Will open source become bloated and decrepit?

It's worth keeping in mind that success may, if we're not careful, lead open source to emulate the excesses of its proprietary cousins.

Jesse Robbins over on the O'Reilly Radar offers up a sobering reminder to those of us who feel that we are disrupting the software industry for the better: we may well end up becoming that which we disrupt. This is in line with Clay Christensen's "innovator's dilemma" argument.

In other words, you are what you eat. (Or will be what you eat.)

Making this disruption thing sound even worse, Nick Carr notes just how bleak disruption can be, a la BlackBerry addiction:

Enterprise 2.0, when seen through the hypnotizing screen of the BlackBerry, does not amount to the liberation of corporate systems by personal systems but rather the colonization of personal systems by corporate systems. Society becomes a social network. My pocket vibrates, therefore I am.

Is open source much different? Or is it (through no fault of its own) making the art of writing software something that follows developers every day, all day (and night)? Liberating developers to scratch their own itches (but paying them to care about the itches of Company X) may well prove to be the way to turn them into mindless corporate-itching drones.

I don't think so, but I do think that Robbins' thought is troubling. Today open source offers a way to dramatically lower costs, increase customer-vendor alignment and intimacy, and rewrite the rules of software. But what happens when open source wins?

Dean Drako of Barracuda Networks told me that his company has moved away from open source over time , because open source becomes bloated over time with its insistence in serving a wide variety of needs (and allowing developers to improve the code to serve those needs). Will the simplicity of an open-source project today give way to an overdone, cumbersome software product tomorrow?

Open source being open source, one can always strip away unneeded features/code in an open-source project (as Barracuda has done with Linux, for example). So maybe open source is immune to its own success. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that success may lead open source to emulate the excesses of its proprietary cousins, especially on the commercial open-source side, as vendors seek to innovate to provide value for customers (so that said customers will pay them more money)...

Success may not be a virtuous cycle after all.

Tags:
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.

     

    Join the discussion

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Show Comments Hide Comments