The Bible and Open Source

Via Luis, Matt Asay discusses the King James Bible and free/open software. Until William Tyndale created his English translation, the Bible was Latin, the province of the priests (and even many of them only had access intermediated by the church):

By making “public” the Bible, Tyndale enabled lay readers to discover Christianity for themselves, unmitigated (for better or for worse) by the Church. (Open source, as I’ll explain below, accomplishes much the same thing, and with eerily similar results for the “Proprietary Church.”

The metaphor breaks down if you push it far enough, but it does so in useful ways. Asay’s point is that the computer priests who control the source code command you computer-sitting-serfs do their bidding: that is, use the computer in ways they have decided are appropriate. Free/open software allows users to take ownership over their computing lives. Asay is wrong to an extent, in that the control given by free software is not as complete as the freedom granted to a person to read a Bible in his own language. But it is a step in that direction. It also is wrong to say that control over one’s computing life is completely lacking among those who use proprietary software. But the metaphor nevertheless shines light on an important distinction between the two computer worlds.