Open Source Software: Some good news for the environment and transit?

On Wednesday, this blog posted some examples of foolish excuses that force us Americans to discard electronics and appliances that should otherwise be repaired for the good the environment. Proprietary parts and firmware falling out of manufacturer support are the prime claims. The reasons are obvious. Large corporate manufacturers can profit more by introducing and selling new products while phasing out support of existing ones. When such proprietary parts become "no longer supported", end-users are forced to throw out and replace broken machines. The big businesses can then hoard the profits.

Such a reality leads to an increase in de-manufacturing, a process that can be harmful to both the ecosystem and the worker if not done carefully, especially with the destruction of larger appliances. We've mentioned there is a growing number of end-users and environmentalists who have had enough of this culture. Market demands for change is up. And there may be some good news that will benefit the economy, environment, and our transit fleets. That's the open source software movement.

How Open Source Software and Common User-Repairable Parts might be able to combat the Throw-Away Appliance Culture

Open source software is computer software with its source code made available and licensed where end-users and developers can freely use, study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. In contrast, proprietary software--whether free or paid--comes with restrictive copyright licenses. The debate over open source and proprietary software often gets heated. Both forms have their benefits. Both provide IT and supporting service-sector jobs. Both are necessary in the information/technology industry. But end-users need to have better choices when it comes to appliances and electronics. The open source movement could provide the solution.

We are aware that there are open source solutions out in the marketplace that aren't quite ready for prime-time, but are certainly headed that way. For example, the Hyperloop pod system certainly is way too premature to endorse, but the marketplace should continue to improve pneumatic tube transport technology as it could have a future. Likewise, open source video game consoles and Linux-based operating systems for desktop computers to compete with Windows 8, Mac OS, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 still have some maturing to do. Open source software drivers that will allow old "unsupported" computer hardware like printers to function on newer computers are still being developed and matured.

But there are other open programs that have reached prime-time status and have been competing strongly in the marketplace. A few examples are the Firefox browser, Android operating system, VLC Media Player and the 3D computer graphics software Blender. Also, let's not forget that a significant number of websites are housed on servers that use Linux operating systems.

Several electronics and appliances today use proprietary circuits and firmware. Firmware is a component that provides the control program for the device. Should any of these chips fail and the manufacturer no longer provides support, tough luck. Now, imagine if these electronics used common parts with firmware that is open source. If any of these circuits failed including the firmware chip, one would be able to replace these parts by going to the hardware store and replacing the defective part using a soldering kit.

There are entrepreneurs out there exploring such eco-friendly alternatives with user-repairable parts because of the growing demand. These small business innovators won't care if third-party electricians or service workers modify or alter the device to suit the owners' needs. Plus, they won't play games by not making it extremely difficult to repair the device. People wanting to service the device will be treated as decision-making, self-reliant adults. Yes, that could open the door to some unintended consequences. If left unregulated, chaos would be certain. That's why California currently requires service companies to get licenses. Regulators need to enforce this policy while ensuring the license process is streamlined and business-friendly for start-up providers.

So the other big question is: How does all of this benefit transportation?

What does Open Source Software have to do with Transit Advocacy? It's quite simple. Just how the Silicon Valley became the job hub for IT jobs with several ways to get around, Moreno Valley could become the open source IT hub, Perris and Lake Elsinore could house the added service-sector jobs, and San Bernardino could house shipping fulfilment centers. Such jobs makes our transit system more productive; the reasons are two-fold.

Number one: Transit agencies collect more tax revenue when the economy is robust. Number two: More productive workers are boarding the bus which drives up farebox recovery. Both factors lead to the resources necessary for improved transit.

The Open Source movement is well on its way to becoming prime-time which will benefit the economy, environment, and mobility. We might be seeing some changes to our disposable culture possibly as soon as the end of the decade.