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Industrial public goods: A genesis of the insertion of free software in Silicon Valley

Gabriel Alcaras 1, * 
* Corresponding author
Abstract : This paper examines how free software is inserted in the digital industry, tracing the genesis of a program called CVS within the context of work and commodification practices in Silicon Valley during the 1980s and 1990s. Using the concept of industrial public goods, the paper demonstrates that the purpose of free software was to free engineers from the constraints brought about by the commodification of their tools. Yet the autonomy they gained was somewhat relative, since it was intended as a prerequisite to improving software production as a whole, including commercial and proprietary software. The paper also shows that even in the 1990s, free software was not just a question of volunteer work, since most of the contributions to CVS were made by engineers who made their living by working full time on free software. Indeed, many engineers and entrepreneurs fought against this image of volunteering and working for free, which was detrimental to its adoption by Silicon Valley executives. To convince managers that the production of industrial public goods was in fact beneficial to the software industry at large, they tried to give it a price, engaging in an effort of translation to measure the value of their free work and its impact on the industry.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 2:05:59 PM
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Gabriel Alcaras. Industrial public goods: A genesis of the insertion of free software in Silicon Valley. Sociologie du Travail, Association pour le développement de la sociologie du travail, 2020, 62 (3), ⟨10.4000/sdt.33283⟩. ⟨hal-03365868⟩



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