The rise, fall and reality of commercial open source

We’ve been writing ourselves about the move toward more permissive licensing in commercial open source, as well as a lessening of the use of ‘open source’ as an identifier or differentiator. We’ve also seen others comment on a perceived loss of significance and importance of free and open source software and open standards. Combine this all with some typical observation on the lack of contribution back to open source software projects, and it might appear that open source software is a once-mighty empire in the midst of decline. However, from my perspective it seems despite all of this, open source software has never before been as pervasive, disruptive and innovative as it is right now. While we have yet to reach open nirvana, open source software is playing a pivotal role in the two most significant software markets currently: cloud computing and mobile computing.

Much of the gloom and doom in open source software the last couple of years has centered on the evil that is ‘open core,’ yet I have been among those contending that open core and the mixing of open source and proprietary models is often something that customers want. In addition, rather than just a matter of converting much or all that open source community goodness to cold hard cash, I believe all of these trends and perspectives support the idea that open source software is actually gaining in significance. Whether it is viewed as an effective marketing mechanism may be another thing, but the fact that open source is prevalent in the two hottest categories of IT today: cloud computing and mobile devices.

We’ve written extensively about open source software’s prevelance in cloud computing. We’ve also covered how the many, critical open source pieces of cloud computing stacks, whether SaaS, IaaS or PaaS, are also having an impact on openness and discussions of it, something we also see when considering recent partnerships and a changing landscape for Linux and open source software.

We’ve also covered the significance and prevalence of open source software in mobile computing. At the same time, we recognized that while open source software was a key ingredient to most if not all mobile software platforms and application ecosystems, there was a lack of open source software reaching end products and users.

In both cases, there are reasons and incentives for ‘going closed,’ so to speak, but it is the true open source efforts that elicit true community benefits: collaboration, transparency, speed, flexibility, security and more. So while open source as a term or identifier may not be what matters most to vendors or customers, there is no question open source is key to the business and future of many, if not most vendors in cloud and mobile computing. Ask Puppet Labs or Chef sponsor Opscode whether open source matters to their customers and their business. Ask Google whether openness is something they consider as they move forward on Android and Chrome. Ask Rackspace whether open source is critical in its open source cloud computing stack, OpenStack. Ask HP whether it is meaningful that WebOS is open source. I have. It is. So the next time we hear about the surrender, retreat, fade or decline of open source software or its importance in today’s computing landscape, just remember that today’s key markets tell a different story.

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#1 Phil Marshall on 07.08.11 at 7:21 am

Jay, As open source software’s use has become part of the fabric of best practice software development, it’s no longer that bright shiny penny that was either going to cause untold problems from a compliance perspective, nor, as its use has proliferated, provide a sustainable competitive edge. So it’s not the tabloid news-maker it once was. Your examples of projects that prove it matters (OpenStack, Android, WebOS) are great, and there are hundreds more. What’s exciting is that there are plenty of best practice processes that many companies we speak with are just beginning to employ. To your point, many companies aren’t active contributors to the community. Once that level of contribution trends upward, these companies will find that they reap additional benefits from the accelerated project development that will result. And many organizations still struggle with search, reuse, and governance. Sure, we’ve taken off the training wheels, but there’s plenty left to learn.

#2 Jay Lyman on 07.08.11 at 2:01 pm

Very good points,Phil. Thanks for weighing in. Hopefully, with all of the reminders that contribution and community really matter, we will see that accelerated development.


#3 links for 2011-07-11 « Wild Webmink on 07.11.11 at 8:59 am

[…] The rise, fall and reality of commercial open source I think I'd agree with Jay but phrase things differently. The benefits of open source are all the first derivatives of software freedom. As the market stabilises, we are seeing two effects. The first is businesses valuing those first derivatives as a function of the freedoms that cause them. The second is a shift in marketing to talk about those derived benefits, but usually somehow in the context of their cause. I believe we will actually see more, no less marketing of open source benefits; it's just that it might not mention their origins. (tags: FOSS OpenSource freedom) […]

#4 451 CAOS Theory » Economy up or down, can open source come out on top? on 08.11.11 at 2:20 pm

[…] However, we do believe that if done properly, open source projects and communities can and do deliver benefits that enable both providers and consumers of […]

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