Open source is in your proprietary software, too

If you think you're getting away from open source by buying a "commercial"/proprietary product, think again.

If you think you're avoiding open source by buying a "commercial" (read: proprietary) product, think again. Gartner predicts that >80% of all "commercial" products will include open-source software by 2010.

So, you can buy open source outright, or you can pretend it doesn't exist and buy it in the form of proprietary layers on top of open-source projects.

Either way, you're going to be using a heck of a lot of open-source software over the next 20 years. Everything you use will be a product of open source, in some way. Better get used to it.

Gartner writes:

...[O]pen-source software is now in its third wave, which is a phase of leverage as it is really good enough to use, provides alternatives throughout the stack, and is becoming far more pragmatic than idealistic. "Open source is not being hijacked; it is evolving along with the rest of the software industry," [Gartner analyst Mark Driver] said....

Driver also addressed the controversial issue of fragmentation head-on, saying that it was not a bad thing or a weakness of open source, but rather one of its brutal realities. The biology of open source is that of natural selection, where weaker competing variations are weeded out, while specialization is encouraged so that variations can co-exist, he said.

"Fragmentation, or the threat of fragmentation, is a feature of open source, not a threat. It keeps the industry competitive, as vendors know that if they screw up and do not meet the needs of their users, they will be weeded out and replaced," he said.

Imagine that. Open source takes care of natural selection for the user, so that weak solutions get weeded out for them, at reduced cost to the end-user (the acquisition cost is zero, but there's always a personnel cost associated with evaluation and deployment).

I found one other comment by Driver interesting. He mentioned the rise of "gated-source" software, which sits in-between proprietary and open-source software. I think this refers to certified binaries which are available only to paid customers.

It's sort of what Red Hat, MySQL, and Alfresco do, if I understand the comment correctly. Namely, certified binaries are available to paid subscribers. It's a good way of providing an initial gate on one's code to those who pay for it, though of course as open source it can be redistributed beyond the initial recipient of the code.

Anyway, the net of all this is that open source is pervasive, and becoming increasingly so.

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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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