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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Open Source & Innovation : Far Apart

There's a mistaken belief, held for a long time that open source can foster innovation. Keith Sawyer writes, the open source model almost never generates breakthrough innovation. He points out that when Krzysztof Klincewicz, a management professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, analyzed the 500 top open source projects on SourceForge.net, he found that only 5 of the 500 - one percent - were examples of radical innovation.

Part of the attraction towards open source is that the old model of innovation was strong central management, hierarchical reporting lines, and a linear staged process from the R&D lab through to the production floor. His submission is that the open source model turns this on its head; no central control, and a distributed and diffused network of experts. The key to breakthrough innovation is to find the right balance between these two opposed models

I am fond of the statement by Larry McVoy, a close ally in the past to Linus Torvalds, creator of the open source Linux operating system, also an industry veteran who has developed operating system software at Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics.

- Open source as a business model, in isolation,is pretty much unsustainable.You have to have a business model that will let you recoup those costs. These arguments are exceedingly unpopular. Everyone wants everything to be free. No one can show how to build a software-development house and fund it off open source revenue. It can not be done !

- The open source guys can scrape together enough resources to reverse engineer stuff. That's easy. It's way cheaper to reverse engineer something than to create something new. But if the world goes to 100% open source, innovation goes to zero.

His view on where innovation would come from : source companies will make commodity knockoffs and eke out tiny profits, while traditional "closed source" companies will develop innovative products and earn fatter profits.

In my view, open source has a long way to go to become really core inside enterprises. Open-source products are a good solution in some circumstances. In the enterprise space, open-source offerings have limited revenue or installed base they are not a significant factor in the market, except in pockets of infrastructure space. Most organizations shy away from production deployment of pure open-source technology above the infrastructure stack without fool proof and proven models of product/maintenance/service needed for production deployment. As Michael Hickins shows, open-source community needs to get over its overweening sense of superiority and messianic inevitability, change gears and try things diferently. Its a long long battle ahead for open source movement to get stronger to be considered a candidate for fostering sustainable innovation

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