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Innovation in Free Software is No Fantasy - page 2

Buffy the FUD-Slayer?

  • December 10, 2007
  • By Bruce Byfield

Of course, not too long ago, the accusation seemed more plausible because free software was a much smaller community than today, and was still playing catch-up with the proprietary world, especially on the desktop. After all, when you're still building basic functionality, you don't have time for innovation, any more than people who are starving have time for gourmet meals. You're too busy with essentials. Yet with the growth of the community and the investment in it by business, in the last few years, the gaps in free software functionality have closed to the point where innovation is not only possible, but thriving.

Strangely enough, free software has reached this point when much of the rest of the computer industry has almost ceased to innovate. Compared to the heady days of the mid-1990s, when every new software update seemed to include a dazzling array of improvements, in 2007, upgrades hardly raise a yawn. The age of unlimited growth is over, and incremental or even token improvements have become the norm. After all, what was the biggest selling point of the last MS Office? The replacement of menus and toolbars with ribbons, which are simply a combination and rearrangement of their predecessors. For Windows Vista? Claims of increased security, new themes, and a sidebar for a few basic utilities. Such changes have more to do with marketing than any substantial improvement.

Looking at these changes, you can't help but think that the frontier has closed, and the ranchers have replaced the mountain men and explorers. You might even think that office applications, web browsers, and other common software have reached such a state of maturity that expecting major innovations is unrealistic, that the killer app has become a myth of the past.

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