We’ve talked recently about how the down economy can be both good and bad for Linux and open source software in general. The more I consider the continued gloomy outlook, the more I am convinced the economic struggle will translate to increased interest, use and adoption for open source software. Part of this is the fact that when fuel is $4-a-gallon, the monthly heating bill tops $150 and you just have to have that expensive wireless data plan, anything that is free is going to get more attention and uptake. Still, the appeal of Linux and other free and open source software in tough times does go deeper than that.
As we watch the global markets skid through an agonizing rough patch, one could argue the lower the value of shares in the market, the higher the value of open source software. Open source is not only a likely alternative for cost-cutting, but which it also benefits from its uniquity from traditional models of value and property. This may even translate through to the vendors that develop, sell and support open source, since rather than sheer economic value, their open source software and development projects and communities, including developers and users, represent potential innovation and opportunity, rather than money in the bank, which at this point has diminished value.
That’s why I believe the value of communities actually serves as a significant differentiator for open source software right now. The value of open source software communities, which has figured into open source M&A activity characterized recently by higher prices because of strategic and longterm value, may be more apparent now. Although it is difficult if not impossible to try to valuate an open source software development community, this other form of value shows how open source can retain its value in good times and in not-so-good times.