Open source business models must be voluntary

In an open source world, business models must be voluntary.

Kaleidecat from 1980
Entrepreneur Dave Rosenberg has a Christmas wish for you.

(This is the first cat my wife and I owned. Mouse over to get the name for this Cat of Christmas past.)

Dave wants to make everyone pay for open source in 2009.

Money is the fuel that keeps things going. Entrepreneurs are in business to make money. It is reasonable for entrepreneurs  to dream of getting more money out of people.

But Dave is missing an essential point. In an open source world, business models must be voluntary.

This is the opposite of the way proprietary models work, and thus it's difficult even today for people to get their minds around it.

Proprietary models are all compulsory. You want the PC, you buy the Microsoft license. You want the anti-viral, you pay for the daily updates. You give me money, I give you value.

What is wrong with this picture? In open source, code is eventually worth nothing. Once a program is out for a time and debugged to a reasonable degree it's not even a widget.

It's a cat. 

A cat has enormous economic utility but, for the most part, no economic value. Kibble is very cheap, and if the cat goes outside you don't need litter either.

So what is necessary for getting and maintaining open source code is the equivalent of kibble. The cat earns its kibble by showing its owner love. Smart open source communities do the same thing.

If you want to build new code, of course, you need more than kibble. You need capital. Capital requires a business model. Business models don't run on kibble, but the promise of a high return.

Still, the business model you choose must be voluntary. It must not be compulsory, because people are free to just go online and get an acceptable alternative at little or no cost.

The difficulty of this, the need to constantly innovate not just in terms of code but in terms of business models, dawned on many in this space over the last year.

As I said at the top, it is reasonable that an entrepreneur would wish this not be so. But you don't build businesses on wishes. You build them by creating value people are glad to pay for.

This is what I will be looking for in 2009, value that makes me want to open my wallet. The days of compulsion in software business models are over. Build other dreams, and better.