Analysts build open source straw men

I have been covering open source for five years and have yet to meet a single CEO who dreams of wearing Spandex to work.

It is natural that market analysts might not like open source.

Open source lowers costs and passes the savings on to you.

While it is possible to build a $1 billion business on open source the path to that success does not require that you do the Forrester walk or buy Gartner studies on sales channels.

It costs nothing to try open source, so instead of selling you're converting users into buyers of service.

Open source is also a big enemy of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), which often defined success in the 1980s. It's hard to talk about what you might offer when everyone can see what you do offer and add to it if they want.

These same problems, I must add, apply to the media as well. Open source companies do not advertise as widely as those with closed source. They do not hold food frenzies for reporters with big shrimp and an open bar. They know who their customers are -- they are the people who have downloaded the code.

This may be why straw men have recently become the subjects of choice among analysts like Gartner's Brian Prentice.

(If you really want to make your own straw man, the Wiccan section at About.Com has complete directions, from which this illustration was taken.)

Here comes one now:

That story involves bands of fiercely independent geek-heroes. Armed only with an Eclipse IDE, a weekend’s supply of Jolt Cola for energy and a poster of Jean-Luc Picard for inspiration, they set out to usurp the big software companies in their attempt to control the software universe.

Just because Richard Stallman has a beard like Jerry Garcia doesn't mean he can play the guitar.

In 2009 most of the long hair and bearded guys I know carry The Fountainhead in their pockets and listen to Glenn Beck. There were more unshaved womens' legs at the recent Tea Party rallies than in the entire Obama Administration.

I have been covering open source for five years and have yet to meet a single CEO who dreams of wearing Spandex to work. They're all businessmen (and women), hard-charging dollars-and-cents people. They take advantage of the Internet to drive out costs and are looking to monetize what they have in any way they can.

Now this much is true. In many open source companies, especially early stage open source companies, programmers have enormous power. Getting a project committer onto your team is a real coup for an open source company trying to monetize that project with support contracts.

Some of the best open source companies out there are led by project leaders. And some programmers do drink Jolt Cola.

But just because salesmen wear alligator shoes and some programmers wear Crocs does not mean that open source is being run by hippies. Mario Batali likes Crocs and he's as serious a businessman as you'll find.

My guess is this is part of a long mourning process that the research industry has been going through. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Please get to Stage Five quickly, folks. It's the only way you can go forward.

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