Trust is key in open source

2006 has been marked by money coming in, not just from venture capitalists but from enterprises of all sizes who see open source as a way to save on IT, and gain more control. This spells opportunity. But opportunity is also a temptation.

The key to making an open source business model work lies is one word. Trust. (Image from Paul English.)

Trust is a two-way street. Vendors have to trust that their community is giving them an honest shot at profit. The community must trust that the vendor is going to stay true to the open source path.

When trust disappears, both sides lose.

The trouble in maintaining trust is financial pressure. Vendors feel it acutely. Every dollar they spend writing open source code, supporting their users, or (most important) marketing their product is a dollar they have to get back, somehow -- and then some.

Community members don't feel this pressure in quite the same way. Most give their time freely, without thought of compensation. They may have a job that lets them, or even moves them, to contribute, or they may not. Their horizon of benefits isn't defined exclusively by the bottom line. Continuing to get access to better-and-better code is their main concern.

When there is no money to be made, this trust is easy to maintain. It's when money starts coming in that it can break down.

And 2006 has been marked by money coming in, not just from venture capitalists but from enterprises of all sizes who see open source as a way to save on IT expenses, and gain more control of the result.

This spells opportunity. But opportunity is also a temptation.

I had thought that, with the success of open source in the enterprise space during 2006, next year might be marked by other stories.

Judging by events, I may have been mistaken.

With money, the issue of trust must be constantly renegotiated. These negotiations will dominate 2007 in open source, and perhaps define whether it survives into 2008 and beyond.

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