Monday, February 13, 2006
Only a few years ago Open Source was a synonym for hackers, free software development and in a way a certain culture and a certain type of understanding software or product development rooted in the hacker tradition. Let’s face it, these days are gone! Open Source now is a complex reality where you can find everything from trying to gain a competitive advantage in marketing to just governments trying to gain the favour of specific publics or true believers (coders still exist in this community!). But before falling in the temptation of portraying Open Source nowadays as instrumentalized and misused, let’s go first a little bit beyond and take a look to the new business models being created by this extraordinary tool that is called “markets”. Documentum is one of the biggest and best well known Content Management System in the market. John Newton who founded the company in the 90’s is now in AlFresco, a startup where around 20 people are busy building an Open Source CMS that tries to compete with Documentum. On the other end, we all are familiar with experiences like Mambo, another CMS, or RedHat. Both after having very successful products established in the market are trying to earn a life in consulting or customizing their products for big clients. The underlying reality is dual. On one side some software products have become a commodity where mainstream customers don’t want to pay big sums of money for them and early adopters are too busy with Web 2.0 type of products. On the other side the only way to create a success and gain momentum seems to be following the adoption path of open source software. So more and more companies just stopped focusing on controlling the product and adopted the open source model that provides a better diffusion, creates more awareness and benefits of a large community of innovators. On the same time building a community around the product is more crucial than ever, established leaders are just too big, with too many resources and with products too feature rich for trying to compete with them. Again Open Source provides a way to build this community. On that context, few things are left of hacker ethics and many come from the raising of a different business model that is establishing itself as a viable alternative to the traditional product cantered ones. But what about big companies? What about the main players? We are increasingly surrounded by news coming from all sources of big companies adopting the Open Source model. How can that be? How can be those companies that based their whole existence on selling products can now give them for free? But reality is that Oracle, Microsoft, etc… are embracing open source philosophy in many segments of their product lines. Maybe the reason is again this dual proposition of building a community of practice at the same time that you engage in a movement that can benefit your product keeping it on track with the latest thing. After all, didn’t Microsoft benefited tremendously of these communities with Visual Basic or with all the utilities in the early times of MS-DOS? The Open Source concept is being increasingly assimilated by big companies and not only as a marketing concept but in many ways as a fundamental shift in the value chain for their products. The product conceived as a collective creation is beginning to claim a place as a viable conception for development and a community of users and producers is substituting the old duality. All these concepts that we see so clearly in software are here to stay, they are going to impregnate other fields as soon as their products could have some of the characteristics of software development and their production becomes more and more a commodity. And in between – as we are – everything that could happen … will happen and this is what precisely makes economy and markets so interesting and so atractive!