Open Source Cars, GPL Air Conditioners, Communism versus Capitalism and Beer.

So this week, due to other appointments and the idea of waking up on a Wednesday with a hangover not being a great one, we moved our regular Tuesday social evening (part of a mass new religion of Tuedaism – a principle belief being that Tuesday night is the real middle of the week) to Thursday, which as it happens was last night.

Only myself and Brad were present and as the beer flowed the conversation moved inevitably first to cars and to Open Source software. Brad is an engineer, an industrial engineer at that, and I am in the process of convincing him that Open Source software and the GPL is a viable route for the software development industry to head towards.

I’m not really winning, but I’m not losing. Brad’s main concern about migrating to Linux is that the engineering apps, such as Solid Edge and others, are not available under Linux. I tend to agree, as I have struggled to find a viable CAD system on Linux without a price tag (I’ve struggled to find any WITH a price tag at that).

Apart from that I was trying to explain why the “communistic” approach of GPL software can work, but this time I used a different field for an example – Motor vehicle air-conditioners. What if you take your existing BMW’s air-conditioning (climate control, whatever) system and redesign it in superior fashion? Then you release the design back to BMW with the condition that any improvements they make to your design are given to you to use as well. A sort of “GPL Aircon”, if you will. Of course you can then release the same design to Toyota or any other motor manufacturer you choose. Then, all of a sudden, the efficiency of the air-conditioner no longer becomes a selling point for the vehicle, as all vehicles have the capability of having the superior design installed. Suddenly, motor vehicle manufacturers have to find a more creative way of compelling you to buy their car. The areas of support and cost come to mind.

Brad’s response was to say that further development of the air-conditioner will eventually stall, as any large corporate would not want to spend money on enhancing a system that everyone can in effect ‘steal’ without incurring any research costs. My response to this was that customer demand would now be the motivating factor behind any further research. As the customer demanded, so the manufacturer would be compelled to continue with research. (Of course, there is nothing stopping the manufacturer from redesigning yet again, not based on your design, another proprietary aircon.)

Brad’s next thought then considered the designing of an “optimised support package” to deliver in a GPL fashion to the motor industry. Eventually all support is ‘optimised’, and nobody wants to spend more on enhancing it. And the same goes for any other component or design of any motor vehicle. His prediction: a collection of generic component vehicles where appearance is the only distinguishing factor. As a result he too predicted the merging of most motor vehicle manufacturers as they are bought out or die, resulting in a single monopoly manufacturer.

My response was, yes, but the evolutionary process would continue, as nobody wants a monopoly, and a monopoly introduces a loophole for rogue development away from the monopoly. In retrospect I should have brought in the idea of forking in designs, as some people would disagree on optimal designs and as a result a number of different, although better designs would become available to all to choose from.

Nobody won outright with an opinion, and the debate will continue I’m sure, but it was a really interesting discussion, and for once I actually felt as though I was winning an argument for open-source and GPL use in an area where it may not or does not belong. It was definitely easier to discuss it in the arena of cars, as opposed to software, a less tangible item, but of course the tangibiltiy also introduces a whole array of variables into the discussion too.

In the end I basically called him a capitalist and he basically called me a communist. I don’t think I’m a communist though – I still need to find my true political persuasion. Brad? Well he’s mostly capitalist I’m sure.

How to resolve the situation? We cracked open another couple of beers. Cheers to open source and the GPL!

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