Open Source, Friend or Foe

The Register today, has an article, headlined "US in open source backlash" arguing that the US is a late, slow and distressed adopter of open source compared with Europe and Latin America. It reminded me of some of the speeches and conversations I had last week (See my blog here...) in Ipswich.

I bumped into Simon Deighton of MySQL. When I rudely asked him how they had beaten Postgres despite the latter's technical advantage he argued that success as an OSS vendor requires three things, a community {based around the code}, ease of installation {low barriers to entry/use}, and reliable and good enough functionality. He suggested that MySQL beat Postgres through ease of installation. Having thought hard about the list, I think its a good one. I shall certainly think about it for things I look to out there. Others should too.

Zaheda Bhorat of Google spoke about their commitment to Open Source and while much of their engagement is as consumers, they sponsor the summer of code and leverage the extreme programming policy of letting their developers spend one day/week doing what they want! This freedom {together with other aspects of their culture, such as the signed publication of open source, i.e. recognising authorship} they argue makes them a desirable place to work and helps them recruit the best people.

I'd not heard Simon Phipps speak before and he used some of the slides he's posted on the web. He showed how open source creates value summarised by the pithy quote "it's not about altruism". Both publication and contribution is in the coder's best interests. (I'll return to this another day as it impacts on some thinking I've been doing for the last couple of years about the source of wealth and the nature of software & information). He also offers a definition of open based on readability, however, most opensource is licenced and therefore the "right to use" is constrained. Simon has written a White Paper (see here...) offering a simple classification based on how the licence constrains copyright if users change the code. The third leg of his defintion of open relates to how easy it is to become a committer and/or how the original authors control or share the code's development and future. However possibly the most interesting comment is that we're now in "Software Market 3.0" and both expect to pay for software at the point of value and expect to make transparent payments for services related to software. Critically access to the "committers" so that errors can be fixed but a whole bunch of things come with software such as updates, fixes, documentation (including the known errors list), RFC process, consultancy, education etc. Open source allows consumers to negociate these services and pay a fair price for what they require. Simon referred to it as "unbundling the software value proposition". Clever stuff.

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