The topic of open source arose frequently at the recent GlobusWORLD conference. I find the variety of perspectives on this topic fascinating. I have heard various people opine that:
- Open source is diabolical, because it discourages innovation and/or is risky from a legal perspective. Shai Agassi of SAP expressed such views in a much-reported 2005 speech.
- Open source is angelic, because it ensures that "speech" (or at least coding) is "free." Richard Stallman is a well-known proponent of this view.
- Open source is inevitable, for economic reasons, and, as such, should be embraced as part of the IT ecosystem.
The first two views are familiar; the third is newer, and I think far more interesting, as it permits (at least in principle) a quantitative discussion about when and where it makes sense for software to be open vs. closed
Underlying this third view is an evolving perspective on where value lies in software. For a long time, value was seen in the basic software itself, viewed as intellectual property. Now, the basic software is increasingly seen as a commodity. Of course, companies still need to ensure that the software functions on a daily basis, and they typically don't want to maintain the necessary expertise inhouse. Thus, as Gartner wrote recently:
"open source software is a catalyst that will restructure the industry, producing higher-quality software at lower cost ... it will revolutionize software markets by moving revenue streams to services and support and away from license fees."
Vendors larger and small are taking major positions on these views, betting their future on proprietary software (e.g., SAP, Microsoft), open source software (e.g., RedHat, Novell), or both (e.g., IBM, Oracle). It's a fascinating evolution.
Does this mean that IT itself is a commodity? Not exactly. I was talking to Reagan Moore last week, and he expressed the view that value is increasingly in the (proprietary) policies that govern how (open) software is used. That's a perspective that resonates with my experience.