Netscape

The future of our open source world

October 26, 2012: 12:33 PM ET

Open source shouldn't just stop at the world of software. In fact, more and more manufacturers are warming up to the cause.

By John Hagel and John Seely Brown

FORTUNE -- The term "open source" was first coined in response to Netscape's January 1998 announcement that the company would make freely available the source code for its web browser, Navigator. Since then, the philosophies of universal access and free redistribution of source code have revolutionized the software industry.

While we have seen how open source communities can foster creativity and collaboration in software (think of the Android app store), open source has not ventured too far beyond this space. This is partly because software is inherently modular, instantly accessible from anywhere, and easily altered.

Yet open source ideas have tremendous potential beyond software. All you need to create a successful open source community are participants who both contribute to, as well as benefit from, shared content. Such networks of transparency, collaboration, and trust can be tremendously beneficial in other industries as well, from pharmaceuticals to manufactured goods.

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We have already begun to see promising results from applying open source philosophies to hardware development and manufacturing. Consumers have taken the lead in the open source hardware movement, embodied by the popular "Maker Movement." This subculture of hobbyists and Do it Yourself (DIY)-enthusiasts has driven the rise of collaborative, community "hacker spaces" as well as the hugely popular Maker Faires in cities across the country. The business community has not ignored these makers; venture capitalists are certainly paying attention to the developments. More

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