The roots of open source software date back to the 1960s, and possibly the 1950s. In 1983, Richard Stallman started the GNU Project. But it was in the late 1990s when the term “open source” started to enter into the conversations of software engineers. And now more than 10 years later, it appears that the business community still doesn’t know what to make of open source software.
The New York Times published a story today with the headline: “Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive.” The reporter, Ashley Vance, details the failures and shortcomings of open source software companies to make any “real money.”
“There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat,” Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at Citrix Systems, told the Times. “Everyone else is in trouble.”
But has making piles of money ever been the goal of open source software? And when one refers to “open source” what and who are they talking about? The term “open source” is more of an abstract idea than a particular entity so success is hard to pin down.
Take for instance the popular Debian Linux operating system. To gauge this organization’s success on market share or its profits is ridiculous. Debian consists of volunteers, has no business model and makes no money. Does that mean it’s a failure?
“The enduring appeal of open-source software revolves,” according to the Times, “more around its disruptive nature than blockbuster sales. … Meanwhile, the ideal of an independent open-source giant has faded.”
Or maybe that ideal never really existed except in the minds of corporate executives and business reporters, and perhaps open source software exists for reasons other than to pick apart software giants like Microsoft.
It could be that open source software exists because there are enough people out there that care about quality software, fast bug fixes, and not being slaves to proprietary licensing.