The rise of the open sorcerers

Summary:Open source has become far more than a movement to democratize or free up software development and distribution from the clutches of companies producing monolithic, proprietary products. IBM and other establishment companies (sans Microsoft) have certainly joined, rather than opposed, the movement, mostly for reasons related to outflanking competitors.

Open source has become far more than a movement to democratize or free up software development and distribution from the clutches of companies producing monolithic, proprietary products. IBM and other establishment companies (sans Microsoft) have certainly joined, rather than opposed, the movement, mostly for reasons related to outflanking competitors. Proprietary code--the secret sauce that separates winners from losers--is getting pushed higher up in the stack.

Now, many startups and formerly completely proprietary companies have turned to open source--becoming 'open sorcerers'--leveraging  the work of the developer communities to help pave a path to profitability. ActiveGrid, for example, is packaging several LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, plus PHP or Python or Perl) and XML technologies to scale applications across a grid of commodity servers. The company is adding proprietary dynamic data caching and transaction processing extensions in a commercial-grade version. Greenplum, which I just wrote about, is working with the open source PostgreSQL community to deliver enterprise-class datawarehousing, and adding its secret sauce in a commercial version. You don't have to build everything yourself, as long as you give back to the community something of value, not just what has become non-strategic.

The variety of open source licensing schemes and liability issues create confusion, but that hasn't slowed down the shift to hybrid software that combines open and closed source. Nor has the assembly problem. Someone described an airplane as millions of parts flying in close formation, which reflects one of the critical challenges for open source, compared to the more monolithic Microsoft stack or prepackaged stacks from Sun, Oracle or IBM. It's a lot of moving parts from many parts of the world that must all come together as a reliable and secure whole. Companies like SpikeSource, SourceLabs and OpenLogic are building and certifying open source stacks, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg within enterprises.

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In a recent Linux Journal article, the incisive Doc Searls commented on Tom Friedman's new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, which deconstructs the increasing globalization of the planet, including the impact of the open source movement. In response to what he perceived as Friedman's notion, gleaned from Microsoft, that for now open source is somehow anti-business or anti-capitalism, Doc wrote:

The fact is, or will be, far more money will be made because of open source than will be made with open source--or with any of the infrastructural (in Tom's words, vanilla) software it replaces. Think of open-source infrastructure as a huge, flat cake on which you can build a vast new market for any kind of topping you like. A cake which, by the way, only gets bigger.
We have another word for that cake, one I know Tom likes: a marketplace. The open-source marketplace isn't for open-source goods. It's for what you can build on them and with them. There's no telling how big that market will be. We do know, though, that it's flat and seems to go on forever in all directions.

As Doc said, open source is a marketplace for what can be built on -- and with -- the fruits of open source community development. The future leading companies will be driven by open sorcerers who profoundly understand that principle...

     

Topics: Open Source

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