Subversion is a topic that can mean many things, but basically has a simple definition. To subvert is to cause to undermine, to cause the downfall of or to overthrow something. To subvert is to basically cause some kind of anarchy, or in the eyes of some, bring on an uprising. It depends on your point of view. In the world of computing, subversion refers to open source software, a revolution by some people's standards and bloody minded anarchy from another point of view.
Open source software started off life as something known as free software, this term was intended to express the software in terms of freedom. Free like a bird, not free like a buy one packet of biscuits and get one free packet offer. Unfortunately this was not how it was viewed. Plenty of computer software was around that cost no money, and so a free software movement has connotations of belonging to that group. The Subversion movement was not trying to overthrow a commercial industry by putting a money-free spanner in the works, it was aiming to do something that not even the anarchistic gratis software was offering. Freedom of movement; freedom of distribution; freedom of modification; even if not free from cost.
The biggest gripe that computer software users have with the standard versions of software available is that it is closed to modification. Some programmes by certain industry big boys do not work with certain operating platforms, or will not speak to other programmes that are run on a users system. There are also the distribution issues. Computer software can cost a small fortune, and once installed on a computer, cannot be used on another machine. This is fine to some extent to prevent a sale of one disk becoming the only copy used by a whole town; but if you have a large household it is a pain.
Nowadays there is more or less a computer for every member of the household and with wireless access, all computers can be running online at the same time and so frequently are. To buy a copy of some of the most prominent brands of software for each computer is a costly business.
The idea of open source software is to enable modifications be made to a programme to render the product more compatible. Or if a user sees that an improvement can be made to enhance the functionality of the product overall, then these changes can be implemented and distributed. This is not meant to be a venture that undermines the commercial viability of software manufacturers, although the availability of such programmes is said to have reduced revenue by around 60 billion US Dollars a year. It is a point of view that if these companies that have been affected had not tried to monopolise the market in the first place and over charge for such product by embracing software freedom then subversion would not have such a large affect in their market.
Subversion is about allowing a freedom for users and potential improvement of prigramnmes they wish to develop and use. The folks against it claim that open source has a greater risk of security breaches due to flaws, and that there is no incentive to patch a programme. The advocate's fight back saying that although the flaw rate is higher, the discoveries are far quicker as generally, it is known what the flaw is. In closed source, it is claimed that the problems are not usually noticed as they arise. And finally, open source users have a far quicker turn around on patches, because these glitches are found more easily and the users have access to the code to rectify the problems they find.
Shaun Parker is a leading sofware expert with many years of experience in the computer industry. Find out more about subversion and open source software programmes at Clear Vision.