Unusual Open Source Freedoms
Dave Jesse on January 16, 2013

Let’s talk about free beer.

To quote from gnu.org, “…free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To better understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”.

Sorry that the free beer bit didn’t last long, but if you work in aviation safety and you’d like to visit our offices in Fareham or Goodyear, we will happily show you round and buy you a beer for taking the trouble.

Another definition of open source is “a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.”

I hope we are able to build a community in that sense, but even before that happens, FDS have benefitted from an unexpected spin-off from our decision to release the code. All of a sudden, we don’t have to worry about whether the information we are giving to people is restricted. There is no need to hide things away or worry about what has to be kept secret. Gone is the concern about restricted license agreements that preclude copying software or documents.

This came sharply into focus recently at a meeting with some gentlemen from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. They asked how we were measuring the point of touchdown, and rather than giving a vague description, writing another document or handing them a copy of proprietary software in breach of a license agreement, we were able to hand them a copy of the code and explain how it worked there and then.

There was no suspicion that we were hiding anything. There was no concern that the description was anything but complete and accurate. In this newfound realm of transparency we were able to discuss the technicalities as equals.

The old ways of working were finally swept away when we asked the CAA to make suggested improvement, in which case they could amend the code or (as they are not python programmers) send us their ideas to incorporate. To date we have added over 40 Key Point Values to aid the CAA “Significant Seven” programme.

The aviation safety world is too small to hide in bunkers sniping at each other. We encourage others in the community to come out and embrace a new way of working and a new way of sharing experience and expertise.