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Capitalist view of Open Source

Open Source advocates are often embarrassed at the suggestion that their favorite type of software may be a socialistic phenomenon. Though they protest this insinuation strongly, many secretly fear it may be true. The sharing aspect of Open Source, its emphasis on community and its cost free availability, certainly sound like Socialism. And Open Source doesn't lend itself, easily, to commercial exploitation. Is it anti-capitalist, then?

The recent pronouncements by Microsoft executives that there is no value in "free" and that it is impossible to make money by giving away the very thing that is of value, ring very true. It would indeed be dreadful to discover that Open Source is anti-capitalist.

Many advocates of Open Source fervently hope for companies offering Linux-related services to finally turn profits and prove that there is a business model behind Open Source, but such a prospect doesn't seem likely in the near term. In any case, that's a roundabout way to establish Open Source's capitalist credentials.

The fundamental principles of Capitalism are laid out very clearly by that hardcore ideologue, Ayn Rand, so we should be able to determine, objectively (her favorite word), whether Open Source, especially GPL-ed software, is opposed to the capitalist system. In each of the following sections, we will look at Rand's view on a particular concept and see how it compares with the state of Open Source and the GPL. That should tell us where Open Source stands with respect to Capitalism, and establish objectively whether it is friend or foe.


"Wealth is the result of man's ability to think applied to the sphere of production and trade. Reason, ultimately, is the source of all wealth."

"Fundamentally, wealth is the product of man's mind-and belongs to each man to the extent that he created it."

"Wealth belongs to the individual who produced it."

Ayn Rand never wrote about software in her lifetime, but she surely would have recognized it as wealth. Indeed, if Rand were to write The Fountainhead today, her hero might very well be a programmer rather than an architect. Nothing epitomizes individual human creativity as well as software, being the product of pure mind.

It is probably also safe to assume from her writings that Rand would have considered software to rightfully belong to the programmers who wrote it.