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There is value in source code, whether you want it or notMatthew Aslett, December 20, 2007 @ 9:49 am ET
A common question you hear from proprietary vendors when dismissing open source alternatives is “how many customers actually want access to the code anyway?” It is a question I put to an open source software vendor myself earlier this week while playing devil’s advocate.
The response – that the right to modify the source code is more important than actually doing it – is well known, but it is worth repeating in the light of recent events surrounding the Mindquarry open source collaboration project.
“It is strategically important for the customer that the source code is available, even if they don’t want to modify it,” was the response from the open source vendor I was talking to. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Open source adopters understand that it the open source model creates, at least in theory, a contestable model for support and services, freeing them from lock-in.
- They also understand that open source code increases the potential for innovation. Even if they don’t want to modify the code themselves, they can pay someone to do so to make it better suit their requirements.
- They are also reassured that should the vendor in question go belly-up or be acquired, the code will live on an continue to be developed by the community.
The benefits of the latter point have been seen recently following a decision by the Hasso Plattner Institute not to continue to invest in Mindquarry, a company set up in July 2006 to commercialize the open source software of the same name.
The company confirmed in October that it was ceasing commercial operations while founders Lars Trieloff, Alexander Saar, and Alexander Klimetschek maintained their ongoing commitment to the open source project. “As long as Mindquarry has an active community we will continue our commitment to the vision and product,” wrote Saar.
The three developers ensured that they would be in a financial position to do so in December by accepting jobs with Day Software. Although Day Software is not backing the Mindquarry project itself.
While the future for Mindquarry is far from certain, if it does flourish it won’t be the first project to have done so despite the demise of its commercial backer. The PostgreSQL database is a case in point.
Over the years it has been commercially supported by Illustra, Informix, Red Hat, Great Bridge, PostgreSQL Inc, and Pervasive. It is currently supported by the likes of GreenPlum, EnterpriseDB, Sun and Command Prompt, as well as SRA and Fujitsu.
Some of the former supporters were acquired, some fizzled out, and some lost interest. No doubt the same things will happen to come of the current supporters over time, while new supporters will emerge. Thanks to the code being open, the PostgreSQL project will carry on regardless.
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