I just read a great posting on SavageMinds by Christopher Kelty about the age of Free software and free services that we are living. This is a glorious golden age of free software and as Kelty states, it has absolutely helped some of us innovate. I have worked on robotics projects with poor rural middle school students and have helped undergraduate students and non-for-profits start a number of websites and blogs.
But, I fear, it will not last. I fear it will be just like the last golden age where the cataclysmic bursting of the dot-com bubble ushered in the dark ages of the Microsoft empire. I am enjoying it while all these free apps are here but Google will have to become the ‘grumpy old troll under the bridge’ eventually. It comes with the territory of being a behemoth. This should not come as a surprise to anyone – Ibn Khaldun (one of the world’s first ethnographers!) described these cycles in the Muqaddimah in the 14 century. Microsoft was cool in the beginning but everybody loves to hate them now.
But there are some signs of hope in the following developments that even Ibn Khaldun would have trouble explaining:
Apple made SproutCore open source.
Google made Android open source.
The real tragedy will come when the U.S. finally crosses the Digital sub-Divide (i.e., universal high speed internet access) and most of these fun, cool, free applications will have been swallowed up and licenced by the big guys.