To get, first give.
It's among the oldest Internet values. But having gone through the dot boom, the dot bust, and beyond, VA Linux founder Larry Augustin says it's still the key to success.
I caught up with Augustin, who left his full-time role at VA in 2002 (he's still on the board) and now makes his living as a venture consultant and board member in the San Francisco Bay Area, between meetings and found his ideals are intact. Among the open source start-ups he works with are Hyperic, Xensource, SugarCRM, Fonality, and Medsphere.
In Augustin's view open source development became a necessity in the 1990s when the cost of marketing a program came to exceed the cost of creating it. "My favorite is Salesforce.com. In 1995 they spent under $10 million in R&D and over $100 million in sales and marketing. That doesn’t’ work.
"Open source enables people to reach all those customers. It’s a distribution model. The people who create great software can now reach the rest of the world."
Businesses get the most protection from the GPL, he insisted. "They get protection from competition." The license's insistance on reciprocity means no one can take the code you wrote, tweak it, then compete with you.
As to VA Linux, which went south after trying to make it in hardware, "There was a window where the world wanted a hardware supplier who could deliver high density rackmounts optimized and supporting Linux. When we went through the dot com crash the customers who wanted that went away." The world has changed since then, he added. "It’s incredibly tough right now to be a hardware supplier."
Perhaps his most interesting statements concerned the "threat" of competition from India and China. If they want traction in the software market they, too, need to give a little bit.
"I still don’t see many people from India and China contributing to open source. It’s when the people in those countries get into the process that you’ll see things. It’s not going to happen until you see the contribution level increase."