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Cash- and code-based software economies

We need to get more enterprises contributing cash or code back to open source.

Jim, where are you when we need you?

"Jim," of course, is Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat. The need? To get more enterprises contributing back to open source. Forrester has found that--Surprise! Surprise!--most enterprises consume open source but don't contribute back to it.

This isn't surprising, nor are the reasons and means of adoption:

"...[O]pen source adoption initially focused on the operating system and Web server tiers of the application platform stack, but early success widened the focus to include development tools, infrastructure components such as application servers and databases, and higher-level components such as portal servers and content management systems."

Lower cost was the main driver for open source deployments with delegates questioned by Forrester highlighting that the cost-based business case was easier to show for lower-level commodity middleware components.

Cost is a primary driver of open-source adoption, and for good reason. For example, Activision recently noted in a Webinar that it had saved "tens of millions of dollars" by going with Alfresco for its Web content management needs, while simultaneously driving innovation and flexibility.That's great. But there is still the ominous note in the article above that support alone doth not a billion-dollar software company make. What happens in subsequent years when the cost savings have been realized but the enterprise is self-sufficient?

Wild rejoicing in the street for the enterprise, no doubt, but also abject poverty in the vendor ranks?

Clearly, there has to be a middle ground. We're inching our way there, slowly but surely. But we're not there yet.

In the meantime, I'm hoping that Jim can help enterprises to start contributing code to the commercial and organic open-source communities from which they derive benefit. It's not cash, but in some cases it's actually more valuable than cash.

It would be ideal to have both cash and code serving as the currency of exchange in the software economy. We've got a long way to go...