...of information that wants to be free, and of virtual communities is often dismissed by businesspeople as youthful new age idealism. It may be idealistic but it is also the only sane way to launch a commercial economy in the emerging space. "The web's lack of an obvious business model right now is actually its main event," says Stewart Brand, of the Global Business Network.
When a sector of the new economy passes through the protocommercial phase, it is the opposite of the "tragedy of the commons." The tragedy of the commons was that nobody took responsibility for maintaining the communal pastures that were the livelihood for the entire community. In the follow-the-free economy that seems to precede commercial activity on the net, everyone keeps the commons up because nobody is able to make a living from it on their own. Sophisticated software, as good as anything you can purchase, is written, debugged, supported, and revised for free in this "triumph of the commons."
The most popular software used to run web sites is called Apache. It is not sold by Netscape, or Microsoft, or anyone. Apache, which has 47% of the server market (Microsoft has 22% and Netscape 10%), was written (and is maintained) by a network of volunteers. It is given away free. Apache, which is used by the developers of such commercial sites as McDonald's, keeps getting better because the triumph of the commons rewards a completely open product: Anyone has access to Apache's software source code and can improve it. "If you give everyone source code, everyone becomes your engineer," says John Gage, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems.
The most popular operating system for web server workstations is not sold by anyone. It is a product called Linux, a Unix-compatible program that was originally written by Linus Torvalds, and given away for free. In the manner of building medieval cathedrals, hundreds of software engineers volunteer their time and expertise to refine and improve Linux, and to keep it free. Beside Apache and Linux, there are many other free software suites, such as Perl and X-Windows, maintained by a network of programmers. The engineers don't get paid in money; rather they get better tools than they can buy, tools that can be easily tweaked by them for maximum performance, tools superior to what they can make alone, and tools that increase in network value, since they are given away.