Open Source Ripped?

Bjorn made me read this article by Howard Anderson. Well, he didn’t make me, but it is a topic I’m very interested in as well: How does open source make sense in a commercial world?

It’s actually a very interesting article. When I finished it, I had to remind myself of the title. In the end, I wasn’t sure if he was for or against open source. His general thesis seems to be that open source is a tool used by small companies to gain market share against big companies. Yes, he’s right. I’ve seen that. There are a lot of smaller companies shipping a world class IDE with their products making them more attractive. They leverage open source (i.e. Eclipse) to do it to lower costs since building a world class IDE is prohibitively expensive for most. I think it’s a great business model. I guess he was just looking at it from the big proprietary company side.

There are a couple of areas where I have to disagree with Howard, though. He mentions open source is a “religion”. Well in some circles, I guess open source participants see it that way. Certainly from the outside it looks like Richard Stallman is playing the part of a religious leader, and FSF is his church.

Howard also seems to believe that the people writing open source are doing so at night when they come home from their real jobs of working on proprietary software. But that’s not what I do as an open source developer. Open source is my day job. The company I work for is one of those companies that is reaping the benefits of the open source business model, and is willing to invest in open source to help build a community where we can share the work with each other. And there are lots of developers like me from many companies. Open source is not a religion to us, but a business means to a business end.

So while it’ll probably be impossible to shake the stigma of the open source “religion” from what we do, open source in the spirit of “co-opetition” (co-operating competitors) is a vital tool available to the commercial world. Some communities are set up for this to work well, like Eclipse, while others, not as much (and I won’t name them unless over a beer :). But the ones that are, seem to be the ones that the big proprietary companies fear the most. Which means we must be on to something…