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ADVANCING HUMAN

CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN


SOURCE SOFTWARE
Ahmad Baitalmal

Professor Timothy J. Hetland


Washington State University

July 30, 2010

Abstract
Epistemology is an area of philosophy that is concerned with studying human knowledge and
justified belief. Human civilization advanced with the increased ability to transfer and propagate
knowledge. Computing and the internet are the tools we rely on in the information age to
advance human knowledge and civilization. Open source software provides a model for
sharing and retaining knowledge equitably throughout the world. However, it lacks mainstream
adoption for various perception-related reasons. This research paper studies current computer
usage through a survey of social network users as primary research. The results show that
users, regardless of their philosophical, civil, or social beliefs, are significantly more accepting
of open source software through the prism of the internet. Coincidentally, this is an area open
source software is strong at.
CONTENTS

Acknowledgments i

Introduction 1
Knowledge Retention and Human Civilization! 1

Knowledge Access as a Human Right! 1

Computers: the Modern Day Pen and Paper! 1

Open Source Software! 2

Barriers to Software Adoption! 2

How do you use your computer? 4


Online User Survey ! 4

The Results! 4

Data Analysis! 5

Recommendation 6

Works Cited 8

Appendix A 9
How do you user your computer?: Online Survey Results! 9
Acknowledgments

I would like to thank and acknowledge my wife Jemma for her unending support and
understanding. She is the rock this barnacle depends on. I would also like to thank my son
Ameen for his sacrifice. I’m sure having to walk away from play time with dad is unfathomable
for an 8 year old.

I would also like to thank my employer, Etelos, for supporting and accommodating me during
this research.

A special thank you goes to Yousef Raffah for his tremendous help in bringing in survey
participants and his continued support for my work. His advocacy of open source software and
shared human and social knowledge is a big positive force.

Finally, I would like to thank my mother for everything she has done for me and for pushing me
to do better things.

I thank God, for I am truly blessed.

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

transfer, and share knowledge our civilization


Introduction evolves, improves, and advances as well.

Knowledge Retention and Human


The introduction of computers as machines
Civilization
specialized in processing, retaining,
Human civilization depends on our ability to
learn. This learning requires that we not only transferring, and sharing knowledge rapidly
understand and retain that knowledge, but expanded our capacity for knowledge. The
also transfer that understanding and share it term Knowledge Society is used to describe
with others in our surrounding. Collectively, societies that have elevated their processes
we enrich our lives and levitate our standard
of living. Language and our complex
speaking abilities set us above the animal
world as we were able to communicate and
collaborate. The invention of writing allowed
us to defer the consumption of that spoken
communication and retain it in physical form.
The invention of paper lowered the cost of
writing and allowed us to group and classify
knowledge into books. The printing press
begat the Printing Revolution. That allowed
us to reproduce the collections of knowledge
that we collected over the years and
introduce them to ever widening audiences.

Knowledge Access as a Human Right to create value from the physical manual
Today, anyone anywhere in the world is
labor to the intellectual knowledge
relatively able to pick up a pen and paper to
emanation. Knowledge societies are richer,
write down their contribution to our collective
healthier, enjoy less physical hardships, and
knowledge. They are also able to consume
have better general prospects in life. They
and process knowledge through reading.
depend on their computing abilities to
The only tool they required to function
maintain that socioeconomic status.
properly is the basic education of reading
Societies that want to keep up are
and writing. In 1999, the United Nations (UN)
attempting to encourage the use of
recognized education as a human right in
computing much like the push to educate
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of
with the pen and paper.
Human Rights and Article 14 of the
International Covenant of Economic, Social,
Computers: the Modern Day Pen and
and Cultural Rights (OHCHR). Because of
Paper
this standardized system, a bushman in In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore
Namibia is able to avoid a poisonous
described what is now known as Moore’s
mushroom written about by a cowboy in Law. Moore’s Law states that computing
New Mexico. With every technological step
power will double roughly every two years.
forward in our ability to create, retain,
Since then, that law has not been broken.
Computers have doubled their processing

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

speed and thus their prices have fallen. A computing abilities and knowledge through
computer that now costs $500 is more than software. Coupled with the low cost of
5 times as powerful as a computer that cost hardware, open source software is the best
$5,000 ten years ago. One would think that solution to extend human civil achievement
cheaper computers would enable more to cover every member of our global society.
people to have access to computers, and
thus, more access to knowledge. But Open source software today has a tiny
computers cannot function without software. market-share despite its low cost and
While computer hardware prices kept falling, stability. Finding the root causes for this lack
computer software prices have remained of adoption is essential to formulating a
steady. In this research, we will use strategy to increase mainstream adoption of
Microsoft’s Office productivity suite as an open source software. With mainstream
example. The issues discussed, however, adoption, the Namibian bushman, for
apply to most of the software used by example, can use any choice of open source
mainstream computer users. A copy of word processors to document his
Microsoft Office used for word processing knowledge. He can share it with everyone
and spreadsheet calculations has remained else without requiring anyone to pay what
in the $500 range for the past ten years. amounts to a $500 access fee. The same
What that means is that in order for the example applies to government and public
Namibian bushman to write and share his documents, academic research, books,
knowledge of tracking game in the desert, entertainment, and all forms of knowledge
for example, he must come up with $500 to retention and transfer vehicles.
purchase Microsoft Office first. Only then will
he be able to create documents that can be Barriers to Software Adoption
viewed and consumed by others in our Studying the conditions that result in
global intellectual infrastructure. We have computer software acceptance by users has
essentially denied that person the right to the been an interesting field since computers
modern-day version of the pen, paper, and and information systems began managing
education. But more importantly, we have our information and knowledge for us.
denied ourselves his contribution to our Commercial entities have had a financial
collective knowledge. interest in determining what makes software
acceptable and what makes it undesirable
Open Source Software by users. Open source software, on the other
The commercial benefit of engineering hand, does not have managerially organized
proprietary software is a legitimate and entities with dedicated strategies to push
valuable practice. However, some processes adoption. Open source software is created
have become so essential to our civilization by contributors who donate their time to
that they should be considered a human build software.
right. The open source software movement is
a direct product of that need. Open source Dr. Patrick Y.K. Chau and Dr. Kar Yan Tam
software is software freely distributed in (1997) recognized that open source software
computer instructions format better known has made inroads into the information
as source code. Open source software is not systems infrastructures of many
controlled by any one commercially organizations. They explored the factors that
motivated entity. It is a social effort to share affect the adoption of open source software

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

(or open systems) and they concluded that software can demand more technical skills
open source software adoption by users and that many users lack. This barrier contributes
organizations is not based on the perceived to a negative experience by users. Third,
benefit of the adoption, rather on the users perceive a lack of formal and reliable
perceived ability to adopt. They suggest that commercial vendor support. That is
open source software providers highlight the understandable, if the software is built by
ease of adoption rather than the benefits of volunteers, it would be hard to find a formal
adoption. entity that will provide commercial grade
support for the product.
Dr. Magid Igbaria, Dr. Nancy Zinatelli, Dr.
Paul Cragg, and Dr. Angele L.M. Cavaye Dr. Heidi S. Bond looked at the legal and
(1997) support those findings as well but go economical implication of adopting open
a bit further and deeper. They focused on the source software. She explored the claim that
personal computing aspect of accepting new one of the popular open source software
computer software. They concluded that not licenses is a price fixing scheme. The Gnu
only is the perceived ease of adoption (or Public License (GPL) is the license that the
use) the dominant factor, but they also majority of open source software is under.
dismissed prior research in large firms that Users are not used to the eccentric behavior
suggested that decision to adopt personal of the GPL. The idea that software is not only
computing software was not influenced by free, but open sourced as well is something
internal support or internal training. In that users are not used to. The saying “you
essence, computer users looked outside get what you pay for” is always thrown out
(externally) to decide if they should adopt when talking about open source software to
certain personal computing software. This imply that it is of low quality or inferior since
highlights the importance of controlling the it is free. Viewing the GPL in that manner
general reputation of open source software. creates the perception that GPL is as
Even if management internally adopted open scheme to bring down the quality and
source software, users ultimately decided on viability of the software industry through
their own if they would use the software or price fixing at the impossible-to-beat price of
not. $0.

The results of the 2010 Future of Open Dr. Bond concludes that the GPL indeed
Source Forum’s annual survey show that the exhibits the negative effect on commercial
public sector’s adoption of open source entities but at the same time it benefits
software along with user’s past experiences societies. In essence, the GPL forces
with open source software are the two commercial entities to progress beyond the
biggest drivers of adoption. If users have an standards and truly innovate and create
enjoyable and positive experience with open value. OpenOffice-an open source word
source software they will adopt it regardless processing suite- for example, stepped in to
of the counter-push by commercial vendors. offer word processing, spreadsheet, and
The survey found three major barriers to presentation functionality for free where the
getting to the positive experience point. First, same functionality would cost $500 from
users generally did not know that open Microsoft. The existence of OpenOffice
source solutions existed or they were forces Microsoft to innovate in their Office
unfamiliar with them. Second, open source

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

product to justify to their ever dissatisfied respondents was 161 users. The survey was
customer base the high price tag. open for 8 days. The respondents used
these services at least once a day and thus
Dr. Michael R. Nelson offers an interesting were regular users of computers and the
path to open source software adoption by internet for the exchange of knowledge.
bringing up an older abandoned concept in
computing. As the internet was becoming The survey was intentionally designed to not
popular and being adopted by the overtly share the objective of the research to
mainstream in the early 90s, Sun Computers avoid any skew from biases for or against
started pushing for a new way in computing open source software. Users were simply
that put the server at the heart of computing. asked to answer 15 questions regarding their
Sun promoted this concept because they use of computers in general. The questions
were in the computer server business. were designed to allow for contradictory
Servers are big massive and expensive answers because of the nature of this field.
machines shared by many users who use For example, while users were able to
networked client desktop computers. Sun choose Firefox as their internet browser of
called that concept Network Computing choice, they were also able to choose that
where the network was the computer. Dr. the reason they do not use open source
Michael introduces cloud computing as the software was because it was ugly, buggy,
future of computing. Cloud computing is insecure, and too complicated. The survey
Network Computing rebranded and better attempted to exploit that contradiction in
realized. Only this time, Sun’s servers are order to gain insight into the choices
running open source software. And the mainstream users have made. This approach
majority of the world’s servers are already proved favorable to the goals of this
running open source software as well. research.
According to Dr. Michael, 80% of the world
computing and data storage will happen in The Results
this computer cloud. In essence, it would Users were first asked to choose their
happen on open source software. It only computing operating system. 51% chose
makes perfect sense that open source Windows, 44% chose Mac, and 5% chose
software providers concentrate on capturing Linux. As expected, Linux had the lowest
and owning that space more fully, it is their share. It is overtly open source. Mac on the
strength area. other hand, while built on a purely open
source kernel (Darwin/FreeBSD) had a
significantly bigger share. The Mac OS X is
How do you use your not fully open source but it defies the
computer? concerns of naysayers that open source
software is inherently flawed because it is
Online User Survey ugly, buggy, insecure, and too complicated.
An online survey titled “How do you use your
computer?” was conducted. The survey was Users were asked if they used a selection of
announced through the social network online services, only 15% indicated that they
Facebook and Twitter and was available to used closed source software, the rest all
not only the respondents contacts, but their regularly used and relied on online services
contacts as well. The total number of built and maintained on open source

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

software. The number of users using the that they did not use open source software
closed source Microsoft IE internet explorer because it is ugly, it is not for serious
was only 11%. The majority of 44% used the professional use, it is too complicated, it is
open source Firefox browser. The rest also not supported by a company, it is buggy, or
use the open source Safari and Google it is not secure. 5% said that open source
Chrome browsers. software makes no sense, it is a fad that will
go away or that it is socialist, communist,
When asked how they accessed their email, and anti-business.The survey did allow for
71% said that they use a web based mail users to choose more than one choice. There
service like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. But is an overlap of users who do use and rely
when it came to their choices for desktop on open source software and either know
software, 73% were users of the closed that or are ignorant of that fact. For example,
source software such as Microsoft Office, 82% of respondents who rejected open
Skype, or Photoshop. Open source software source software also reported that they do
held a small minority position in their not know what open source software is at
computing needs when it came to the the same time. Further analysis of the
desktop. 53% of these users used their collected data will clarify the perspective of
computers at home or 6% at work these users as they are presented with the
exclusively. 40% used their computers choice to use and adopt open source
everywhere they could. The majority at 42% software.
communicated with 1-10 people. The rest
communicated with more than that number. Data Analysis
The results of the survey demonstrated that
The survey then focused on the users’ users did happily use the open source
choices for handling content documents. application when they were executed in an
The clear winner here was Microsoft Office at online environment.
7 0 % . T h e o p e n s o u rc e a l t e r n a t i v e ,
OpenOffice held a tiny 7.4%. When users
were asked what they did if an Office
document they sent could not be opened by
the recipient, 34% said that they never
83% of the respondents who indicated that they do not
experienced that situation. In other words, use open source software also reported that they use
34% of the respondents have never an open source browser.
experienced a rejection of any kind of their
document because they used Microsoft In fact, 83% of the respondents who chose
Office formats. Only 6% recommended that to reject Open source software used an open
their recipients try OpenOffice while 5% told source browser. This presents a unique
their recipients to pay Microsoft for the phenomenon for open source software
privilege. developers. Generally, open source software
applications and proprietary applications
Three quarters of the respondents of this running online do not differ on ugliness,
survey knew what open source software was geeky-ness, or security. They all look and
and 32% reported that they used it and they feel very similar within the confines of the
were happy. 16% did not know what it was. browser. Of course, styling, organization, and
At the same time, more than half reported

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

usability do make a difference, but these through Open Standards like SVG for vector
attributes do not correlate to the openness of graphics, WebM for video, Javascript for
the application. That explains why users logic, and HTML5 for interactive web
have no trouble using Facebook, Twitter, applications to name a few.
GoogleDocs, or Google Maps even though
these applications are running on open
source servers and code. Much of their
Recommendation
functionality is openly available as well just
Commercial software entities have had a
by viewing the source of the browser pages.
vested interest in pursuing a strategy known
as customer lock-in. Using our example, if
Even in the Office document format area
you use Microsoft Office to create a Word
where Microsoft Office dominated, 15% of
document, the documents you create will
the users who had their document rejected
forever require that you have a copy of
because they used a Microsoft Office format
Microsoft Office for your documents to be
told their recipients to use Google Docs
100% available to you. Not only you, but
while only 5% of them recommended
everyone else you want to share that
OpenOffice. Indeed, GoogleDocs gained
document with as well. Other software
more market share in 5 years than
entities attempt to provide alternative
OpenOffice did in 10 years. The survey
software to allow you to open your
confirms that users are willing to use and rely
documents but they are never absolutely
on open source software if it were running as
accurate and will most likely lose formatting
a web application.
or important information. In essence, you are
locked-in to Microsoft’s world because that
What the survey demonstrated was that
is where your knowledge (in the form of Word
users accepted open source software with
Docs) is.
virtually no resistance when it was framed in
the web experience. In some instances,
Open source software’s approach has been
users preferred it to desktop applications. In
to struggle against this lock-in with a similar
a web browser, all applications are open
form of lock-in. Many software applications
source at least as far as their presentation is
built for the Linux operating system, for
concerned. Before the web, software
example, are not available for Windows or
applications were executed and presented
Mac. In most cases it is a huge undertaking
strictly on the desktop. With the introduction
to support all major operating systems. This
of the web, software was able to be
resulted in users computing in silos and
executed at a server somewhere but the
being exposed only to the solutions available
presentation of that software came down to
to their version of the computing landscape.
users desktops in the form of a web page.
The only common software experience
This is what we all experienced as the first
among these environments is the web
iteration of the web represented by static or
because it is built on Open Standards. And
semi-static pages. While generally functional,
this is the key to bringing open source
they lacked the interactivity users
software to mainstream adoption.
experienced from their desktop-shackled
applications. Certain actors in the industry
While proprietary software vendors may
are now moving aggressively to close that
claim they support Open Standards and may
gap through rich interactive web applications

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ADVANCING HUMAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - Ahmad Baitalmal

even release some open source software of of the biggest industry players such as
their own, it is generally not in their best Google.
interest. The realm of the web and Open What this means for open source
Standards is the realm where open source software developers is an opportunity to put
software is most powerful. It is a most their software in the hands of users who,
natural and long existing fit evidenced by while hostile or ignorant to the concept of
many examples not least of which is the open source software, are very willing to use
standard HTML web page. This open source it in the context of a web based application.
document has evolved into dynamic and rich Through this mainstream adoption, open
applications without loosing its openness, source software can fulfill its part in
but most importantly, has maintained wide advancing human civilization.
acceptance as a viable form of computing by
mainstream computer users. Users leave
their browser where they know their web
pages are not capable of performing
functions they expect only from their
desktop. This is where these new and
powerful Open Standards become most
valuable. Open source software is already
popular on the network server side of
computing. Through these new and powerful
Open Standards, open source software will
be able to naturally trojan itself into users’
desktops.

The recommendation of this research is to


focus on building the next wave of open
source software as Open Standards web-
based applications. This strategy overcomes
the barriers to open source software
adoption that users reported. They accept it
if it runs on the web. Web standards such as
HTML5 promise to significantly close the gap
between desktop applications and browser-
based applications. This presents a unique
opportunity for open source developers on
many fronts. First, the most popular web
browsers are open source, namely FireFox
and Google Chrome. The survey confirms
that. So this open platform already enjoys a
significant global market share. Second,
these web standards are universal, cross-
platform, and open. No one company can
attempt to lock developers out or users in.
Third, these standards are backed by many

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Works Cited

Bond, H. S. (2005). What's so Great about Nothing? The GNU General Public License and the Zero-Price-
Fixing Problem. Michigan Law Review, 104(3), 547-571. Retrieved from http://
ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2053/stable/30044509

Chau, P. Y. K., & Tam, K. Y. (1997). Factors Affecting the Adoption of Open Systems: An Exploratory
Study. MIS Quarterly, 21(1), 1-24. Retrieved from http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2053/stable/
249740

HTML5 (2010). W3C. HTML: The Markup Language Reference. Retrieved from http://dev.w3.org/
html5/markup/

Igbaria, M., Zinatelli, N., Cragg, P., & Cavaye, A. L. M. (1997). Personal Computing Acceptance Factors in
Small Firms: A Structural Equation Model. MIS Quarterly, 21(3), 279-305. Retrieved from http://
ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2053/stable/249498

Intel. Moore’s Law: Raising the bar. Retrieved from http://download.intel.com/museum/Moores_Law/


Printed_Materials/Moores_Law_Backgrounder.pdf

Nelson, M. R. (2009). Building an Open Cloud. Science, 324(5935), 1656-1657. doi:10.1126/science.


1174225

OHCHR (1966). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. International
Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Retrieved from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/
law/cescr.htm

Survey Results, 2010 | 2010 Future of Open Source Forum. (n.d.). . Retrieved May 30, 2010, from http://
futureofopensource.drupalgardens.com/2010-survey-results

SVG. W3C. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Retrieved from http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/

UN (1999). The United Nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://
www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

WebM. The WebM Project. Retrieved from http://www.webmproject.org/

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Appendix A
How do you user your computer?: Online Survey Results
The raw data files for this survey are available to download as Excel, txt, or CSV files from
http://ahmad.baitalmal.com/ahctoss

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