Open Source Strategies

A blog about open source software and business models, enterprise software, and the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM Suite.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Age of Innocence

A colleague just emailed me an article on whether open source can innovate, where:
  • Larry McVoy says that open source can only "scrape together enough resources to reverse engineer stuff. That's easy... But if the world goes to 100% open source, innovation goes to zero."
  • Linus Torvalds is quoted to retort, "Open source actually builds on a base that works even without any commercial interest [which] is almost always secondary."
In time, we'll probably look back on these quotes with a wistful "Ahh, those were the days..." comment, when the world was younger and so we were we.

We will probably realize that open source sometimes can succeed without commercial interests, but often requires it to be really relevant. (Just look at the history of Linux: It was created by Linus the college student but flourished under Linus the head of an international effort funded and supported by major hardware and software vendors.)

We will also realize that open source can innovate, sometimes more effectively than commercial software. But this will happen when:
  1. Open source software itself catches up to commercial software in features. Most open source projects today are still playing catch up to their commercial counterparts simply because they are newer.
  2. The business models and processes behind open source software become more developed, probably through trial and error.
  3. Financial markets better understand open source software and provide funding access for open source software development.
If it seems like open source cannot compete with commercial software, it's probably because open source is just too new of a phenomenon. But try to imagine the early days of the software industry itself, before there were venture capitalists, startups, IPOs, software development processes, synch-and-stabilize methods, and all the software and libraries that exist today.

Would you have believed, in those days, that a bunch of hackers and geeks playing with toy computers could one day create software that pervades every part of our lives? Would you have believed that these people could innovate?

Fortunately for us, and himself, at least one person believed: Bill Gates.

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