There is a lot of debate as to whether the FSF’s “free software” or the OSI’s “open source” is the better term. But I don’t think either fully describes the idea, or why it’s a good thing in this context. I prefer something like “open development”, because the point isn’t simply that you or I can read the code – I’m not much of a coder, and most people aren’t at all – it’s that as a result, the development of that code takes place in public. (It’s worth emphasizing, because although it appears obvious when put plainly like that, it’s not always immediately apparent to anyone who hasn’t been involved.) Even if the leaders of a particular project were to have closed-doors talks with some governmental agency, the code they produce will be seen and examined by all. Nothing is impossible, but this makes the sort of collusion we’ve seen between Microsoft and the NSA extremely difficult to pull off.
Hardware, as Shuttleworth points out, could still be a problem. Open drivers help, but the chips themselves could be doing nasty things that we don’t know about. Open hardware is the next frontier.
- Sam Duncan