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Dredging memories: Tim O'Reilly on the "Strange Case of the Disappearing Open Source Vendors"

Open source makes customers the most important part of a software decision.

It has been five years since Tim wrotethis impressive piece entitled "The Strange Case of the Disappearing Open Source Vendors." Tim notes how the open-source market bubbled over in 1999 (Red Hat and VA Linux skyrocketed in their IPOs) and then crashed later, leaving a wasteland with few open-source vendors.

This, declared Tim, was a sign of open source's strength, not its weakness:

In many of its recent attacks, Microsoft has argued that open source is bad for business, but you have to ask, "Whose business? Theirs, or yours?" The answer to that question is very different if you're an end user rather than a software vendor....

It may turn out that the observation that first triggered the wave of open source activism ("Just because there's no vendor behind software, it doesn't mean it isn't important") remains the touchstone of the movement. The "strange case of the disappearing open source vendors" doesn't reflect the weakness of open source but its strength. And the fact that open source may reduce the revenues of some software vendors does not mean that it reduces economic activity or economic success, but instead that it correctly allocates the profits to the developers of that software, its users.

I agree wholeheartedly. Even though we now have a growing abundance of excellent open-source vendors, the wonderful thing about open source is that their code will outlive them. It forces vendors to focus on ongoing, demonstrable customer value, rather than inventing new ways to lock customers into old code.

Open source makes customers and code paramount. Proprietary software pushes vendors to put their interests before their customers' interests, putting the two at cross purposes.