RESPONSE PAPER Indistinguishable from magic

Summary and Synthesis


The reading Indistinguishable from magic investigates the sustainability of open source in a world of competition and limited resources. Contrary to common misconception, the maintenance of software makes up the vast majority of what the developers are paid to do. Further, the widespread use of open software tends to increase the value through user fixes and code patches. Open source also ensures cost sharing since the cooperative funding of the software development gives the user a better product at a relatively low cost. The payoffs from an open-source are more than in closed-source since the infrastructure creates trust and symmetry impact that tends to attract more customers and hence greater returns than closed source. Besides being a way to markets, open source is also a strategic maneuver against the competition.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar (CatB) contrast the development of open and closed source software using the case of Linux case and own project, Fetchmail. Raymond (2001) suggests nineteen aphorisms about the effectiveness of open source development. For instance, he argues that a good start off entails scratching the developer’s curiosity and the need to solve an interesting problem. Further, working with co-developers and users provides a large beta tester and co-developer base, which ensures fast debugging. Raymond (2001) argues that perfection in design cannot be achieved without an opportunity to improve. Lastly, Raymond recommends handing programs over to competent successors when the developer is no longer interested in the project.

Kollock (1999) analyses how the economies of cooperation adapt as people move to the internet. The analysis shows that the dynamics of motivation and participation in online environments are affected by costs and the benefits of providing public goods. The effect of changes in costs and benefits of online cooperation depends on motivation that drives the decision to corporate. Kollock (1999) believes that the Linux is doomed to failure because the urge to free-ride is high. However, the NetDay case shows that a large project requiring coordination among many people can be orchestrated through online interactions. On the whole, Kollock (1999) warns that cooperative group is sometimes not a good thing because the very same economies that allow people to build an open source collaboratively make it easier for malicious groups to collaborate.


In the reading, Indistinguishable from Magic by Raymond’s shows ways through which open source acquires sustainability in a world of competition and limited resources. In another work the Cathedral and the Bazaar, Raymond (2001) uses the cases of Linux to compare the development of open and closed source software. Both readings are connected by the fact they object the legal restrictions that limit access to knowledge through binary-only software licenses. The readings agree the closed source results in less freedom and delayed innovations than open source. On the contrary, Kollock (1999) believes that the open sources are bound to fail because the tendency to free-ride in online corporations is high. Of course, there are pros and cons in open source, but the claims made by Kollock (1999) are unreliable since there is inadequate evidence to support the claims. For instance, the particular motives that influence people’s decisions have not been identified. Pearce (2013) attest to the fact that open source is more superior to closed source. The book argues that open source is more efficient and adaptable than the closed because its large community of collaborators is always debugging, rewriting, submitting code and suggesting improvements. The findings point that the best way to get things done is to involve people.

Discussion Questions

Since there is no requirement to create a product for sale, what is the probability of open source software evolving in line with the needs of the developers rather than the end user?

How can a healthy generalized exchange system be created to improve user contribution in the development of an open-source? 

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