The Open Source Paradigm

As promised in a previous post  below are the highlights of  Paul Ramsey’s thought provoking and highly entertaining keynote speech ” Beyond Nerds Bearing Gifts: The Future of the Open Source Economy” at the FOSS4G 2009 Conference:

On the important distinction between “software” and “products”:

Existing proprietary vendors are not selling “software”. They are selling “whole products”.  The “whole product” has software at its core, but it adds in a critical layer of extra services and infrastructure around the outside, things that reduce the risk  (or perceived risk) associated with adopting the product such as Training courses, support infrastructure, re-sellers and consulting networks, update mechanisms, and so on.

On how mainstream users pay for products and software

 The standard model of technology acquisition  is still one where we pay money for the software, and the vendor throws in the rest of the whole product for free. On the other hand the long term open source business model, as a general proposition, is about providing a whole product suitable for mainstream customers, but changing the point of monetization. Instead of companies selling software and cross-subsidizing access to a  free network of services for customers, we will have companies selling access to a network of services and cross-subsidizing the development of free software.

On sofware development and biology(!)

People who attempt to understand the success of open source through an analysis of the marketplace get it wrong. They misunderstand how software lives and dies, confusing the host with what it carries. The unit of competition in the world of software is NOT the corporation, it is the PROGRAM, the code.

A proprietary program can best be understood  as a form of parasite. It resides in symbiosis with a host organism, the corporation that owns it, and draws its sustenance exclusively from the developers provided by the corporation.

…If the corporation is subsumed by another corporation,  the new host may continue to feed the program, starve it to death, or terminate it immediately in favour of some other program. In contrast, Open source programs can draw sustenance in the form of long term, stable commitments from corporations who sell services or products around the software, from devoted contractors who derive income from contracts for features development or bug fixes, or from quick relationships with casual developers who just drop off a patch and run away. The rules of participation are cultural, not contractual, and broad community participation is the WHOLE POINT.

On the future of Open Source software:

Most proprietary companies like IBM, Oracle and even Microsoft are now investing in open source. The same happens in the GIS industry. ESRI uses the GDAL raster library in ArcExplorer.  So does Google Earth. PostGIS is becoming an industry standard spatial database,  supported even by old guard companies like ESRI and MapInfo.

…What we are experiencing is not an “open source revolution”,  it’s an “open source evolution”. The progress is slow and incremental, but the movement is always in the same direction, month by month, and year by year.

We are just at the start of a transformation in the software market, where purchasers recognize that they have the option to buy the whole product and get the software for free.

And we are in the middle of a transformation in how we build software, moving very quickly from a closed corporate model,  where source code is private to an open collaborative model,  where source code is a commons.

You can watch or download the full presentation here.


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