Loopfuse co-founder [I must have been very, very tired when I called Roy a JBoss developer] Roy Russo wonders if all open-source companies are de facto monopolistic. Like many others that I respect (Dave Rosenberg, Lonn Johnston, President Bush, Oscar the Grouch), Russo says any market ultimately has room for only one purveyor of free software. He writes:
(Open-source software) companies focusing on proprietary competition win out in the end, but if history is a guide, they also manage to squash their own OSS competitors by doing so.
So much for peace, love and open source.
I understand Roy's point: a successful open-source company tends to suck investment dollars out of the industry. What new Linux vendor (or, rather, its would-be investors) wants to compete with Red Hat? Any new open-source application server vendors itching to compete with JBoss? How about someone to go after MySQL?
But I wonder if this isn't simply because we're still very limited in our appreciation of open source. We tend to think of open-source competition in very simplistic terms: free versus expensive and open versus closed.
Unfortunately, this completely misses most of the real value in open source, and the various business models that have arisen and will continue to develop to monetize it. There may not be room for Yet Another Open-Source Business Intelligence Vendor (YAOSBIY for short) ;-), but surely, there's room for plenty more in this space who drive greater performance, superior ease of use, etc.? Open source becomes a facet of how such companies compete--an important one but not the outcome-determinative one.
At some point, I'm convinced that most software will be licensed and distributed in an open-source fashion. Why? Because I see it as a vastly more efficient way to get software into customers' hands. So long as we prove that money can be made in this fashion, it will dominate.
That means that there will be ample opportunity for exceptional vendors of software for ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), ECM (enterprise content management), etc., to distribute via open-source licensing. You can already see the aura of open source giving way to its practical, day-to-day business benefits. It's not about religion anymore. It's about superiority. Surely, we have room for more superior customer-serving companies?