I had two conversations today that set me to pondering the future of open source. One was during a panel I moderated on "cloud-based computing" at the Webguild Web 2.0 Conference. The second was over lunch with an old friend.
First, what happens to the open-source development community if the world moves to cloud-based computing? Open source has been a server or PC-based phenomenon. Why did Linus Torvalds develop for an x86 architecture? Because that's what he had. He didn't have a massive server farm to work with. Neither do you.
Think about it. What software could you or I write in a world where there are only a few "computers" (five, according to Yahoo), computers to which you and I don't have access? I suppose developers will increasingly be able to write code for others' "clouds," but will this be the same?
Or will open source be something that Google et al give away when it suits them, and only when it won't help their competitors? (This would be much like what they do today, but today they aren't the focal point for open-source development.) The Web world has tended to be a net consumer of open source, not a net producer of it. Will this change when its open-source raw materials run dry?
Second, when is the last time you got excited about enterprise software? That market and its ideas are clearly dying. It's an old world that open source is successfully commodifying. But what comes next?
I've long believed that open source is a natural way to innovate, so I'm not worried that open source will have no future. I'm just wondering what it will look like if the enterprise moves into the cloud and traditional enterprise software dissipates.