Michel Bauwens: Thomas Bjelkeman’s response to the arguments against open source innovation

Michel Bauwens

A response to the arguments against open source innovation

Excerpted from Thomas Bjelkeman:

(the arguments he’s responding to are in blockquotes)

‘Open-source doesn’t offer constant innovation, lowered costs and collaboration?

“The biggest open-source projects of them all is the internet itself. (The internet is without doubt also the most complex interconnected “machine” humans have ever created.) It runs on open standards and protocols and is constantly developed. HTML is the code which is used to markup web pages such that they get structure and layout [2]. The HTML standard is a huge collaborative project. No single organisation owns the HTML standard and it is a constant effort to improve it. It is not always clear what is the best way forward and often something good happens which wasn’t “according to plan”, like HTML5. HTML and its use is a highly collaborative environment, all the code is open (for any web page). You can “View->Source” and see how a particular web page has been assembled. This very open way of working has been a critical part of making the web an enormous success. I think that this is innovative and collaborative…

The web propelled the internet into popularity and has made it possible to get access to all the glory (and gore) of the internet, for as low as US$15/month or free at your local library or school. I think there is overwhelming evidence to support the statement that open-source is offering constant innovation, lowering costs and creates collaboration.

“The only open-source software that I have ever used”

A lot of people don’t think they use any open-source software. I am not sure how anyone working in a mobile phone and web based company would get any work done at all these days, without using open-source software. It even escapes many peoples’ attention that large parts of the smartphone operating system Android is open-source.

Even the more secretive company Apple, has release the core of the Apple Safari web browser, WebKit, open source (which was based on KHTML and only released openly after the community applied some pressure on Apple. Thanks to @peppelorum for reminding me). In fact nearly 40% of web traffic comes from WebKit based browsers these days and 60% from all open-source based browsers

It is hard to do anything on the web without using open-source software considering that the majority of the web servers in the world are open-source. The open-source web servers Apache and nginx together account for more than 70% of the world’s web servers.

Joel also said that:

“The only open-source software that I have ever used regularly is the Firefox browser, though I don’t much anymore. I believe that this is because of the poor business models for open source products: if you give your software away, you need to charge for something. For open-source software that either means training and consulting (which means you are not incentivized to reduce the training/consulting requirement for your software) or grant support (in which case you are more focused on grantors than users).”

Poor business models are often brought up in these type of discussions around open-source software A lot of people seem to never have heard about RedHat, a billion dollar business with US$146 million in net income in 2012 and 3,700 employees. Or Canonical (US$30 million/400 employees), or Automattic (who makes WordPress) which has 115 employees and more monthly unique visitors to their web site than Amazon (IMHO a good business model is more than just the dollars). Neither of these companies rely on grants, and “only” training and consulting for their income.

Phi Beta Iota:  Proprietary is unaffordable, not agile, does not scale, and does not play well with others.  To conceive of the future without open source everything is myopic and destructive.