Friday, February 08, 2008

State of Open Source Message: A New Decade For Open Source

Had you asked me in on that day in 1998 how far I thought this phenomenon would go, I would not have come close to predicting the success that exists today. As we enter decade one, Free Software / Open Source is mainstream. Indeed, we are the leader in many business computing categories.

There been a phenomenon of wealth creation by Open Source companies, starting with Red Hat's IPO and leading most recently to the purchase of MySQL for 1.1 Billion dollars seven years after the company's creation. But I would warn those of you who consider Open Source by its companies: you're missing the biggest part of the phenomenon. Most Open Source today is software being produced by its users, for its users. The largest part of the payment for Open Source development today comes from cost-center budgets of IT users, be they companies, institutions, or individuals, rather than profit-centers based on Open Source like that of MySQL. By participating in Open Source development, users distribute the cost and risk of the development of enabling technology and infrastructure for their businesses. Their profit centers are not tied to software sales, but to some other business. To find them, look to the communities rather than the companies.

We have actually changed the way that innovation happens. Innovation has gone public. Many companies, institutions, and individuals share innovation on a daily basis, entirely in the open, through Free Software development communities. The products they produce are the leaders in their field. Public innovation eliminates the high transaction costs of lawyers, lawsuits and licensing. It focuses on building a fertile community across the market for idea creation and utilization rather than dividing the market for the direct monetization of ideas as property. This is the economically most efficient approach for most companies.
JMRI's developer countersued the throttle manufacturer for violating his license. The developer's use of the Artistic license with its rather shaky legal language, and an odd court ruling on that license, weakened his countersuit. The case remains in court. The JMRI developer has since switched to LGPL. His plight should be a warning to other developers: you need a license with the strongest legal language that you can get to make it effective, and to protect you from software patent holders, lest unsavory businesses pull the same trick on you. Ask your attorney, but my surmise is that LGPLv3 and GPLv3 are about as strong as you can get, having been reviewed by the attorneys of dozens of major corporations, the eminent Mr. Moglen, and his attorneys at the Software Freedom Law Center.

One necessary tactic will be decoupling the case of software patenting from the system of patenting desired by the pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies literally have the best government they can buy. We don't want them in the argument.


yogijp said...

It's Time to Talk About Free Software Again

yogijp said...

FOSS Wars: Trend Micro Vs. ClamAV And Barracuda Networks