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Open source standards are the story of the year

Most conflicts within the open source community, especially conflicts that appear to be about licensing, are really about the question of just how deep shared standards should go. It's about the placement of a border between what is shared and what is not, what's behind a fence and what's the frontier.

There is a big trend behind news that IBM and Cisco are co-sponsoring a move to create open source storage standards.

It lies in that one word, standards.

There is room for innovation across the board in technology, but we have reached a stage where those innovations must be based on something. And that something needs to be shared.

Open source is a business mechanism for allowing this necessary sharing.

Most conflicts within the open source community, especially conflicts that appear to be about licensing, are really about the question of just how deep shared standards should go. It's about the placement of a border between what is shared and what is not, what's behind a fence and what's the frontier.

Let's look at this latest story as an example. Brocade,  Computer Associates International, Engenio Information Technologies, Fujitsu and McData are all joining IBM and Cisco in this group called Apen Aperi,  calling for an open standard.  EMC, Sun Microsystems, Symantec and Hewlett-Packard are not (for now).

Truly, in this case (as in all such cases) where you stand depends on where you sit. Sun is a huge booster of open source standards in many areas. They're missing here. Why? The answer has nothing to do with principle, but with Sun's corporate ambitions, which it apparently doesn't feel are  served by joining this group at this time.

Time will tell whether it has missed the boat or not on that. But the overall lesson should be clear. The open source standard is a business weapon. It can destroy massive amounts of proprietary advantage. But most companies still want to use this weapon strategically.

The open source enterprise, in other words, is not about principle. It's about principal (and interest). In the enterprise space, it's still not really about us. It's about me.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but those who engage in open source for its own sake -- those who see it as a principle -- need to constantly remind themselves of that simple fact.