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2009 and the open source rollup

Open source is a conceptual rollup because the concepts behind it are irresistible. Sharing development costs, making code visible, trying before buying (or trying without buying) all make perfect sense in a friction-free online world.

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As a business reporter for 30 years I have made a detailed study of rollups. They come in all types:

  • The buy-out rollup, as in Bernie Ebbers' MCI. They started as a tiny long distance operator in Mississippi, LDDS, then bought everyone else out and sought monopoly profits.
  • The organic rollup, as in WalMart (right) or any big box retailer you care to name. Kill your competitors with low, low prices, rinse, repeat.
  • The conceptual rollup, a favorite of high tech. Think the PC in the 1980s, or the Internet in the 1990s.

Open source has all the markings of this last type of rollup. In 2009 that theory will be tested in the toughest markets.

  • In mobile, where phone monopolies act as gatekeepers and decide what will or won't run on the network.
  • In gaming, where console makers act as gatekeepers and demand the same control.
  • In laptops, where the Windows monopoly still holds sway and the main alternative is the Macintosh.

When I took on this blog in 2005 open source was mainly a server phenomenon. I wrote at length about BPM and ERP, about CRM and SQL. Those niches remain and competition with Oracle remains fierce. But the market has moved on.

Now Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin says Linux will sweep the laptop market, that it's going to dominate mobility. Few are laughing at him.

Open source is a conceptual rollup because the concepts behind it are irresistible. Sharing development costs, making code visible, trying before buying (or trying without buying) all make perfect sense in a friction-free online world.

Now, can anyone make money at it? For me that is the big question of 2009. Show me the money, someone.