A blog for the enterprise open source community
On innovation and participationMatthew Aslett, September 15, 2010 @ 10:17 am ET
Two of the themes that have risen to the surface in the open source blogosphere in recent week are innovation, and the apparent lack of it when it comes to open source; and participation, and the continued lack of it when it comes to corporate contributions to open source projects.
The H recently asked why there is no more new open source, while OStatic asked why open source lags the innovation curve. Meanwhile Ian Skerrett called for increased focus on corporate contributions, citing a similar call from Matt Asay, and gaining support from elsewhere.
It occurred to me – not for the first time – that these issues might be related. I previously noted that in the data management space we are seeing the Apache Hadoop ecosystem the various NoSQL databases being driven by open source corporate contributions that are innovating beyond the realms of the established relational database and establishing new database market segments.
So why haven’t we seen this level of corporate user-driven open source innovation in other market segments? I think the reason lies, in part, the fundamental tensions at the heart of traditional open source-related business strategies.
One of the most often–repeated statements about open source business strategies is the observation made by Marten Mickos, that open source users include those who will spend time to save money, and those who will spend money to save time.
Most traditional open source-related business strategies – be they the provision of support services, subscriptions, dual licensing, or closed source extensions – are based on separating those that are likely to spend money from those that are likely to spend time. It stands to reason, though, that those who are prepared to spend time are more likely to participate and contribute code.
Given that, as I previously noted, is it not somewhat unfair to expect those that have already spent money to save time to also spend time on open source contributions?
Then of course there is the fact that copyright assignment policies, vendor-dominated development projects and cathedral-style development models – all of which have dominated commercial open source business strategies in the last ten years – act as a barrier to corporate participation.
Meanwhile most commercial open source support agreements, even without any of the above barriers, are based on an agreement that modifications to the core code base will not be supported.
It is also true to say that vast majority of the open source-related vendors in the last decade have focused on disrupting established markets, rather than creating new markets. That isn’t to say that they haven’t innovated, but if it is true that open source developers scratch their own itch, then the dominant itch over the last few years has been market disruption.
What makes the Hadoop and NoSQL movements different is that their growth is driven less by the itches of the associated vendors than it is the itches of the users/developers. Indeed we see vendors in these markets being led by existing users/developers in trying to figure out the opportunities for commercialization.
In short, the dominant business strategies that epitomised the vendor-dominated open source development/distribution projects of open source 3.0 limited the potential for corporate participation in collaborative development and the focus on disrupting existing markets limited the potential for true, market-establishing innovation.
The increased focus on collaborative development communities, indirect revenue generation, distributed copyright ownership and permissive licensing are more likely to deliver both innovation and corporate participation.
We explain more about our theory of the evolution of commercial open source in Control and Community, the follow-up to our Open Source is Not a Business Model report, which is now available. The report provides more context for the economic motivators and issues involved in the various models, as well as updated research on which vendors are following which strategies, and why, as well as a survey of 286 open source software users to uncover what they make of it all. The report will be freely available to CAOS subscribers. For more details of the CAOS research practice, and to apply for trial access, click here.
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