In my discussions with anti-authoritarian folks, I've frequently encountered references to the open source/free software movement as an example of grassroots, decentralized, from-each-according-to-his-abilities kind of activity with real liberating potential--a first step toward Multitude. Generally, people that argue this have no practical experience with free software. I used to be fairly immersed in the politics and controversies surrounding the free software community (even posted to the Linux Kernel Mailing List a few times!), and since I'm interested in the study of these kinds of phenomena both on a political and an intellectual level, I thought I'd make a few observations.
F/OSS (free/open source software) encompasses two different ways of thinking about the nature of the development process: "free software" and "open source," represented by the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative, respectively. The two support different kinds of software licenses: "free software" supports the GPL, while "open source" stands behind the BSD license (and its brethren). In practice, the distinctions tend to fade away, since most software produced by both groups tends to be licensed under the GPL anyway. But an ideological division remains.
The crucial difference between the licenses is this: the GPL requires all modifications of the source code to bear the same license, while the BSD license has no such restriction. There are hundreds of pages of debates in the archives of F/OSS sites about which one is more "free." In reality, the argument is unresolvable, because they rely on different definitions of "liberty," coming from distinct intellectual traditions: liberalism and classical republicanism (see Joyce Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order, 15-22). This hasn't been acknowledged, and, indeed, participants in these debates do not even seem to recognize the fundamental nature of the gap between them.
The Free Software movement is a contemporary version of classical republicanism, which turns software development into a sort of public sphere. The important property of the GPL is that all changes made to source code immediately, with a few exceptions, become common property. In other words, it is impossible to sell your software as such, though you can sell support and packaging. Software developers who cannot derive immediate financial benefit from their work thus become ideal disinterested political agents (who are distinct from the populace, which only consumes what they produce under the GPL). Like the classical republicans, Free Software advocates have a borderline-paranoid fear of corporate participation and control over their public sphere; when Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux, accepted a paid position at Transmeta, his act was viewed as a "a classic story of betrayal of the movement roots ... commercialization of GPL-based software created by volunteers and used to enrich several "open source pigs" including Linus Torvalds himself." A standard Free Software critique of the Linux development process is that the main developers are on the payroll of major companies like IBM. Any critic of Free Software is accused of conspiring with Microsoft, in terms which are often reminiscent of revolutionary-era American ideology.
The Open Source movement, on the other hand, is liberal in a very eighteenth-century way. The BSD license allows code modifications to be made closed-source and sold. Open Source advocates do not defend the open-source development process because it is virtuous or communitarian; they defend it because it is more efficient. Open Source embraces self-interest. Eric S. Raymond, founder of the OSI and committed libertarian, was the first to articulate the principle that "every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch." In other words, self-interest stimulates open-source development because each participant benefits from the process. The confluence of individuals each pursuing her interest leads to the continual improvement of software, because "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." This is why Raymond's landmark book The Cathedral and the Bazaar characterizes the open-source development model both as a "bazaar" (i.e., an inherently commercial and self-interested assembly) and as a "community of interest." This is not a position many advocates of Free Software would readily accede to, if they thought about it long enough.
Today, the world of open source development is not what it was six or four years ago: the two positions have adopted a stance of de facto reconciliation. Anti-commercialism is still prevalent, but the presence and increasing role of profit-driven corporate involvement has been accepted as inevitable. That's not because corporations have become any nicer, but because the ideal of disinterested software development originating with independent programmers has proven unrealizable--except for smaller projects, who are the Swiss cantons of F/OSS development. Thus the fate of the F/OSS movement has mirrored the post-revolutionary history of the United States--the classical republican ideal subverted by new social realities.
Ultimately, this interpretation suggests that there is little new about the F/OSS model. It is dependent on ideological precedents which go back millennia, with all their accompanying deficiencies. The anti-authoritarians who point to the movement as a blueprint for a new social order ought seriously to consider the last time this happened.