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Commercial interests and open source: Oil and water?

Infoworld wants to know where open source is going, so it asked a range of thought leaders to respond. The responses are varied and interesting.

InfoWorld just released an excellent "roundtable" series on open source with a range of open-source thought leaders (including me) weighing in on the future of open source, competition for open source, and whether all the open-source infighting actually does more good than harm.

On competition with proprietary software companies, I suggested the following:

For the moment, I just want to see Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and IBM develop their own vibrant corners of the open source universe. I want them at the table as full participants. This will require them to change some aspects of their business, but I think they'd find them revelatory rather than ruinous. These are some of the smartest companies on the planet. I'd love to see the open source communities they could create, if they but wanted to do so.

Much more interesting to me wereJavier Soltero's comments on whether commercialization of open source is good or bad for projects:

Commercialization creates added pressures, especially for projects that are separate from the companies that provide commercial offerings around an otherwise free project. Frankly, the idea that commercial interests become involved in an OSS [open source software] project causes an allergic reaction to a lot of people. The reaction is mostly based on the idea that the commercial interests will overwhelm the decision-making process of the project.

Realistically, without some amount of accountability, which comes best in the form of commercial interests, open source projects run the risk of becoming largely academic exercises that don't ship in time and have poor usability. How this accountability is applied into the project is the key factor in whether or not the commercialization will mean more success for the project or not.

Pressures, yes. But commercialization is a net positive for open source. Just look at what commercialization has done for Linux, Apache, etc.

Could open source exist without commercial interests? Of course it could (and did for many years). But a little money is a good thing for open source, so long as the licenses and organizations involved mitigate against undue corporate influence. That's why I continue to believe the OSI is such an important organization, even if it does nothing more than prevent bad decisions from being made.