We all stand on the shoulders of giants

Recently I pointed out that databases aren’t evolving ideally for the needs of modern services and customers who which must support change and massive scale without downtime. This post was savaged by an odd alliance; the shrill invective of the Microsoft apparachiks perhaps sensing an opportunity to take the focus away from Ballmer’s remorseless attack on all that is not Microsoft (but most especially on Open Source) and certain Open Source denizens themselves who see fit to attack Google for not “giving back” enough apparently unaware that all software benefits in almost infinite measure from that which comes before. As usual the extremes find common ground in a position that ignores common sense, reason, and civility.

Many years ago, Eric Michelman and Brad Silverberg and Ken Ong and I built a product, Reflex, before Windows, but with a GUI front end for a PC. In order to build it, we had to build fonts and event managers and heap managers and graphical routines and so on. Later Windows/Mac came along and made all this unnecessary, but then we still had to build huge amounts of code in Access for database and indexing and and much more code for rendering within Windows, brushes and XOR and line drawing and manual bitblitting. Still later we built a browser and we helped to build shared relational databases. As these became a central theme in most applications, we realized that it was now possible for anyone to build Reflex with infinitely less work because the database work was done as was the rendering (the browser) and so one could focus purely on the other issues. This is the nature of science, of learning, of education, of engineering and of software. We all benefit from those who came before us. We benefit most when the knowledge is free and generally accessible., but we benefit either way. It would seem that these cacophonous critics, yammering about giving back and sweepingly ignoring the 100’s of billions of times people use and appreciate what Google gives them for free every day from Search to Scholar to Blogger to gMail to Picasa, do not understand this basic fact.

Suggesting new lines of learning and research is no sin. It is how we grow and add value and has been throughout human history. Taking advantage of what has already been learned and taught is equally no sin. It is common sense and to do otherwise is usually a sign of hubris, arrogance, and immaturity.

Giving back is always done through what one is good at, be it making accessible the world’s literature and learning and knowledge online along with tools to search it, create it, and communicate about it, or through making the world’s goods available if that is one’s business. This is how we are all rewarded for casting our bread upon the waters. It is how economies grow and culture flourishes. And the fact that the critics of the earlier post seem to understand none of this suggests a world view so narrow minded as to make one gasp in wonder and horror.

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