A blog for the enterprise open source community
A Darwinian theory of open source development strategiesMatthew Aslett, October 13, 2010 @ 1:04 pm ET
It’s taken me a bit of time to get around to answering Alan Shimel’s perspective that I am wrong about Open Source 4.0 but I’ve been busy, amongst other things, writing the CAOS report that provides the evidence to backup my theory that commercial open source is shifting away from single vendor open source projects back towards community and collaboration.
The main reason Alan’s perspective on Open Source 4.0 is wrong is that he doesn’t get it. As I previously explained, Open Source 4.0 is about a return to a focus on collaboration and community, as well as commercial interests. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Alan dismisses Open Source 4.0 because he sees community as being separated from commercial interests. As he puts it: “sooner or later you have to grow up and face reality and that includes putting food on the table and doing what is right for your family, shareholders, or whatever the case may be.”
The point of Open Source 4.0 is that collaborating with community development is not to the detriment of putting food on the table. In fact, collaborating with community is fundamental to putting more food on the table than would otherwise be possible with vendor-led development, open source or proprietary.
To put it another way, Alan’s perspective is based on a world view in which “Being successful means besting your competition. Beating your competition usually does not entail sharing your code development with them.”
On the contrary, as Mike Milinkovich pointed out at the recent Open World Forum “The real win comes when you collaborate with direct competitors, ISVs have figured this out, but not enterprises.”
In other words, being successful is about sharing your code development with the competition via multi-vendor open source projects in order to benefit from improved code quality and lower research and development costs for non-differentiating features AND beating your competition with proprietary complementary technologies.
The ironic thing is that some incumbent proprietary vendors have figured this out before many of the so-called “open source specialists”.
Being part of a collaborative community and being successful are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are fundamentally linked. That is what is driving Open Source 4.0 and it is what is driving the shift away from single-vendor open source.
That is the theory, and we have some evidence to support it (see below).
In the meantime, since the focus of the report is the evolution of open source-related business strategies, here is an analogy that i have been thinking about:
In the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin explains his theory of natural selection, and compares with man’s selection – or artificial selection – in the breeding process to produce a desired characteristic. Compare this with the single vendor model in which the vendor drives the development of a project to meet its commercial needs.
If we think about development models and processes then it is possible to see the various potentially competing players in collaborative communities as having a similar impact on the development of a particular project as various potentially competing factors – climate, habitat, existence or dearth of predators etc – do in the evolutionary process.
It doesn’t matter whether the players in collaborative communities are commercially motivated or altruistic, the competing forces encourage survival of the strongest code. As I previously noted: “By commercializing open source projects indirectly, through complementary products and services, multiple vendors are able to seize a commercial advantage and run with it without endangering the core open source project. As long as they continue to collaborate on the non-differentiating code, the project should benefit from being stretched in multiple directions.”
Darwin’s comparison of natural and artificial selection is worth thinking about in the context community- and vendor-led development:
“As man has produced and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect… Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being for which she tends.”
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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