSS are real and significant, the extent of these benefits have been limited because of a combination of the skills requirements of OSS projects and the policy environment in which these projects develop.
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