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[ox-en] Wired Magazine : Open Source Everywhere

A note from Chris Croome:

   This looks interesting, print version here:


 From Wired Magazine, available online at:

Open Source Everywhere 

Software is just the beginning … open source is doing for mass
innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready
for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation. 

By Thomas Goetz 

Cholera is one of those 19th-century ills that, like consumption or
gout, at first seems almost quaint, a malady from an age when people
suffered from maladies. But in the developing world, the disease is
still widespread and can be gruesomely lethal. When cholera strikes an
unprepared community, people get violently sick immediately. On day
two, severe dehydration sets in. By day seven, half of a village might
be dead.  

Since cholera kills by driving fluids from the body, the treatment is
to pump liquid back in, as fast as possible. The one proven
technology, an intravenous saline drip, has a few drawbacks. An
easy-to-use, computer-regulated IV can cost $2,000 - far too expensive
to deploy against a large outbreak. Other systems cost as little as 35
cents, but they're too complicated for unskilled caregivers. The
result: People die unnecessarily. 

"It's a health problem, but it's also a design problem," says Timothy
Prestero, a onetime Peace Corps volunteer who cofounded a group called
Design That Matters. Leading a team of MIT engineering students,
Prestero, who has master's degrees in mechanical and oceanographic
engineering, focused on the drip chamber and pinch valve controlling
the saline flow rate. 

But the team needed more medical expertise. So Prestero turned to
ThinkCycle, a Web-based industrial-design project that brings together
engineers, designers, academics, and professionals from a variety of
disciplines. Soon, some physicians and engineers were pitching in -
vetting designs and recommending new paths. Within a few months,
Prestero's team had turned the suggestions into an ingenious solution.
Taking inspiration from a tool called a rotameter used in chemical
engineering, the group crafted a new IV system that's intuitive to
use, even for untrained workers. Remarkably, it costs about $1.25 to
manufacture, making it ideal for mass deployment. Prestero is now in
talks with a medical devices company; the new IV could be in the field
a year from now. 

ThinkCycle's collaborative approach is modeled on a method that for
more than a decade has been closely associated with software
development: open source. It's called that because the collaboration
is open to all and the source code is freely shared. Open source
harnesses the distributive powers of the Internet, parcels the work
out to thousands, and uses their piecework to build a better whole -
putting informal networks of volunteer coders in direct competition
with big corporations. It works like an ant colony, where the
collective intelligence of the network supersedes any single

Open source, of course, is the magic behind Linux, the operating
system that is transforming the software industry. Linux commands a
growing share of the server market worldwide and even has Microsoft
CEO Steve Ballmer warning of its "competitive challenge for us and for
our entire industry." And open source software transcends Linux.
Altogether, more than 65,000 collaborative software projects click
along at, a clearinghouse for the open source
community. The success of Linux alone has stunned the business world. 

The Ideals of Open Source

SHARE THE GOALOpen source projects succeed when a broad group of
contributors recognize the same need and agree on how to meet it. Linux
gave programmers a way to build a better, leaner operating system;
Woochi gives wine lovers an encyclopedia as refined as they are.
SHARE THE WORKProjects can be broken down into smaller tasks and
distributed among armies of volunteers for execution. Tim O?Reilly,
whose namesake company runs the Open Source Convention, calls this the
?architecture of participation,? and it is the irresistible genius of
open source, a tool that no corporate model can match for the sheer
brainpower it yokes. But architecture demands structure: a review
process that screens for the best contributions and avoids the ?fork? ?
that horrible prospect that a project will split into a multitude of
side projects.    SHARE THE RESULTOpen source etiquette mandates that
the code be available for anyone to tweak and that improvements to the
code be shared with all. Substitute creation for code and the same goes
outside of software. Think of it as the triumph of participation by the
many over ownership by the few. ? T.G.

Copyright (C) 1993-99 The Conde Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved. 


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