Dwarves and hobbits in open-source land

Open source has grown up. It's no longer about heroes and villains. It's about code. Whether this is good or bad is up to us.

Last night as I was reading The Hobbit to my son, I came across this favorite passage:

The most that can be said for the dwarves is this: they intended to pay Bilbo really handsomely for his services; they had brought him to do a nasty job for them, and they did not mind the poor little fellow doing it if he would; but they would all have done their best to get him out of trouble, if he got into it...There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much. (Chapter 12)

Waking up to the news that Google is launching a competitive browser to its longtime partner , Mozilla, I realized that we're all just "dwarves" in open source, much as we may pretend to be a happy community of hobbits.

We're past the time when open source was about freely sharing code for the benefit of others. Oh, sure, people still do that, but the bigger the project, the more likely it is to have a commercial angle on it. Perhaps it all started with Martin Fink's The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source, and perhaps it was accelerated by Novell and Microsoft moving in together, but whatever the motivation, it's clear that we're well past Open Source 1.0.

Open source is no longer about heroes and villains. It's about code. Code is neither good nor evil. The people behind it may be, and increasingly the people behind open source are "calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money." Is this a good thing?

I'm not sure it matters. It just is. It's now up to us to ensure that open source sells well without selling out.

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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