Can open source deliver serious numbers?

Maybe the good old days really are gone for good. But is open source to blame for that? No more, I think, than the end of the gold rush can be blamed on mine automation.

Today I talked with Darryl Dewan of VA Software about the company's latest numbers.

These are good numbers. Total revenue was up 43%. There was even net income.

Dewan credited software sales. Sourceforge Enterprise Edition has made 164 sales during the last quarter alone, despite being a free download for up to 15 seats. There are now 170 enterprise customers, 43,000 paid users, Dewan said.

Analysts seem happy. JMB Securities now rates LNUX a market outperform. It was a market perform stock in June.

But look at the numbers again. Total revenue for the full year ending in July was $43.6 million. That net income figure was $1 million.

These are not big numbers. "You're right," he said. Open source, as an industry, is still a tiny fraction of total software sales. 

"People hit the wall after 2000. Companies re-set expenditures and slowed things down. We're coming out of that period. People today inspect every decision, open source is an alternative. It's a new way to do business, to leverage technology, and people are cautiously making open source product decisions," he said.

But will open source profit and revenue numbers ever get serious again, as in multi-billion dollar, world's richest man serious? Maybe not. So will kids continue to eschew programming for more glamorous work like law and wrestling crocodiles?

Dewan doesn't know. 

"Kids need the fundamentals," he said. "It's like sports and academics. You need to know reading, writing,  math and you need to know computers. Do you need to know how to program? I don't know."

Maybe the good old days really are gone for good. But is open source to blame for that? No more, I think, than the end of the gold rush can be blamed on mine automation.

There are still fortunes to be made, Dewan said. Look at the money the founders of MySpace made, or those of YouTube will make, and all the gazillion Google-aires. 

"You can create things online and do things online and you don't need to program," Dewan concluded. This is not a bad thing. Unless you want to become a millionaire through programming.