Understanding Open Source Kiran Jonnalagadda Founder, HasGeekLet’s talk about open source.
FOSS Free and Open Source Software Free Speech, not Free BeerYou are no doubt familiar with the term “FOSS”, for Free and Open Source Software. Youprobably are aware that “free” refers to free speech, not free beer, and that the movementbegan in the ’80s under the leadership of Richard Stallman.
OSS Open Source SoftwareBut we are not talking about Free Software today. We are talking about Open Source. FreeSoftware and Open Source are the same thing on the surface, but come from completelydifferent viewpoints, and Open Source is typically poorly understood.
Three Principles 1. Commoditization 2. Complementary Goods 3. Platform & InfrastructureLet’s look at three principles that affect intellectual property, innovation, competition andhow we come to use the things we do.
Commoditization From Premium to CommodityMany new innovations come to market as premium products protected by patents andcopyright. The innovator benefits from their innovation, but as the product becomes moreand more integrated into society, there’s rising pressure from clones and alternatives thatprovide similar functionality, until the functionality becomes commoditized.
The replication cost of a digital product is zero Computers work by copying bits from one place to another for every little operationCommoditization forces down the price of physical goods until there’s no “premium” margin.The price you pay is basically the price of manufacturing and distribution. With digital goods,there is no replication cost, so prices tend towards zero, either via piracy or open sourcealternatives.
Complementary Goods Cars and Roads Blades and Razors Toothpaste and Toothbrushes Applications and Operating SystemsMany goods require something else in order to be usable, so producers of one areincentivized to commoditize the other. If you sell database software, it helps if you don’thave to sell your client the operating system as well. That is why enterprise vendors invest inLinux.
Platform InfrastructureWhat you sell is your platform and everything below it is infrastructure. You want to keep theplatform yours, but make everyone else share the cost of infrastructure (by open sourcing itand getting others to use it). The risk is that your platform is someone else’s infrastructure,and they are incentivized to commoditize you.
Linux: 75% of all kernel development is done by developers who are being paid for their work http://www.linuxfoundation.org/news-media/announcements/2012/04/linux-foundation-releases-annual-linux-development-reportJust how much of open source is produced by commercial entities with a profit motive? TheLinux Foundation says 75%, contrary to popular opinion that open source is mostly producedby amateurs who believe software should be free.
GNOME Desktop: over 70% of the commits to the GNOME releases are made by paid contributors (as per 2010 census) https://blogs.gnome.org/bolsh/2010/07/28/gnome-census/And it’s not just the Linux kernel. The GNOME project reports similar figures. You’ll find thisto be the case with any large open source project that is an infrastructure layer for otherprojects.
Dual Premium Licensing Functionality Services Open SourceThe three main ways to run a commercial operation that produces open source: 1. Dual licensing (typically withcopyright assignment), a popular but increasingly distrusted model; 2. Premium functionality in a commercialrelease, which tends to discourage others from becoming stakeholders in the project; and 3. Services or productsthat aren’t sold as code. Some of the best examples of successful open source projects are in this category,including projects as diverse as Linux, GNOME/KDE, Chromium/Firefox and OpenStack/CloudStack.