Michael A Rizzotti

The Linux open-source software is a showcase for the unfolding Age of the Internet. A disk operating system that would not have been possible without the advent of the new medium.

Linux was started in 1991 by a Finnish hacker called Linus Trovalds. A highly intuitive engineer with an uncanny ability for programming simplification. With time, a loose friendship developed between a group of hackers and its center of gravity Linus, also described as a “benevolent dictator”. Through years of development Linux has become unmatched in reliability and performance. This happened with the help of a constellation of volunteer programmers from all over the planet.

The logo for Linux is a penguin. The mere fact that a penguin has been chosen is refreshing, especially in view that the symbol of an Antarctic mammal is now challenging a Goliath like Microsoft.

Needless to say that Linux is not driven by a corporate culture of in-house programmers. Profit and dividends are not its end goal. Its open-source mindset is a welcome challenge to corporate culture. It might be said that part of its popularity stems from the animosity towards Microsoft. Linux’ success was also helped by the endorsement of  companies like IBM’s and Oracle’s, Microsoft’s rivals.

The underlying significance of Linux is its culture of emergence. Foremost, this dynamic is based on the divergence of two organizational type of systems. For the sake of simplicity lets call this development a parallel organizational model. One is based on information technology, with its emphasis on technology itself as a tool of progress. The other is tentatively described here as a communication synergy: An undercurrent of the information technologies that also overlaps outside the boundaries of the corporate world by the interaction and self abnegation of its hackers in cyberspace. As Eric Raymond explains:

Linux was the first project to make a conscious and successful effort to use the entire world as its talent pool.” He also added: “I knew from my email that since Bavaria, word about The Cathedral and the Bazaar had spread over the Internet like a fire in dry grass. Many in the audience had already read it, and my speech was less a revelation of novelty for them than an opportunity to celebrate the new language and the consciousness that went with it…

On one hand, the information technologies are based on the gathering, the storing and the control of information data, for the sole purpose of tribal profit. On the other hand, the open-source steps outside tribal boundaries and overlaps into an unhindered linking phenomenon outside the reach of a top-down control.

More important, the two operating systems represent two organizational forms: one is corporatist, the other is cooperative. One is hierarchical, orderly, secretive and thrives on control. Whereas the other is a vortex pulled by gravity, is open and thrives on chaos. By chaos, we don’t mean disorderly but a complex form of self-adjusting dynamic order not yet acknowledged as harmonious. The reason why chaos has always been perceived as disorderly is because it lies outside man’s comprehension and control.

Proprietary software is based on sources codes that are kept secret from the public.  It is secretive, exclusive and tribal. Open-source software exposes its sources codes to public scrutiny, everyone has access and can work on bugs that the software may have. This form of participation is visible to all, is inclusive and cooperative.

In a country famous for its duopolies, i.e., Apple/Windows, Intel/Microsoft, Coca-Cola/Pepsi, Democrats/Republicans, it is refreshing that a new operating system originated in Finland. A place where politics have been influenced by its border with Russian, hence “finlandization”. The cold war expression was meant to signify that Finland was careful not to annoy the Soviet Union by implementing policies that were not disagreeable to its powerful neighbor. Finland borders to Russia but is closer culturally and economically to Europe. Socialism and a mixed economy have been at the core of its social and political development. This runs counter to the more individualistic US form of capitalism. Corporate culture has over the years subverted all aspects of the United States’ social and political life. The result has been a quasi cult like status of CEOs. The consequence of which has produced a disparity between a rich oligarchic minority and a growing indebted majority.

Through ever active net-working, Linux became a prototype of self-correcting and evolving organism. This non-linear operating system was brought forth by a constellation of self negating individuals attracted by a sacred mission. The programmers are induced in participating in a wholly other project bigger than themselves. This brings into play the notion of sacrifice of self for the common good. A spiritual endeavor that has lesser materialistic prerogatives.

Another aspect of this spiritual phenomenon is based on the thriving coalition against a common foe that is perceived as threatening the foundations of Liberty.

When a living organism in nature is threatened by a predator it instinctively triggers a fight or flight for survival. Organism are genetically programmed to do so. When the survival of Liberty is being challenged by oligarchic interests it triggers a spontaneous vital thrust to bypass it. The self negating participation of open-source developers exemplifies such a battle for survival.