Nicholas Thompson

Nicholas Thompson is a Markle fellow at the New America Foundation.

Recent Articles

Closed Society, Open Source

I n some ways it's hard to think of anything more American than Linux. A Finnish computer programmer named Linus Torvalds created the operating system, but Thomas Jefferson would have loved it. When Torvalds finished, he simply posted the code online and asked other people to download it (for free), use it and improve it. Torvalds even registered the code under something called "copyleft," which legally precludes anyone from owning or controlling it. His idea, long nurtured by pockets of programmers around the world, was to promote software design based on wild, democratic and free-ranging discussions open to anyone with a modem and some intuition. Such "open source" software would seem, prima facie, to be anathema to a repressive government such as China's. In the largest country on earth, after all, it can be dangerous merely to go online; agents from the Ministry of Public Security may nab you if you "create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit" anything from "feudal superstitions" to...