Posts Tagged ‘open source’

Times article on open source eludes logic

Monday, November 30th, 2009

This article in the New York Times (”Open Source As A Model For Business Is Elusive“) suffers from the same blinkered viewpoint and desire to create a story out of thin air as the recent WSJ article on Wikipedia (”Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages“). Doc Searls today hammered at the WSJ article, and now I’ll take my shot at the Times piece.

Ashlee Vance writes in the Times:

…there is an open-source alternative, and usually a pretty good one, to just about every major commercial software product. In the last decade, these open-source wares have put tremendous pricing pressure on their proprietary rivals. Governments and corporations have welcomed this competition.

Whether open-source firms are practical as long-term businesses, however, is a much murkier question.

then this:

“There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat,” said Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at Citrix Systems, which acquired the open-source software maker XenSource for $500 million in 2007. “Everyone else is in trouble.”

and this:

Many of the top open-source developers are anything but volunteers tinkering in their spare time. Companies like I.B.M., Google, Oracle and Intel pay these developers top salaries to work on open-source projects and further the companies’ strategic objectives.

finally this:

The larger technology companies have tended to buy these one-trick ponies for strategic purposes. With its core server business declining, Sun hoped it could piggy-back on MySQL’s momentum with Internet companies. In SpringSource, VMware acquired a company that had cultivated deep interest with software developers and helped VMware diversify beyond its virtualization roots.

The story’s lede says that open-source business success is elusive. Yet over and over again in the text Vance states that large companies viewed open-source providers as strategic – strategic enough to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to own them.

If I were lucky enough to build a business that a company would pay several hundred million to buy from me, I would consider that successful.

What Vance may be saying is that building a long-term standalone business atop one open source product is difficult – hence, companies like MySQL, SpringSource and XenSource selling out. I would counter that building a long-term standalone business with one product of any kind is also difficult. Open source has little or nothing to do with it.

Furthermore, the value of open source platforms (apart from, of course, the value to end-users) is the economic value to the platform’s ecosystem of developers, integrators, etc. Part of the benefit of open source is that it breaks down barriers of scale, by allowing small developers to build big products using open source as a basis.

If Vance would like to calculate the profitability of corporate ventures dependent on open source products (such as those from IBM, Accenture and countless other companies), that’s a story I’d like to read.

Watch out for the Android

Monday, November 9th, 2009

droidFrom Merriam-Webster’s:

an-droid: noun. a mobile robot usually with a human form

In the case of Google’s Android operating system, the “robot” is morphing into lots of forms. First and foremost, as a mobile phone with now nearly a dozen implementations. And those phones are starting to win acclaim (and not only for the Motorola Droid).

But that’s not all: Barnes & Noble based its Nook e-reader on Android and Creative is building an Android-based iPod Touch competitor.

Which is bad news for Apple, right? I’m not sure about that, but it’s certainly bad news for Blackberry, Palm and Symbian, not to mention Windows Mobile (did you forget Microsoft also supplies micro OSes for phones and the like?).

In fact, as the marketplace begins to settle out, it’s starting to resemble the PC market, circa 1995. Apple is providing a closed, end-to-end experience, while its competitor is supplying its platform to lots of hardware vendors for them to install and sell. One difference: Google (Android’s biggest backer) is not charging a license fee for the platform and offers it open source.

As has been observed with other open-source projects such as Linux, Firefox and MySQL, Android will continue to become more feature-rich, with more apps available, as Android handsets begin to take hold in the market. In comparison, Palm’s, Blackberry’s and even Microsoft’s ability to keep up with the state of the art will suffer. [Gizmodo makes a powerful case for Android's potential in this post.]

My prediction: Apple will rule the smartphone roost for some time. Android will be a strong #2. Who will be #3? Does it matter?

(Photo: Motorola Droid via

Related post:
Can you make money with free software?