27 April 2008

Patron Saint of Computing on Free Software

During the writing of Rebel Code I had the privilege of talking to nearly all of the world's top hackers. Among those, Donald Knuth is pretty much at the apex, certainly in the world of computer science.

His interviews are all-too rare these days, not least because he is racing against time to write as much of his magnum opus, The Art of Computer Programming, as he can. So I was pleased to come across this one, in which St Donald has these wise words to say on the subject of free software:

The success of open source code is perhaps the only thing in the computer field that hasn’t surprised me during the past several decades. But it still hasn’t reached its full potential; I believe that open-source programs will begin to be completely dominant as the economy moves more and more from products towards services, and as more and more volunteers arise to improve the code.

For example, open-source code can produce thousands of binaries, tuned perfectly to the configurations of individual users, whereas commercial software usually will exist in only a few versions. A generic binary executable file must include things like inefficient "sync" instructions that are totally inappropriate for many installations; such wastage goes away when the source code is highly configurable. This should be a huge win for open source.

(Via tuxmachines.org.)

No comments: