Corporate open source is more vulnerable

Corporate open source is more vulnerable

Summary: What the history of the last few years tells me is that the best home for an open source project is not a company, but a foundation.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Yahoo's move to offload Zimbra, combined with Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems, are reminders of a nasty truth supporters of corporate open source would rather not recognize.

Corporate open source is vulnerable open source.

That's because, with a few exceptions, open source has not been the money-spinner its boosters thought it would be. This should not be a surprise. Open source by its nature values other things beyond a vendor's bottom line.

Funny, when you eliminate distribution and marketing, and when you can't make people pay you for your product, your bottom line isn't going to be as robust as it might otherwise be. Yet this is not a sign of open source failure. It's a natural by-product of its success.

The money open source vendors aren't making is money that open source users can make. It's money saved on code, on systems, on development, money that can be used to do the work of the business. This is true whether the business in question is for-profit, a non-profit, or a government entity. The savings are real, and massive.

What is becoming clear, however, is that because open source values different forms of money, and different peoples' money, it's not such a great deal for vendors. That's one reason entrepreneurial types like Matt Asay are saying good things about Microsoft. Open source, it turns out, is not about them.

But open source code still needs a place to live. It needs a home and homes cost money.

What the history of the last few years tells me is that the best home for an open source project is not a company, but a foundation.

Within a foundation costs are shared, savings are shared, but members are free to deploy those savings as they see fit. Groups like the Linux Foundation, Mozilla, Apache and Eclipse move forward smartly, developers getting plenty of resources to keep working, while corporate-backed efforts sputter and flame out with every season.

But life inside a foundation is not like life inside a corporation. What corporate eyes may see as healthy competition foundation eyes may see as wasteful redundancy.

Take the two code bases maintained by Openoffice.org, for instance. Few outside the business know there are two code bases, one based on Sun's StarOffice, the other on IBM's Symphony.

In a competitive world this would keep both sides honest. In a foundation world the benefits are not so obvious. It's like having two separate offices within the same organization for Mozambiquan orphan relief. The orphans would do better with one.

These truths were not self-evident when the decade began, but they seem pretty obvious now. The question is what are we going to do about them?

Topic: Open Source

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  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    I feel so much better now that the government is moving toward open source.

    'Nuff said.
    rshores
  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    I feel the title of this article is misleading. Vulnerable how? When discussing computing vulnerability usually refers to the security of the software itself, not the companies deploying it. Open source ideas force companies to rethink how they generate revenue. I seriously doubt any company is ever again going to make billions of dollars off of licensing software like MS has done with Windows.

    I'm disappointed, Dana, as I've read much of what you've had to say about Linux over the last year and you seem to be very frustrated and looking some clear cut "victory" of Linux over MS and since you aren't seeing it in terms of what previously constituted a victory you think it isn't going to happen (or isn't happening).

    Linux enables organizations to make money from developers deploying customized software solutions from an expanding library of free, high quality components. An organization that makes money with Linux is one that pays its employees to find solutions to real problems, not one that employs more lawyers than engineers.

    The future of corporate software is going to look nothing like it did in the 70's, 80's, 90's or even the 00's, just like every decade completely overturned the status quo of the last.

    I've been planning to write about this for a while, and I'll put the idea out there if somebody else wants to elaborate, but all this talk over the last decade of "the year of Linux" is going to sound silly because Linux has grown tremendously over the past decade and if anything the 2010's are going to be "The Decade of Linux", and the 21st century "The Century of Linux".

    Maybe I'm too much of a cheerleader for you, but read Keith Woolcock's article about the rise of ARM and you'll see what a precarious position both MS and Intel are in for the coming decade. http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/263464-keith-woolcock/27875-intel-faces-up-to-arm?source=kizur
    macbraughton
  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    Very very bad choice of title :( Interesting article, though.
    LeMike
    • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

      In a foundation world the benefits are not so obvious. Its like having two separate offices within the same organization for Mozambiquan orphan relief. The orphans would do better with one.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
      zakkiromi
  • Need a Foundation?

    Yes, if only there was some sort of Foundation that housed all this Free Software. Nope, I can't think of a single one. You have a truly original idea. /sarcasm

    FSF was found in 1985, and what do they have to show for it? A thousand parsing libraries that only developers would be interested in, and a neatly typed but oddly worded licensing agreement -- the latest version of which has barely any adoption precisely because the corp. types are afraid of what it means for the software they're working on.

    If you don't have something like a bottom line to keep you on track with a viable, usable product, you'll get people who go completely batty like at least one Foundation has.
    technojoe
  • Open source must serve the company's own business

    I think you have a point about the appropriateness of the foundation model for open source development.

    But your article got me thinking about a another avenue (or guideline) for corporate involvement: to adopt open source projects not primarily as products in themselves, but as tools for the enhancement or operation of their own business. For instance, I heard that Facebook (or another Web2 company) was considering releasing its database code as open source - that makes sense: they don't have to make millions off the code, they're already benefiting from it, and will benefit further from the contributions of others.

    But, again, the foundation (or consortium) model provides a degree of stability that a single company cannot.
    overnout
  • Yeah... tsk tsk about the title

    How does not making expected profits mean an operating system is more vulnerable? Blah blah blah the big money making programmers will go some place else blah blah blah.

    Open source is, as in it exists, because of something people who think in terms of "everything worth while has to make profit" don't understand. In that every framework model and module of the OS and apps is open and available to everyone, development is much more possible since no solution is the exclusive domain of anyone. Anyone who knows anything about programmers knows that it is a slippery slope to quantify them as anything. But I would venture that they are smart enough to recognize that they are investing in everyone's freedom by plugging away at open source. The alternative is to let lawyers and the legal system decide where the line between proprietary and general programming methodology lies.

    A little history redux: When Apple OS 10 first came out as a shell over Linux it came with a plethora, as in an amount that put the Windows world to shame, of free software. Why? Because there was a ton of apps already written in UNIX/Linux. Why this was has a lot to do with programmers being free from software being prioritized and not having to worry that their solution of a particular snippet had been previously used in other software.

    Software development grows in complexity at an awesome rate. Anyone with any real respect for innovation should recognize that today's awesome innovation will be tomorrow's hack.
    valvestate@...
  • Dana is a becoming a one-string banjo

    You keep beating the same tune on the same string.

    The first problem is their are 200k+ open source projects. Do you really see a scenario where there are 200,000 foundations with enough support and backing to survive?

    Whats worse is that if we following your logic to its conclusion it will result in less open source software and more proprietary software. Is that what you want?

    Consider start-up software companies. They have a huge decision to make at the start: proprietary, 'organic' open source, or commercial open source.

    You keep repeating the 'organic' open source beats vendor-driven/commercial open source story. Organic open source, however, leaves these start-ups with little/no opportunity to re-coup any investment. So, if they heed your continued bleatings, their only realistic choice is to go the proprietary route.

    RedHat, JBoss, MySQL would never have been created if your kind of thinking had been prevalent in the past.

    You need to widen your perspective.

    James

    P.S. So two variants of OpenOffice is inefficient, yet 30+ variants of Linux is not? Hmm.
    jimmyed2000
  • If you like open source, be open to it...

    In all its forms.
    jimmyed2000
  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    You stated, "Take the two code bases maintained by Openoffice.org, for instance. Few outside the business know there are two code bases, one based on Sun?s StarOffice, the other on IBM?s Symphony."

    What have you been smokin'? Sun's OpenOffice.org is based on StarOffice, and Sun has a second level of code for OpenOffice.org with add-ins for paying clients.

    IBM's Symphony is also been made OpenSource, but that software is IBM Symphony, and not OpenOffice -- the two are as different as night and day.

    I feel that it is important, if you are going to write about OpenSource software, that you get your basic facts correct so that the rest of what you say won;t be called into doubt ... even if your premise is untrue.
    asmiller-ke6seh
  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    Dana says:

    That?s because, with a few exceptions, open source has not been the money-spinner its boosters thought it would be. This should not be a surprise. Open source by its nature values other things beyond a vendor?s bottom line.

    To which I reply: this misses the point. The business model for open source has always been quite different, but it does exist.

    Take, for example, Stallman's approach: his approach was always to make the software completely free, but to charge for consulting. This worked well because the documentation that comes for gree with GNU software is pretty bad: only someone with pre-existing expertise can really make safe and correct use of the tools. No amount of studying the man pages or info files will do the same.

    The business model IBM and Sun assumed was different, but still not worthy of being blown off as failures. I can't recall their official statements, but I believe their idea was to participate in and even dominate certain Open Source projects to guarantee a high level of quality of the product, then use ready user acceptance of that product to sell their own other products, which are definitely NOT Open Source.

    But did they do this right? No, they did not. But this could very well be only because of their own poor follow-through and implementation of the basic business model, it might not be because the model itself is poor.

    I says "might be" because nothing is certain yet.
    mejohnsn
  • RE: Corporate open source is more vulnerable

    "But open source code still needs a place to live. It
    needs a home and homes cost money."

    Oh please. Three idiotic statements on two lines
    connected by using a very shaky analogy. If you want
    to host an open source project you can do it on
    SourceForge or Google Code for free.

    If the project turns out to have commercial value then
    you can spend some of those dollars on marketing or QA
    infrastructure. In other words, spruce up the house.

    Julian Hyde
    julianhyde