Innovation and open source software

The appropriateness (or not) of open source in international development and global health is one of my favourite conversations. Despite our large investment in open source and active promotion of it, I still believe that open source can’t yet touch proprietary models for their innovative potential. One of the most innovative technologies I know, the iPhone, is also one of the most proprietary and restrictive. It leaped mobile interface, human factors and usability years ahead of anyone else, and became the echnology to imitate. I love seeing the latest generations of our Tablet PC emulating the iPhone’s ‘multi-touch’ technology. That’s seriously transformative.

That innovation only happened because Apple believed there was a great return on investment to be made. I’ve never seen open source technology innovate that way. Most of the time (our project included) the innovation of open source efforts is simply the fact of being open source.

I sincerely dream that one day we will see open source software innovate in a way that’s that transformative. I also believe that when it happens, it will come from one of the countries seeing the value of open source, and working with donors and implementing partners to build the necessary capacity to realize that value. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, the children here will be amazing.