Gatekeepers of open source innovation

Gatekeepers of open source innovation

Summary: There is enormous incentive in the mobile device market, where you can get paid for hardware with open source software embedded in it. So why are Android and Moblin still serving us leftover Apple slices?

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In a highly-recommended post on Friday, our Matt Asay asks a key question.

How do we build innovation into open source? (The picture is from Wikipedia. Guess who it is, then click to get the full post.)

Taking his title from Eric Raymond's book, Matt suggests that the proprietary model may be the best way to go here, and suggests that open core licensing, credited to JasperSoft's Andrew Lampitt, may be the best route forward.

The problem is that innovation demands a committed team, and an ample incentive. By making the core of a product open source, then offering the secret sauce as a proprietary addition, companies can bring in the cash needed to create such teams.

There is little doubt that many in this community are wondering where the open source innovation is coming from. Every new rumor of Firefox code is seized upon by readers anxious to find some innovation in the open source mass market.

One reason for this may be that the Firefox team has both financial commitment and incentive. The best communities are built around projects with those attributes.

But there are many other areas of open source where both attributes exist. There is enormous incentive in the mobile device market, where you can get paid for hardware with open source software embedded in it.

So why are Android and Moblin still serving us leftover Apple slices?

One reason might be that invention -- pure invention -- remains a solitary pursuit. Movies still depend on writers and even when the movie is being made we know the director is in charge. Innovation, in a group setting, demands an innovative gatekeeper.

So there's another ingredient to be mixed into the innovation stew. We need a motivated team, with adequate incentives, but we also need an innovative gatekeeper whose vision rides herd on everyone else.

This is the key to Linux' success. Linus Torvalds is not an entrepreneur, but a director.

If Steve Jobs is Walt Disney, Torvalds is more like Ingmar Bergman.

How does open source create more Bergmans?

Topics: CXO, Emerging Tech, Open Source

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5 comments
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  • huh???

    [i]By making the core of a product open source, then offering the secret sauce as a proprietary addition, companies can bring in the cash needed to create such teams.
    [/i]
    That is not freedom as in software!
    Releasing useless code for free without a key component is not FOSS, not even OSS.
    By this standard even M$ would qualify as a good citizen since they've been playing the same trick for decades.
    Linux Geek
    • The topic was innovation

      Open source is not a religion. It is a business model. To ignore what proprietary models appear to do well is ideological foolishness.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Don't beat this tired drum, Dana

        OSS innovates as much as other software projects, but innovation isn't often welcome. It's rare that some OSS project that's truly innovative (like BitTorrent, Miro, or Super Karamba) gets serious uptake. There are thousands of projects that get very little interest precisely because they are too innovative and different, and people want to use what's comfortable. Gnome 3.0 is getting criticism for this. OLPC's Sugar lost because of it. People wanted a WinXP-style interface. Tell me those two projects aren't innovative.

        Look over Freshmeat for a while, and you'll find First Person Shooter file managers, true 3D desktops, and many others. If you're willing to look past the desktop, you'll find cluster software, mesh networks, and countless great projects.

        In truth, Android is more innovative than you think -- innovative in its easy integration into Google Apps, and Apple's iPhone is less so. The iPhone is no big deal in Asian markets like Taiwan and Korea, where smartphones have been around for years and the original iPhone was derided as an incomplete knock-off with few features.

        Innovation is hard. Most people copy. It's what makes humans great. Even those things that the public thinks are innovative are often mis-attributed to the wrong inventor.
        daengbo
  • RE: Gatekeepers of open source innovation

    I'm not sure your comparission of Steve Jobs and Linus Torvaulds to Disney and Bergman respectively was necessarily valid.

    Disney produces movies. It decides which movies it'll fund and which ones it won't. It's more of a gatekeeper letting some ideas through and others not.

    Bergman was a visionary director who took stories, had them made into the scripts he wanted, found producers, and then turned them into movies. He didn't create the stories, but he made sure they had a strong vision.

    Apple innovates based on the views of its CEO. Steve always wants to make it easier for everyone to use, no matter what <i>it</i> is. He didn't invent the mp3 player, but the ipod is the success that it is because of how easy it is to use. That's his vision.

    Linus wanted a UNIX-like O/S for his PC and ported the already existing MINIX code to the task. With a few tweaks and twirls to make it work, it became Linux. That really wasn't very innovative, even back then. Since then, he's overseen what gets added and what doesn't. But most of the innovation, including things like the Completely-Fair Scheduler, came from others, not from Linus. He decides if it's a good idea or if it isn't.

    I'm not meaning to put Linus down. He's very good at what he does. But from what I've seen, Linus is more like Disney than Bergman and Steve is more like Bergman than Disney.

    But your question is still valid. Where do we find people of vision?
    mheartwood
  • RE: Gatekeepers of open source innovation

    We need a motivated team, with adequate incentives, but we also need an innovative gatekeeper whose vision rides herd on everyone else.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="white"> k</font></a>
    zakkiromi