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If everyone differentiates with open source...

3Com thinks open source is a differentiator. I think it needs to think beyond open source to how it will differentiate itself when the entire planet goes open source.

...then is there any differentiation in open source?

This is the question I asked myself when I saw 3Com announce that open source is the wave of its future, and a key differentiator against Cisco.

As a company executive posited,

...the company's open services networking (OSN) platform will enable its customers to create and build relevant applications on top of its hardware offerings. The OSN infrastructure runs on Linux.

Chai explained: "Developers [can] build third-party applications, or customers [can] develop their own applications to work on top of our products. This is our unique selling point."...

"It's our intention to close the gap on our competitor as fast as we can - customer by customer, vertical by vertical - and it's our belief that our OSN strategy will be a key pillar of success for 3Com going forward," he said.

Maybe. Maybe not. I agree (to a point) with Larry Ellison when he says:

Open source is not something to be feared. Open source is something to be explained. Open source wins not because it's open and not because it's free. Open source wins only when it's better.

On its face, this is a true statement. But where 3Com may have a tenuous open-source advantage today is through development and distribution benefits. But those benefits are ephemeral if the competition wises up and jumps into the same open-source boat.

At that point, yes, it's all about product quality. Open source helps on that front, too, but probably not to the extent that 3Com needs to beat Cisco. I hope it's got other baskets to place some of its eggs.