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Poojan (Wagh) Blog

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Open Source Software: time-to-market enhancer

without comments

I asked a coworker of mine what he thought about open source software. He said he “didn’t get it”. I should point out at this point that the said coworker leans to the left. He viewed the open-source movement as communistic, and questioned why software should be free.

I view things a bit differently. Indeed, I agree that the idea that software should be free is communistic. However, I also think that open-source software fills a unique function in a capitalist society.

(My view)

Open-source development allows companies (the shareholders) to share in development costs, which reduces time-to-market and lowers the barriers to entry for each shareholder. The cost paid for this sharing is that intellectual property (IP) is commoditized.

For example, let’s say Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all developing widget X. It takes each company one staff-year to develop this widget. Instead, they decide to open-source the development. Then, each of them contribute one staff for 4 months (1/3 of a year). Their time-to-market has gone down.

I agree that if widget X has a differentiating value, this scheme does not make sense. One should never open-source something that differentiates your product. However, I would submit that about 80% of the things we do as technologists don’t differentiate our product, but instead just need to get done so that we can get to the 20% that does. (I’m borrowing the 80/20 rule here.)

Generalized Philosophies

(I am no longer talking about my coworker here. I am just generalizing some viewpoints that I’ve seen over the years.)

Avid Technologists

The fact is that not everything we do really adds that much value (in terms of differentiation). However, as technologists, we tend to believe that technology is tantamount and anything we do is therefore valuable. People that like technology like thinking that it makes an impact.

In fact, I’ve seen several cases where the technology itself has nothing to do with success. Yeah, it needs to be there, or else you have nothing to sell, but more often, time-to-market is more important. If you have a revenue stream, you can always stay in the business and make things better.

The Entitlement Generation

A counter-point that my coworker could make is that this new generation just expects software to be out there and made available. What a sense of entitlement!

I can’t say that I disagree. After all, there is certainly a large sense of entitlement and selfishness implicit in pirating. One could make the argument that the public in general doesn’t appreciate the effort required to develop not only software, but also music, photography, books, etc.

Individual Contributors

I guess the thing that strikes me the most is how many individual software developers (and artists) are willing to put their work out there without any direct compensation. It’s one thing if open-source is reducing your time to market, but it’s quite virtuous to do so just out of a sense of contribution.

Written by PoojanWagh

February 1st, 2009 at 8:19 pm

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