Proprietary take-over of open source a fairy tale

Proprietary take-over of open source a fairy tale

Summary: Today's IBM is a world away from the old firm which fought the government, then Microsoft, over control of standards and customers. Sun's transformation has been even faster and even more complete.

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Shrek drawing by William Stieg in The New York TimesIf there's one thing the Business Week and Forbes readers enjoy, before they snuggle into their warm beds in New Jersey and Connecticut, it's a nice fairy tale.

It's always the same story. The little start-ups rise up, with really good ideas. But we buy some out, push others down, and it all ends happily for Wall Street. Ahhhhh! Now kiss-kiss and night-night.

Never mind the constant change, or that the mommy-and-daddy who put you down for the night might not be the same mommy-and-daddy you wake up to in the morning.

The Wall Street fairy story works for the same reason the Disney stories work. On its own terms, seen only from inside its own universe, that's the only reality there is.

With Shrek, William Stieg tried to break-down this story, first in The New Yorker, and later on behalf of Dreamworks. Wall Street will argue that this story too ended happily. Dreamworks became part of Viacom.

But much changed. Dreamworks' founders became part-owners of Viacom, with guarantees for their wealth and work. Wall Street went on, but Wall Street was changed.

The same is true for open source. In spinning his comforting tale for Research 2.0, Dennis Byron notes that IBM now gets as much sales volume from open source as Red Hat. He also cites Sun's acquisition of mySQL.

But what really happened? IBM and Sun, two of the biggest IT vendors of our time, were completely transformed by open source. HP is now seeking a similar transformation through its two new sites, Fossology and Fossbazaar.

Today's IBM is a world away from the old firm which fought the government, then Microsoft, over control of standards and customers. Sun's transformation has been even faster and even more complete.

It's similar to the impact of blogging on journalism. Just because I'm now blogging at ZDNet doesn't mean my work is the same, or that the business models at ZDNet are the same.

Blogging has brought new skills, new voices, new competition, and new business models to journalism, which every news organization has been forced to adapt to.

The New York Times tried to wall itself off from these changes with Times Select, but it eventually surrendered and gave its columnists blogs. That's a victory.

It's Wall Street's ability to adapt and change which allows it to maintain its hold on the business world. The names, the companies, the values, the leaders are always changing.

It's a very scary world out there, not comfortable at all, and what you think is true, what's right-and-wrong, is always subject to question.

Which was Stieg's original point.

Topics: Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Open Source

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