Open Source Strategies

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

Friday, June 03, 2005

All the Answers

A simple way to help you answer some common questions about open source software.

It seems we're coming back to the same questions over and over again about open source software. Fortunately, there's an easy way to think through them. We start with these observations:
  1. Open source software was enabled by the Internet.
  2. The Internet was originally created to facilitate scientistific research.
  3. Open source, the Internet, and science share many common attributes.
What common attributes are those?
  1. They all revolve around a core of openly available information.
  2. They are highly distributed, scale-free networks of people and organizations.
So, when you get a question like "Can open source _________," just replace "open source" with "science" (or "the Internet") and ask the question again. Usually, the answer is pretty obvious. Let's try a few:

Is open source/science viable?
Yes. And it continues to gain ground.

Can open source/science innovate?
Yes. Just look around you.

Can open source/science exist without commercial rewards?
A qualified yes. Lots of science is done without any direct commercial reward, but if there were no paid professional scientists, then we'd have a lot less science. (Though it wouldn't stop altogether.)

Can open source/science co-exist with commercial rewards?
Yes. Lots of science is sponsored by companies or governments with commercial goals.

How do you making a living doing open source/science?
Most scientists make a living by transferring their scientific knowledge to others--teaching. Some make more money through consulting. Finally, a few make a lot of money by starting companies or creating products from their scientific research.
Organizations do the same thing--teaching, consulting, products/companies.

Can the products of open source/science compete successfully with commercial ones?
Scientific research in itself does not compete with commercial products. Many companies have been successful using the results of scientific research. Chances are, your company is one of these.

What are the motivations for contributing to open source/science?
For individuals: interest, ego, potential career advancement, to name a few.
For companies: it's more efficient to invest in openly available science for basic research and in-house R&D for the commercialization.

Is open source/science a "gift culture" or a "culture of abundance" rather than "culture of scarcity"?
Depends on what you mean by gift. Some scientists solely think of making a contribution to humanity. Most scientists have other motivations, and corporate and government sponsors certainly do. Yet the end result looks like a gift, doesn't it?

Can open source/science succeed without a central organization supporting it?
Yes. In fact, science seems to do better without a central organization. Unexpected contributions play a key role in the advancement of scientific knowledge. Also, the fact that there is no central organization means that science won't fail because of the failure of one company or one government.

How do advancements in open source/science happen?
Incrementally and somewhat randomly. Individuals write papers which are submitted to peer review and accepted into the scientific community. Each paper (usually) makes a small additional contribution to the total knowledge.

Can open source/science exist with a non-reciprocal license/terms?
It seems to have done fine, doesn't it? Even though you can take scientific research, make a commercial product, and never give back to science, science still moves forward at a brisk pace.

Now why don't you try a few of your own?

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