BlogHer's Open-Source Panel at SXSW was FABULOUS

BlogHer Original Post

Non-developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care was the name of this BlogHer sponsored panel. It featured

Elisa Camahort, Dawn Foster, Annalee Newitz, and Erica Rios

The panel aims to help people understand how or why open source is important to the non-programmer geek who is an everyday technology user.

Annalee explained what open source is. Just a list of commonly used open source software says a lot: Firefox, OpenOffice, GNU/Linux, BSD, WordPress, Apache, Rails, PHP. Open source material is distributed free and the source for the software is available.

Open source comes from a community of people who are cooperating on a project. But it isn't a free-for-all. There's often a hierarchy of leaders, members who change code, and people who use the software and report bugs. Not all of the contributors are actually writing code; some may submit logo designs or write documentation.

Does open source have customer support? Erica talked about how customer support is part of what her job is at the Anita Borg Institute. Many companies exist that provide support for open source as a way of making money around open source. You don't pay to license the software, but may pay for support or documentation or other services can be purchased as needed around that free software. Dawn pointed out that free as in free software is freedom as opposed to the free in free beer which means no cost.

Philosophical reasons to support open source? Annalee said there were good technological reasons which should be foremost. But it's also ethical to choose a solution that benefits the most people. When a product is created by a community of people donating their time, you get a higher quality. People care about it and own it. Dawn mentioned the voting process and how open source code would make the voting machine process transparent. The transparency of open source is a big advantage. Erica talked about how open source offers access to everyone, espcially women. There are systemic barriers to women in technology fields. Open source removes those barriers to all people, not only to women. It allows anyone to contribute to the scientific revolution that is affecting our economy.