Introduction to the English edition

As I observed in the original introduction, writing a book about Open Source business models borders on being impossible. During the year it took me to write Open Life: The Philosophy of Open Source, all the major Linux distributions - except stable-as-ever Debian - underwent significant changes. Since publication of the Finnish edition, another year has passed while we prepared this English edition, and the past year has seen just as many changes in the Open Source world as the one before it. Mandrake, one of the four big distributions when the book was being written, has miraculously dwindled to being an insignificant player. While Ubuntu - first heard of just half a year prior to publication of the Finnish book, and therefore not mentioned at all - has rapidly toppled all other contenders for the top spot as favourite desktop distribution, and along the way has generated the most hype.

In the past twelve months, one very positive surprise has been the explosive adoption rate in Creative Commons licensed material available on the Internet. In the first three months alone, after publication of the Finnish edition of Open Life, the amount of Creative Commons material indexed by the Yahoo! search engine soared from 16 million to 53 million items.1 Then there are services like Flickr! that now expressly offer easy usage of Creative Commons sharing of images and other materials.2 One important Finnish event last year was the release of the full-length sci-fi movie Star Wreck, which was made available for free download under a Creative Commons licence, and thanks to this method of distribution it has actually become the most watched Finnish film ever.3 With millions of viewings, it has even outdone the old World War II movie Tuntematon sotilas (Unknown soldier).

Since one of my prime motives for writing Open Life was to introduce non-programmers to the concept of Open Source and thereby stimulate its use in just such ways, it is truly encouraging to note that, even as I wrote, many such projects were already underway, and the trend is catching on.

With all these rapid developments and surprise turns, it was important for me to consider whether or not I should update Open Life for this English edition. Finally, I decided not to update it (apart from correcting a few errors), but simply to translate the original text. My rationale for this was that developments would be just as vivid this year as they had been in the last two, and by the time the translation was done the content would, again, already have become outdated. Also weighing in on the decision was the sheer volume of work required to update the whole text. Essentially, Part Three would have needed more or less complete revision, and Part Four probably to be partially rethought to encompass the many developments happening in the Open Content field. By the way, since I decided not to update the text for this translation, readers should note that phrases such as "last year' and "ten years ago' refer to 2004/03 and 1994/93 respectively.

The only feasible alternative was to accept that this edition of Open Life is a snapshot of how things were at the time of writing. Having taken this decision, I've begun to think I may have been quite lucky with the timing of the book, because 2005 was actually a good year to produce such a snapshot. For instance, thanks to broadband, the CD-selling business of Linux distributions is becoming an historical footnote, while "enterprise distributions' have gained greater prominence. Another example is the Linux kernel development process which kicked into a higher gear with the release of Linux 2.6.0 to accommodate the rising volume and speed of development, and actually abandoning some processes that were in place when this book was being written. In a sense, and quite by chance, I may have captured a snapshot of the Open Source world just as it was about to transform itself into something newer, bigger and completely different, and if this is true Open Life may also serve to document for history the first 10-15 years of Linux and Open Source development, or counting from the genesis of the GNU project, the first 20 years.

Naturally, I was often tempted to make a minor adjustment here and there. For instance, it seems I once thought Bruce Perens' UserLinux project was important enough to deserve a mention. At the time of writing, I must have seen a bright future for this project that never made a single tangible product. Although Firefox is mentioned in the Mozilla story, its success is only anticipated, not yet a fact. That, together with having no mention of Ubuntu, makes me wonder, could all of that have been happening just two years ago?

If I was writing Open Life today, I would have to consider the rise of enterprise distributions, in particular those of Red Hat and Novell, which are certainly worth covering in a book like this. On the other hand - at least, so I try to convince myself - it may still be too early to write anything definitive about them; especially Novell which is yet to finish reinventing itself, as is evident from the occasional eruptions of GNOME versus KDE discussions we witnessed last year. And in many ways it is version 10 of SUSE Linux Enterprise released just some weeks ago that is Novell's first serious stab at producing an enterprise distribution, so we will have to wait another year before assessing how well it has fared.

But in Part Two the content of one footnote struck me during proofreading of this edition. In it I mention a Microsoft project called Longhorn, which will produce the next version of Windows. In contrast to the whirlwind of development in Open Source and Open Content, the next version of Windows is still safely tucked into the development labs of Microsoft, and from what we hear it is not about to be released this year either. It serves as a soothing reminder, that not everything in our world moves as thrillingly fast, and is as hard to keep up with, as in the field of Open Source.

Now that Open Source has more or less established itself in the IT field, attention is increasingly turning to Creative Commons and similar Open Content projects, a development I very much predicted and hoped for in the first Finnish edition of this book. One interesting question right now is whether the collecting societies for musicians and other artists will ever allow their members to use Creative Commons licensing. In preparing for a lecture I was invited to give, I asked Teosto, the Finnish collecting society, what their official opinion was about that, and they told me: "Of course we know about Creative Commons. The licences are OK for amateurs, but we will never allow our members to use them, that would be impossible.' To me, this sounds exactly the same as what IT people were saying about Open Source some ten years ago. So, now I always predict that ten years from now Creative Commons or a similar sharing system will prevail throughout the entertainment industry, and it will be interesting to see whether or not that prediction comes true.

I wish to thank Sara Torvalds and Helen Wire, respectively, for working on the translation and editing of this English edition. It has been an interesting year, and you both managed to grasp the style I was reaching for. You were also fast to learn a great deal of specialized nerd-terminology, and soon started to hit the right words quite fluently, making me more and more a mere reader!

Finally, I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the readers of Avoin Elämä: Näin toimii Open Source, who throughout the last year have either sent me their feedback or written their responses to it in public places where Google would help me find them. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing the ideas and thoughts that have arisen as a result of someone reading my book. Many of you also asked whether there would be an English translation, since you had some non-Finnish-speaking friends with whom you wanted to share the book. I'm now so glad to say: Here it is!

henrik ingo
Espoo, 30 July 2006 (last day of my summer vacation)

  1. 1. http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5579
  2. 2. http://flickr.com/
  3. 3. http://www.starwreck.com/

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