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Innovation

Open source be not proud

Open source code responds to whomever gives it the love of time. The parents aren't those who gave it the DNA of capital, but those who gave it the love of hard work.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Open source is, in part, a release of ego.

When a program is proprietary, it's yours. You own it. You can feed it or you can kill it.

Not so with open source. When software is made open source it is with the knowledge that its fate is shared among all stakeholders. The contributions that make it valuable may well come from outside, the direction of the software is no longer completely in the hands of its owner or sponsor.

Larry Ellison doesn't understand this, and I suspect neither does Wall Street. Otherwise, why would the Street be cheering on Ellison's suggestion that he'll kill Sun to keep Euro-hands off mySQL?

More than the future of mySQL is now on the line. So are the futures of Java and OpenOffice, and all the other projects Sun Microsystems sponsors. Ellison thinks this fact should make the EC Competition Commissioner, Nellie Kroess, back off. He seems to think the U.S. government can make Kroess relent.

The key to why Ellison is wrong can be found in the paragraph above. It's one word. I'll wait...

The word is sponsors.

Open source companies don't own the code bases that are in their charge. They seek to monetize the code, so the code can be expanded, so it will draw more committers. Acquia doesn't own Drupal, and Automattic doesn't own Wordpress. The code bases are, in fact, owned by the community, simply by virtue of being open source.

Ellison seems to think that if he snaps his fingers and brings down the wrath of heaven, then mySQL and Java and OpenOffice will cease to exist. This would be true if they were closed source. In that case they would be orphaned, and if no buyer were found support would disappear.

Open source does not work that way.

Sure it would be tough for these big projects to find new sponsors. But there are plenty of prospects around.

Google would have an interest in Java, as might Microsoft. IBM already has a stake in Open Office. I'm certain we can find another home for mySQL, too. Even Glassfish might well find a new home within the federal government.

Ellison's threat to kill Sun's open source projects if he does not get his way is an empty one. Someone would pick up what remaining pieces have value.

Open source, divorced from its sponsor, turns to software water, and would quickly flow through Ellison's hands.

Go to an open source conference. Listen carefully to the commercial open source businesspeople you see there. They may talk about their kids and their companies, their hobbies and their passions, including a passion for the projects they control.

But they know those projects are more like their kids than their sailboats. They are responsible for the software they control. They do not own it. It's not "my" software. It's "our" software.

This is the attitude you must take if you're to make a success of an open source business. This is why many in the proprietary world, like Larry Ellison, confuse it with communism, or socialism, or some other foreign -ism.

Open source be not proud. Open source code responds to whomever gives it the love of time. The parents aren't those who gave it the DNA of capital, but those who gave it the love of hard work.

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