Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

The ace in Linux' hole may go beyond a free and open nature to something more businesses will demand from everything they depend on: transparency.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Anonymous's picture

Good article. But Apple? Transparent? Hardly.

They took BSD and built on top of it a proprietary OS (and yes, it is proprietary). Their plans are secret, and are only ever revealed at the next "expo" - Jobs loves going tada. Amusing? Yes. Transparent? No.

Anybody who dares even post speculation about what their future plans may be are harassed and persecuted for being a rumour site. They sue anybody who tries to make something that looks like their own platform (see the Mozilla debacle). They even persecuted KDE for having a trash can at one point - now they take its JavaScript engine.

Apple is about the most opaque company I have ever seen. They don't "grok" transparency, they use it.

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

My response is perhaps off topic for the philosophical style of discussion you want to instigate, but anyway.

I don't think that transparent quality of open source means much for enterprise use.

From what I have seen, in enterprises, operating system is looked on as a commodity. What does matter and what is not a commodity are applications, application frameworks, their support for integration with legacy environment and so on. Then comes performance and availability requirements and only when you know answer to these issues, you have a look on underlying infrastructure such as operating systems and web servers to see what is available.

Benefits that infrastructure (as opposed to applications) brings are hard to measure in monetary terms. In contrast it is relatively easy to calculate ROI for applications and thus they generally play bigger role in the software selection process.

As ESR demonstrated in The Magic Cauldron, it does not make economical sense to open-source non-commodity software (such as applications) and therefore it is likely that transparency of software will not matter much to business.

Sorry to be pragmaticaly cynical.

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Terry's picture

Hi Doc!

Good article as usual.

I was actually responding to your 7/11 Suitwatch newsletter in which you stated -

Yesterday I put up a new discussion at the Linux for Suits forum,

titled "Should we be talking more about transparency?":


Since that link didn't take me anywhere, I checked the forums... Specifically, The new infrastructure business and The new construction business software is becoming forums where I thought this discussion belonged or would fit in well. Nope, not there either.

Anyway, in the newsletter, you said -

I've thought often about what he said, almost always in terms of

"open" and "closed". But what about "transparent" and "opaque"? Yes,

concrete building materials are hardly transparent in a literal sense,

but builders need to be extremely clear about what they're working

with. If it's foundational stuff--true infrastructure, not a

"platform" that sits on other infrastructure--the builder wants to

know, or to be in a position to find out, exactly what's in there.

Lives, or at least livelihoods, depend on it.

I have to agree with this entirely. Can you imagine the foundation subcontractor on a hi-rise project coming in and telling the architects and engineers that they can't watch them do their work and they can never know what ratio of water to concrete they've used or how much if any rebar? And on top of that, they make them sign an agreement stating that they're not allowed to reverse engineer or anylize the materials used? And that their not responsible in anyway for the reliability of the foundation and can't be sued in the event that the foundation fails to perform its functions as advertised?

Now imagine that they advertise that this is a much safer way of doing business because the bad guys don't know where the vulnerabilities lie if they try to attack!

The funny thing is, our industry has been moving slowly towards this "transparent infrastructure" without most people even seeing it! Think about DNS, and bind, and tcp/ip. Thats infrastructure, no? I see the process alot like evolution and natural selection. Think of things like Banyon Vines. Some things fit well in a niche. They don't need to evolve because they do what they need to do "good enough". At least for a span of time. A short time ago, it wasn't very important for the marketing department to be able to access the inventory departments database. Now, the dinosaurs that still live in the niches are slowly dying there because their niches are disappearing and they can't evolve. They have become opaqe and the next rung on their evolutionary ladder is obsolete (read extinct).

oh well, just my two cents.



Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

There's a missing decade - the 70's. For those of us post-50 remember the economic disaster, stagflation. Johnson and Nixon tried to fight the war in Vietnam and also get re-elected. The result was the closest thing to depression since the 30's and stunning inflation when the economy "recovered". I'm not sure how this relates to corporate accountability, but both Johnson and Nixon had credibility gap problems - i.e. Nixon's 1968 pre-election promise that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam war.

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

Funny that the article starts with a "no BS marketing guy". The open source community has the most BS and non-transparent marketing ever. Sit through a RedHat embedded seminor and an hour later, you will find out that they are really trying to sell you ecos.

With Microsoft, at least they will tell you right away that you are going to be screwed this way and that way.

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

Sorry to have to inform you, Red Hat is not the spokesman for open source software. Their product is really service around open sourced software and if you think they are not going to try to sell you something then you are mistaken.

At least when you do purchase, what you get is transparent. At least in the context of this article.

recap: Red Hat is not the embodiment of open-source software. Microsoft is the embodiment of closed-source software, illegally at that. So your comparison is flawed.


Re: Grok is good, having a clue is better

jeff's picture

Doc's article is once again dead on target. Grok is a fine word to use in the descriptive process. But, in terms of understandng the thesis, although it is good to have metrics to measure performance, having a clue at specification of the function of a web site is probably more important.

Doc is too humble to toot his own horn, so I will just say, before you worry about merics, read "The Cluetrain Manifesto"

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

Transparency IS more important than price

(and tightly linked to freedom). And your

article is great.

A few unworthy comments.

1. grok is not a word. (Yes, I've read Heinlein,

but your article is ALMOST suitable for

presentation to CEOs; grok isn't suitable.)

You might try grasp. (Even then, "grasp the

transparency issue in a big way" will benefit

from editing.)

2. Comparison with electrical utilities is a good one.

How many companies would sign on with an

electric company who maintained a private

definition of "volts"?

3. Inferring trustworthiness from transparency is

right on. Compare:

Inspectable source ... trust the code,

sleep at night

Bill Gates ... "trust ME"

Keep it up!

Bill Sconce


In Spec, Inc.

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Doc's picture


Agreed with all but "grok." If I had been writing exclusively for suited CEOs, I might not have used it; but I think everybody around here groks the meaning pretty well. :-)

Re: Is Transparency the Killer Virtue?

Anonymous's picture

Actually, grok is a word, at least it is if you consider valid words as being words that are in the dictionary. It's even in the oxford english dictionary!

just my two cents worth. :)