Altruism and open source

Could an excess of altruism lead to open source failure? Or is this a business model which truly embraces it?

What makes for open source success? (Here's a good book for the course which follows.)

The easy answer is commitment. Knowing your goal, staying focused on that goal, then setting a new and higher goal is a common factor in business success.

To cite an example I'm familiar with, Marc Fleury of JBOSS told me his goal the first time we met. It was to get top programmers a bigger share of the software pie. He brought in committers with generous contracts, and when JBOSS was acquired by RedHat this year, he was not the only winner.

The story illustrates a point. That is, open source goals are often directed outward, not inward. It's not, I'm going to make money, but we're going to accomplish some larger goal.

Often the target of open source ambition is the customer. Open source projects drive out costs and bring savings, which multiply as customers learn more about their open source tools.

The question I have, however, is what part altruism in general plays in open source success? I know that in business, an excess of altruism often leads to failure. The history of technology is littered with companies -- Control Data springs to mind -- which concentrated on doing the right thing and watched the future go elsewhere.

Could an excess of altruism lead to open source failure? Or is this a business model which truly embraces it? We will all have to figure that out, over time.