Will open source be assimilated in 2010?

Will open source be assimilated in 2010?

Summary: The Great Recession has turned most open source executives into pragmatists. They want to balance the visibility of their code with their ability to retain customer cash flow.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Yesterday's piece on phony open source drew pretty good traffic for a holiday.

It also drew a thoughtful e-mail from Tim Yeaton, president of Black Duck Software. He interrupted his efforts to counter OpenLogic's new open source scanner to say that open source is bound to be assimilated into the software mainstream.

(Tim is pictured here on casual Friday at the company's blog, commenting on the Oracle-mySQL situation.)

Some assimilation is inevitable, he noted. After all, 1 in 200 of us are now related to Genghis Khan. It's how DNA rolls. (This explains why those who dream of past lives don't imagine themselves as medieval scullery maids.)

The key to understanding open source assimilation, and protecting yourself from it, he added, is to understand the difference between projects and products:

  • open source "projects" are usually community-driven efforts made available under an open process and/or open source license. We track over 220,000 such projects licensed under 1800 different open source licenses in our Knowledgebase.
  • open source "products" typically take some form of freely available open content: Linux packages, open source-licensed code, web or other content, etc. and make it useful in some way: via support, via packaging & refinement, etc.

In the process of making it useful, they are able to commercialize some aspect of it and generate a return to continue to invest (support contracts, commercial licenses for value-added components or capabilities, advertising, etc.).

So from our perspective, it's not so much about pegging a certain percentage of code or content that allows a "product" to be considered open source, it's more about if the product uses open source in a meaningful way to make it more useful to customers, and if the company building the product acts as a good citizen in open source (e.g., honoring the authors intentions, community process participation, contributions back, etc.).

There is a question of degree to be debated on these dimensions to be sure. In our work with customers actively utilizing open source in multi-source development (including ISVs and embedded solutions providers), we found that, on average, 22% of their code was open source.

Since these are pretty progressive companies when it comes to effective use of open source, it may be a useful threshold to consider when one thinks about what an open source "product" is.

Yeaton's view is not unusual. The Great Recession has turned most open source executives into pragmatists. They want to balance the visibility of their code with their ability to retain customer cash flow.

Personally I find this to be a reversible trend. Good times can breed idealism, and profitable idealism in open source can become a selling point that pushes companies back toward principle in the name of profit.

But that's just me. What say you?

Topic: Open Source

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7 comments
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  • it's the other way arround

    since GPL can't be assimilated by closed source software, OSS will force closed source to open and will assimilate it.
    Linux Geek
    • You still believe in Santa Claus, don't you?

      I don't think your assessment is accurate.

      Without a profit motive, incentive to work harder usually fades to zero (except among zealots).
      Fark
      • Actually, Linux Geek knows what's he talking about

        LG just got off the phone with the Easter Bunny, and per their conversation with the Tooth Fairy, he's standing begind his post! :)
        John Zern
    • OSS isn't "for sale"

      So how does OSS get "assimilated" or "bought"?

      Even enhancements or changes to OSS are covered under GPL. GPL covers not only the current code, but any derived code, and derivations of the derivations - forever.

      A software company would have to "clean sheet" a module, and then attach it in such a way that it didn't use any part of the attached OSS program, and that module would have to be so indispensable that no one would want to use the OSS code without the proprietary module.

      I don't see it. I can see the collapse of OSS service related business, which won't be very good for OSS, but I can't see OSS ever being absorbed by proprietary vendors.
      Takalok
      • Maybe not assimilated

        Some projects, such as MySQL and OpenOffice
        (StarOffice) is dual licensed. There is always
        the risk that the owner folds or is bought by
        an entity who don't see the need to continue
        the open source part. If Oracle buys Sun, they
        can close-source or kill both projects.

        They cannot un-license the versions already
        under an OSS license, but who'll want to use a
        version which doesn't get any updates
        (security, robustness and functionality).

        MySQL has MariaDB. But bringing projects like
        OOo and/or MariaDB forward without the help
        from the commercial branch is a major
        undertaking, one which cannot be supported
        entirely by "services and support".

        But the risk is also that a good part of the
        funding of open source projects come from
        donation-like arrangements. A company may
        actually buy "support" without really needing
        it just because it is the right thing to do.
        But in a cash-strapped business environment
        even the enthusiasts will have to prioritize.
        And if the support agreement isn't strictly
        necessary you can bet on the CFO being less
        idealistic. Would you rather have a colleague
        laid off than discontinuing the support
        contract?

        When it comes down to that, OSS loses. Even the
        "crippleware" OSS companies who sell the full
        version and open sources a crippled less-
        enterprise oriented version will risk the
        enterprises actually settle for the OS version.

        With IT workers being laid off from enterprises
        the remaining employees will be more busy. They
        will have less time to "donate" to OSS
        projects. And in uncertain times they may
        actually choose to focus on their careers
        instead of philanthropic work.

        So OSS risk being cash-strapped, developer-
        strapped. Even though the source is under OSS
        and is set "free" - it can still fade away and
        die.

        Not all projects are under GPL v2 or v3. Some
        are under more free licenses which actually
        allows anyone to benefit without giving back.
        Those projects may actually be absorbed by
        corporate entities. Some of them may actually
        end up being assimilated.
        honeymonster
  • RE: Will open source be assimilated in 2010?

    Dana, you must be desperate for clicks on articles to post this kind of dribble.

    Open source can not be assimilated! The whole purpose of the various licenses used, were designed to prevent that action from ever happening in the first place.

    Projects may die and disappear from abandonment, but the code can never be assimilated. Just ask Microsoft. They found out the hard way with their new utility they just released.

    Sorry, I just do buy it.
    linux for me
    • assimilated ?

      We need to be careful how we define "assimilated" in these contexts.
      twaynesdomain-22354355019875063839220739305988