Why would a for-profit software company choose to engage in open source?

Most people would trace the open source software movement back to either the Richard Stallman GNU Manifesto in 1983, or perhaps Linus Tovalds’s Linux kernel released in 1991.

Eric Raymond’s “Cathedral & the Bazaar” essay proposed that an open community development model offered advantages over the processes typically used at the time. Author Neal Stephenson forecast the demise of proprietary software in his “In the Beginning…” essay in 1999.

Like many forecasts, these observers may have underestimated time, but also underestimated the degree of change.

Black Duck Software, offers a product for tracking open source software usage for purposes of compliance and security. Together with VC Noth Bridge, they conduct an annual open source usage survey.

Some eye opening results:

  • 78% of companies run open source, <3% don’t use open source in any way
  • >66% of corporate users now consider OSS options, before proprietary software
  • Use of open source has doubled in the past 5 years

There is no longer any doubt that the industry has changed.

I contend that this should not be a surprise. On a “geological” scale the IT industry has always experienced shifts. Because these shifts occur over the course of decades, you can have long periods where people can deny that a trend is in play. You can also have people too new to remember prior comparable disruptions in the industry.

In the 50’s and 60’s standard industry practice was to bundle “free” software with hardware. It was commonplace to see academic and corporate researchers sharing collaborative work with vendors. Usually this software had hardware portability issues, and an antitrust suit against the dominant vendor of the era, IBM, resulted in a settlement that resulted in software being sold as a proprietary product.

IBM still lives today, but most of the others did not. Business model disruptions are tough.

But there might be room for doubt as to whether the business models of legacy vendors has changed.

In the period of 2000-2005, there was a wave of statements by CEOs of proprietary software companies likening open source to communism.

You don’t hear this lately – instead companies like of IBM, Microsoft, EMC, and HP are suddenly crowing about their commitment to open source.

It is clear that the dominant players in proprietary software are now claiming to embrace the open source movement.

When a legacy vendor says they have changed, as a prospective customer, you should ask yourself “Is this real?” Or could this be a “bait and switch” tactic to label legacy products as open source while milking the old business model for as long as it will last.

I work as an open source developer for EMC. “EMC and open source- What does this mean?”

Is EMC just another lumbering dinosaur, arriving late to the open source party?

Stay tuned for my next post..

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