Preparing for reboot8, I’m Browsing the speaker list, I ended up on JP Rangaswami blog and a link to an Inspiration reading from Making a New World (Doc Searl). This is a must-read for anybody with is trying to understand how to shape business strategy for a software-centric business today.
Linux and open source are demand-side developments. They are all what the demand side does to supply itself. Nearly all of these tools and building materials were created by the demand side of the marketplace, to solve practical problems, and to provide useful infrastructural support for similar activities. The free and open way they contribute to the world is good for business.
The architecture of this world was first described in 1983 by J.H. Saltzer, D.P. Reed and D.D. Clark in End-to-End Arguments in System Design. Fourteen years later, The Rise of the Stupid Network, by David Isenberg, delivered a death sentence to the conceits of network centralizers. The Stupid Network was an end-to-end argument against AT&T's cherished belief in The Intelligent Network. David wrote, "A powerful leading indicator of the Stupid Network will arrive when entrepreneurs who have no vested interest in maintaining telephone company assumptions begin to offer profitable, affordable, widely available data services." A prophesy now fulfilled. Craig Burton combines both ideas — end-to-end and stupid — by describing the Internet as a hollow sphere, comprised entirely of ends.
In fact, it was an interest in supporting business that caused the open source movement to break off of the free software movement. That break took place on February 8, 1998, when Eric Raymond wrote Goodbye, "free software"; hello, "open source". And grow it has. The selection of commodity open source building materials is now so complete that most businesses no choice but to use those components — or, in many cases, to recognize that IT personnel in their enterprises have been building their own open source "solutions" for some time.
Several years ago, when I showed this diagram to Rob Glaser, founder and CEO of RealNetworks, he made a remarkable observation: that the Internet revolution rocked the business world because for the first time in history Infrastructure changed faster than Commerce. "It was like the rug got pulled out from under everybody."
The similarities between software and construction are so close in some ways that we can't help making sense of the former in terms of the latter. As cognitive science puts it, construction is a conceptual metaphor for software development and use. (Lately George Lakoff, the father of cognitive linguistics, has also done some borrowing from the same source. Rather than talk about "conceptual metaphors", he now talks about "frames" and "framing".) In Patterns of Software (Oxford Paperbacks, 1996) Richard Gabriel says "Habitability is the characteristic of source code that enables programmers coming to the code later in its life to understand its construction and intentions and to change it comfortably and confidently."
Before the Net, and before a sufficient abundance of open source building materials appeared, there was often no choice. For some activities inside large enterprises, there still isn't much choice. If you're doing big-time Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Business Process Management (BPM), there are no open source solutions out there. Still, the same used to be true of Customer Resource Management (CRM) and office Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs) — to name two among many categories — but now that's changing with SugarCRM and Asterisk.
Smart software vendors who want to maintain their silos will still have to base them on free and open source infrastructure. That's what IBM is doing with Linux, which supports the company's proprietary DB2, Tivoli and Websphere products. I'ts what Apple did when it moved its whole silo from the decrepit MacOS to Darwin, which is Appleized FreeBSD. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Apple as a "proprietary" company. They are, but they also are not. Apple has an open source strategy. So do IBM, HP, Oracle, RealNetworks, Novell, Sun, SAP and other large vendors who use open source strategies to support their proprietary offerings.
All their strategies are different; but they are all based on an acceptance of open source as foundational infrastructure, on participation in open source development projects, and pm an appreciation for what open source provides to the world.
As long as we insist on treating open source and proprietary as polar opposites, we won't understand how complementary they can often be. Nor — if we are a company trying to succeed in a business world supported by open source — will we be able to come up with a useful understanding of how open source supports business, much less a strategy for putting that support to use. There are issues with the notion that open source and proprietary are opposites. "The opposite of open is not proprietary, but closed. The opposite of proprietary is not open, but public domain." If you "uncollapse" those distinctions, and lay them out orthogonally, you get The Burton Matrix (proprietary – public domain vs. Open – closed), with the moral belief that open/Public Domain is good and Proprietary – Closed is bad. if we remove morality as an issue, and spread out the two other distinctions that are collapsed, you have a good strategic framework for businesses to work with." To really take advantage of open source, he explained, you need to value ubiquity in your marketplace at least as much as you value scarcity in your product portfolio. In fact, your smartest move may be to take some of the products you're selling, and make them ubiquitous by moving them from proprietary/closed to open/public domain — literally, from scarcity to ubiquity. This is, literally, a form of commoditization.
It's not the only one, of course. Most open source commodities are created from the start with the intention of putting them in the upper right quadrant. But for businesses that want to create infrastructure, and grow markets, this is one useful open source strategy. It's one of several a company can practice at the same time. In IBM's case, the company adopted Linux (helping make it more ubiquitous), while also open-sourcing Eclipse, moving it into the upper right quadrant. In Apple's case, the company open-sourced nothing of its own, but used one of several other strategies: creation of a new standard (FireWire), adoption of an existing standard for the purpose of ubiquitizing it (USB, Wi-Fi, ZeroConf/Rendezvous, MP3) and appropriation of an already-developed code base to save itself a lot of R&D work (FreeBSD, KHTML). Meanwhile, they have kept QuickTime and their growing portfolio of "i" applications on the proprietary side, even while opening them to free usage, essentially putting those in the upper left quadrant. When the Burton Matrix was show to Rob Glaser and Brian Behlendorf (Apache Foundation leader and founder/CTO of Collabnet), they helped draw up this diagram to explain how they were working together to open and ubiquitize many of the company's proprietary offering (while also creating a development community) . Real's strategy, was to move as much as possible from the lower to the upper left, and from the upper left to the upper right.