VMware's mistaken understanding of open source

Can open source innovate? VMware's CEO doesn't think so, but here's why she's wrong.

Wow. I guess for those who have yet to be forced to compete with open source, it's permissible to come out with grossly inaccurate comments about open source. Even Microsoft would never say something like this, which Diane Greene (VMware's CEO) said to The Register:

There is still a lot of innovation going into our hypervisor. As long as there is a lot of innovation going in, (open source) is not the right model.

What we want to do is fund ourselves to be able to build new stuff. If you're purely open source, there is no way you can do new stuff.

Um...no. That is completely false. It's not even a little, teensie weensie bit true. In fact, it's when one is in the midst of innovation that open source makes the most sense. Ms. Greene seems to be suggesting that open source makes sense when you're ready to put code out to pasture because it has passed its prime. Quite the opposite is true, if you're hoping to derive value from community, which is the whole point of open sourcing code.

Community-influenced innovation.

What Ms. Greene ought to have said is something like this:

We're still making money hand over fist and can't be bothered to think that innovation in virtualization could come from anyone other than us. We know it all! Why would we offload tertiary development (bug fixes, localization, etc.) to free up our core developers for more hypervisor innovation? Why would we look for local markets to tweak our code for local problems? We are the be all, end all of virtualization.

That would have been a more accurate mirror into the VMware soul, I suspect. It would have been no more true of open source, but at least it would have been true of VMware's conception of open source.

Open source innovates. Communities can innovate with open source and corporations can innovate with open source. There's nothing inherent in open source that either demands innovation or impedes it. However, open source does open up developers to outside ideas, which in turn opens up the possibility of greater innovation.

Ms. Greene doesn't understand this. Maybe over time with added competition from open source (like Xen) she will come to appreciate open source in the same way that Sun, Microsoft, and other companies have.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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