Apres open source, le deluge?

Open source has won, but what this means depends on the open-source community becoming less ideological about licensing and more pragmatic about how to extend open-source benefits well beyond software.

When Louis XV sneered disdain for the fate of France after his reign ("Apres moi, le deluge"), he uttered a sentiment that finds absolutely no purchase within the open-source community. Whatever its problems, the open-source world cares passionately about its principles, processes, and prospects. Insouciance is in short supply within the open-source community.

For this reason, we're at a critical moment in the history of open source, the moment when we can firmly declare, " Open source has won ."

No, it has not "won" in the sense that all software is released under an open-source license, and it has not "won" in the sense that its most vocal critics (e.g., Microsoft) have fallen in line and declared its supremacy.

But open source has won in the sense that it has gone from being the pariah of software to the foundation or a critical element of virtually all software deployed today.

Along the way, open source has picked up some habits (bad or good, depending on your perspective) from its proprietary peers, as Savio Rodrigues notes, and it has in turn influenced the way most software is developed.

In fact, open source has become so successful that it is rapidly assimilating into the wider software world, becoming both more important and less distinct, as The Economist recently noted:

Indeed, open source is so widely accepted that traditional software firms are beginning to dabble in it, while some open-source firms are starting to sell proprietary add-ons to open-source programs instead of charging to provide support to firms using open-source software. If current trends hold, traditional software firms and their open-source rivals will soon be hard to tell apart.

This prompts The 451 Group's Matt Aslett to ask, "Now that open source is an industry-wide accepted development and licensing strategy, where does open source go from here?"

It's a non-trivial question, especially for a community so intent on succeeding in the right way. But not to fear: Tim O'Reilly, as is so often the case, provided the answer years ago when he declared open-source licensing issues to be somewhat tired and largely beside the point.

Open source qua open source is a secondary issue. The larger issue is how to apply the principles of open source to other areas of technology and, indeed, beyond technology.

O'Reilly has laid the foundation for the next generation of open-source adoption and advocacy by articulating principles like his "architecture of participation," but it's now time for the open-source community to start looking beyond simple licensing matters to make the benefits of open source available to the widest swath of humanity.

In sum, we need to extrapolate from open-source software the principles that can drive a "deluge" of human benefit. This will only happen, however, if we stop fixating on the trees (licensing issues) to the exclusion of the forest. Licensing is a critical component of open source, but it's not The Principle that makes open source work.

Principles of community-building, transparency, sharing, etc. make open source work. Explaining and building upon these should be our focus.


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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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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