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Welcome to the open-source company (err, community)

Open source is a commercial phenomenon, not a community revolution, as some have supposed.

There was a time that we thought that open source was a happy band of code-literate hippies. That was before we actually paid attention to who was involved.

Years ago Boston Consulting Group did an analysis of open-source contributors (PDF), finding that 58 percent are experienced IT programmers and/or system administrators with an average of 11 years of industry experience. Few purple mohawks in that crowd.

It has ever been thus, a fact that Saugatuck Technology calls out in its new "Power, Speed and Assimilation: Open Source Changes the Industry, and the Industry Changes Open Source" (PDF) report. In fact, commercial involvement in open source has become so pervasive that even proprietary software companies increasingly embed open source into their products, as I noted last week and as Saugatuck suggests:

The same factors that attract users to open source - lower costs and reduced times of development, and reduced dependency on vendor-specific technologies - have attracted commercial software vendors to use and incorporate open source into their offerings and portfolios.

The pace of such assimilation is only going to increase. As openSUSE community manager Joe Brockmeier notes, "If you look through the history of open source, it's clear that vendor involvement and open source adoption go hand-in-hand."

Five years from now, this will be such established fact that it won't even be worth saying. Five years from now, I'm not even sure what it will mean to talk about "open source" and "commercial software" as if they are two separate and distinct things.

Even the paragons of both worlds - Red Hat and Microsoft - will likely start to distinguish themselves less on licensing and more on open data, open APIs, and other forms of open access to the effects and mechanics of code, and not merely to the code license.

Five years from now we won't distinguish between "company" and "community" as we'll appreciate that "community" includes "company." In fact, without companies there would be no community.