Dogma is nice, but it doesn't pay the bills.
That's the lesson I've learned over the past few years, and one that my good friend--and Sun vice president of lifecycle management--Zack Urlocker illustrates on his Infoworld blog. The big turning point in my own open-source evolution--the one that made me happy to be a flip-flopper--was being handed a sales quota at Alfresco, which grew increasingly large while simultaneously difficult to achieve while giving everything away in the spirit of free love and free software.
I'm not alone in this. As it turns out, the entire industry has shifted as open source has become an integral part of enterprise IT and the vendors that serve it. Even companies like Sun, which went into its MySQL acquisition with an "everything must be free" mentality, have rightly shifted over time.
In other words, as open source has become a key driver of increased IT efficiency and a way to wring out unnecessary costs, it has become much more than free-source sloganeering. Critics have recognized this and suggest that opportunistic vendors are diluting the open-source ethic to drain the open-source cash cow. In some cases, they're right. In most, however, they're wrong.
Enterprise IT has demanded a more serious, business-like approach to open source from its vendors. Individual developers within Large Bank X may want to shake hands with Richard Stallman, founder of the free-software movement, but the CIO of that bank wants to sign a contract with Marten Mickos, former CEO of MySQL.
So do the venture capitalists that increasingly fund open source's commercial (and, hence, development) success. They demand a return, and downloads, while nice, don't pay the bills.
Before the purists wring their hands and cry "Foul," it's critical to keep in mind that the more cash is made in open source, the more open-source code will be written. It's not rocket science: someone must pay to have software written. Open-source vendors have figured out increasingly compelling ways to monetize open source without killing off the spirit and benefits of open source.
Ultimately, open source was always about pragmatism over politics. That was the whole point in breaking from the free-software community. Sometimes we have forgotten that point. It's time that we remembered it, and let open source flourish without stunting its growth with dogma.
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