Open season

Azhar writes a succinct summary of the open source movement:

“Open source has at least three benefits for conventional enterprises. First, it creates new wealth and new businesses, such as the Linux-based consultancy Red Hat, which now has an annual turnover of $100m. Second, it stops companies reinventing the wheel in areas of open source research, and thus releases time and money for more fruitful activity. Third, open source’s decentralised methods may, as we have seen, produce results otherwise unobtainable.”

Open source, at first glance to the grizzled business analyst, is counter-intuitive. How can you sell any milk if you give the cow away for free? In the press, the open source movement has been compared to everything from hippie communes to Communism, with a touch of mocking, damning praise.

But open source makes its money in consultancy and support. The cow may be free, but the farmhands and milking machines cost extra. Open sources licenses also encourage participation; enhancements or alterations to the common source code are often released back into the community. With this “pay it forward” scheme, thousands of coders contribute to the good of the code. With so many people looking at the code, bugs are detected and squashed quickly. New versions are released very rapidly. The Mozilla project, for instance, releases a new test build of its popular browser software every night.

It has caught the attention of a few companies. Companies like, oh, IBM and Sun Microsystems. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.