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Prediction 2: Open Source Campaign

At the local, state, or national level, a politician will run and win an election campaign refusing to accept any money donations, and instead will accept only in-kind donations (e.g. rides to the next campaign stop, web development and hosting, etc.).

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[posted: 11/13/04]Open Source Campaign

Explanation

In the software industry, open source is achieving what no Corporation over the past 20 years has even come close to doing. Namely, open source has put Microsoft back on its heels.

In 1994, the popular Internet was born with the launch of the Netscape browser. Netscape was a Corporation that had taken a browser originally developed at the National Center for Supercomupting Activities (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and tried to do what all Corporations are born to do: profit from it.

Anyone familiar with American business knows more or less what came next. In 1995, Microsoft realized suddenly that the Internet was going to be The Next Big Thing, and got busy trying to own it.

But that attracted the interest of the Antitrust Division of Mr. Clinton's Justice Department. After protracted litigation, the government won an historic judgment against Microsoft. That judgment was issued on April 3, 2000 -- a day that in hindsight seems to be the day that the dot com party ended.

That much you might already know. But what you probably don't know, unless you're in the Tech industry, is the story of what happened at the other end of the browser.

You are probably reading this page on a web browser which is running on a computer. What you may not have thought about is where this page is coming from. This page is coming from another computer called a web server. Among the pieces of software this web server computer is running are two critical ones: an operating system, and web server software. That software is making it possible for you to read this page.

Last week, Goggle announced that it had surpassed 8 billion indexed web pages. Those 8 billion pages are sitting on an enormous number of web servers, each of which is running an operating system and web server software.

The interesting thing is that less than half of these web servers run Microsoft's operating system and Microsoft's web server software. Instead, a wide majority run the Apache web server software, and a large and growing percentage run the Linux operating system.

As noted above, in 1994 Netscape launched based on the NCSA browser. In 1995, the NCSA web server software also made its way out of the lab. It did so under the name Apache. Unlike Netscape, Apache was a non-profit Corporation. And the engineers who founded Apache were not employees of Apache nor were they paid by Apache. Apache wasn't and isn't about money. Apache is more or less a volunteer club for writing software.

Apache followed an even more famous open source project: Linux. Linux was accidentally started in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. Unlike Apache, Linux is not even a Corporation. It's just an informal understanding among engineers. Like Apache, "Linux" has never paid a dime to any of the thousands of engineers who have contributed to its development.

Together, Linux and Apache prevented Microsoft from owning the Internet. Not coincidentally, Microsoft's stock has stalled since 2000. If it hadn't been for volunteer software developers, Microsoft would in all likelihood have owned both ends of the Internet. Who knows what that world would have looked like. One thing we can be fairly sure of, the Internet would have been less free than it is today.

You may be wondering: If this prediction is about politics, why did I just spend the entire discussion on the software industry? I did so because I believe what has happened in the software industry over the past 10 years foreshadows what will happen in politics over the next four years.

At of the close of 2004, the number of things remaining upon which this nation does not put a price tag are few. But money still spoils some things. Things like sex. In these days of "Who wants to marry a millionaire?", I think it's still safe to say that sex between consenting adults can be an expression of love. But sex between consenting adults due to an exchange of money is prostitution. Money transforms love into prostitution.

We could go on and try cataloging the few remaining human qualities that we have managed to shelter from our culture of money. Instead, let's mention one that we haven't sheltered: politics.

Why does politics have to be about money? If American politics is about consent of the governed, what does it mean when that consent is purchased?

I predict that a politician who refuses to accept money donations in the midst of our culture of money will discover something extraordinary. That politician will release pent up human energy the likes of which this nation hasn't seen in quite awhile. For a brief moment, the Dean campaign came close to this limitless pool of energy. But neither Mr. Dean nor his advisors seemed to understand the source or nature of this energy. And so the energy was squandered and dissipated.

Mark my words: There will come a political campaign during these next four years that refuses money donations, and that receives a degree of energy and human passion that even billions couldn't buy.

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