If Google can do it...why can't you?

Open source is fast becoming one of the software industry's most successful business models, even if almost no one currently uses it effectively to this end...except Google.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

If there was ever a doubt as to whether open-source software could be big business, Google has eradicated it. The Silicon Valley giant shovels open-source software out the door like Santa Claus, all the while monetizing it with cloud-based services.

Google' strategy is no longer in question. What does remain a question is why more companies aren't following its lead.

Gartner analyst Brian Prentice argues:

By 2020 open source will be so conceptually and practically integrated into the way business is done that the concept of blogging on open source in 2030 will be about as interesting as predicting the future of double-entry bookkeeping.

But we're not there yet. We're still stuck in Open Source Business 1.0.

News flash! Big money discovered in open-source software.

Think of the most broadly adopted open-source projects: Linux, MySQL, JBoss, Drupal, Joomla, etc. There should be scads of companies set up around these, not providing support for these specific technologies, but rather building cloud-based services that tie into them.

The money is not in the client. It's in the cloud.

And yet most "open-source businesses" continue to plod through old models of support and/or proprietary extensions. Why? Even Red Hat, the godfather of open-source businesses, has demonstrated that there's far more opportunity in cloud-based services (e.g., Red Hat Network) than simple support offerings.

It's a theme that Index Ventures' Bernard Dalle elucidated here, but too few appear to be getting the message.

Some get it. Look at Acquia. The company is building out a network of services to complement Drupal deployments. Sure, Acquia also offers support for Drupal, but that's small change in the grand scheme of things. The big money is in cloud services tied to broadly adopted open-source software.

It's a game that even Microsoft could play, if it chose to do so. Open source, in this model, is the most pragmatic, capitalist instinct an entrepreneur can have because ubiquity generates substantial commercialization opportunities.

Once a company gets to Google-esque size, it may not even matter that its particular open-source strategy falls short because, at a certain scale, Google-like services become much bigger than any one open-source project.

As an example, even if Google's open-source mobile software strategy fails, in the sense that the market doesn't broadly adopt Android, etc., Google still likely wins. As the Design by Gravity blog puts it, "Google is intent in raising the average in areas it thinks are key to its future."

In other words, Google may not care whether Android dominates the mobile market, but it does care that the state of the art in mobile advances so that it can benefit from those advances.

That's the end game: cloud-based services that become far too important to restrict to one particular open-source project. Getting there, however, can begin with fanning the flames of popularity and adoption of just one open-source project.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.