Fri, 04 Mar 2005

The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome, of course, is the name of a movie about a nuclear plant meltdown falling all the way through the earth to China. Of course that could never happen. What with friction and all, even if it went straight down so as to take the shortest path, it would disappear and never reach the surface of the world again.

No, I'm talking about the modern-day China syndrome, where open source projects disappear and never reach the rest of the world again. The Chinese are great consumers of open source code. Remember the great fuss made about Red Flag Linux, the Chinese national Linux distribution? It's still going strong, but you don't hear of it because of the large black hole which is China.

Why is this a problem? Well, strictly speaking, it isn't a problem. Open Source is about freedom -- the freedom to do what you want with code. So if the Chinese just take, add their improvements and never contribute them back, that's fine. Only ... it isn't, really. First, because the rest of the world misses out on the Chinese contributions. We lose. Second, because they are forking the code unnecessarily. When we make improvements, the Chinese have two choices: ignore them, or incorporate the code into their modified version. Either choice, the Chinese lose.

Open source is best when everybody cooperates with everybody else. Anybody who decides to go it alone creates inefficiency for them and everyone else. In time, the Chinese will figure this out. If you know any Chinese hackers who speak English, you can help by pointing them to this article.

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