Open Source Strategies

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

Monday, November 14, 2005

Free Software Equals Free Enterprise

Despite years of support for open source, including the contribution of SapDB to MySQL, SAP may now be remembered more for Shai Agassi's comment on "IP Socialism" than anything else. Why does open source get compared to "socialism" or "communism" so much, and does it deserve it?

What's So Bad about Socialism?

Even the most die-hard conservatives don't mind a freebie from their governments. What people object to about "socialism" seems to be some combination of the following:
  1. Forced seizure of private property through nationalization, expropriation, currency controls, or land reform.
  2. Centralized control of productive assets and stifling of free competition.
  3. Lack of checks and balances on the apparatchiks who control the economy.
  4. High taxes levied on the rest of society.
Is Open Source Socialism?

Viewed in this light, open source does not share any of what most people would object to as socialism. Consider, for example, that:
  1. Open source does not forcibly seize intellectual property. People and organizations, including SAP, license their intellectual property freely under open source licenses.
  2. When there is no centralized control, there is usually a flowering of competition. This is exactly what has happened with open source. Think about how many Linux distributions there are. Better yet, think about how many open source desktops there are for Linux. Most people don't even realize that you can choose a desktop, but with Linux, there is GNOME, KDE, Black Ice, TWM, and countless others options.
  3. The direct result of any free market in any economic is checks and balances. This is also true in open source: when a vendor charges too much, another one jumps. When a project is losing momentum, a fork appears to speed things up.
  4. Finally, all of this happens without a direct tax on the user.
In fact, commercial software vendors should be careful not to take on the traits of centrally planned economies themselves. With their exclusive rights, it is far too easy for them to adopt top-down planning for future products or to use their IP ownership to exclude competition.

Far from a force for "socialism," open source could be the best defense for free enterprise in the software industry.

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