John M. Jordan has a very insightful perspective on the Opensource movement. He points out that Open Source has many parallels to classic scientific research: open publication, peer review, and incremental progress. Excerpts with edits & comments:
The primary incentives relate to reputation rather than commerce. Even in software, it's hard to point to examples in which an open-source community model generated something new and ready for a broad user base; Linux, Apache, MySQL, and the scripting languages (Python et al) cannot remotely be called mass-market software. Linux is also built for use. Without the commercial distributions like Red Hat and SuSE, Linux would have very few user interface refinements, include much different documentation, and lack things like liability protection and warrantees that a market demands. A new generation of for-profit companies is attempting to use open-source methods to build applications rather than infrastructure. Expressing doubt whether Mitch Kapor's Open Source Applications Foundation can bring Chandler up to the level of Kapor's last Personal Information Manager, Lotus Agenda, John points out that even though the teams can once again follow established patterns of an existing package, it still remains to be seen how well the open source model applies to more "productized" offerings. As there's money to be made in the integration of free and/or open source software with both commercial software and in-house applications, some VCs are backing several startups in this sector. Just because open source is not for profit, some observers fall into the altruism trap. Experience suggests there is a third way here: in no way can the model be described as a charity, which means that managing in or near an open source environment raises unique challenges. A major and often overlooked cornerstone of the open source model is transparency: beta code is released early and often precisely because it will be imperfect. For all of open source's impact, which is difficult to overstate in its home terrain, we may have to wait some time until we see new drugs, fashions, or buildings built on parallel communities. For opensource supporters - the overarching lesson, whether from code, campaigns, or cookies, is clear: new communications tools are facilitating new kinds of political, social, and economic interactions, the implications of which we're only beginning to comprehend.