No one has to buy anybody

As business models evolve ever-more rapidly, so the speed with which businesses rise, get gigantic, and fall will increase as well.

Paul Simon One Trick Pony from Amazon.Com
Our own Matt Asay has a piece out today lambasting Tim O'Reilly for a comment that, in the end, proprietary software outfits will gobble up all the open source guys.

Having read the thread to which Matt refers, I suspect he's playing the old "take things out of context" game to get a discussion going.

And it's a good discussion to have. Because at the end of the day no one has to buy anyone.

Tim's point is that open source has led to a new value model called Web 2.0. Google and other service providers make a lot of money, and it no longer matters to them whether the underlying software is sold or open sourced.

Tim believes looking at the present competition solely in terms of "proprietary vs. open source" is wrong, a 1990s frame on a 2000s game.

He's right. But it does not necessarily follow then that proprietary software firms will buy-up their open source brethren, or that they will ever learn to play the Web 2.0 game successfully.

Most companies are One Trick Ponies. Those which survive several business eras, like GE or IBM, do so by changing their tricks. GE does so methodically, when its CEOs retire, while IBM does so in reaction to outside stresses on the business model.

While Microsoft, Oracle and the other proprietary vendors may seem ancient they are each just a few decades old. None of them have ever had to change their business model, none has lost their Ace in the Hole.

When companies try to make this change, they may find themselves hanging from the bottom of the beat. Sun's move to open source is risky not just because it's a change, but because it's a generation behind the profit curve.

If, as Tim notes, it's all about web services, about selling what your software does in the field, then Sun is already a half-decade behind on its business model even after this wrenching change to open source.

That's normal. Xerox, Polaroid, and Control Data are the norm. IBM and GE are the exceptions. As business models evolve ever-more rapidly, so the speed with which businesses rise, get gigantic, and fall will increase as well.

No one has to buy anybody. Just think of it as business evolution in action.