Will Google Kill Open Source? (And Do Open Developers Have to Be Underpaid?): Page 3

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About 70% of the people I knew who were OSS advocates 5 years ago are no longer in the software business; that is clearly not scientific, but it should concern someone. Granted, if you bring this up folks hold their hand over their ears and sing the FUD song, but that doesn’t fix the problem, now does it? What is fascinating to me is that people writing me over the last several months, after singing the FUD song, confirm they are actually thinking of getting out of the software business. These people represent themselves as avid OSS supporters.

While this may seem inconsistent it is, however, consistent with what large companies do when they are told information they don’t want to hear. They ignore the information even if, personally, they may be planning to react to it. (I can recall a report I put out years ago at IBM talking about turning around a problem business unit. Executives vocally disagreed, but then generally left the company a few weeks after reading the negative report).

Even technology publications are hurt, if OSS companies can’t afford to market they don’t advertise and tech pubs live off of advertising. At some point the market better realize it’s killing itself by not ensuring a solid return on the labor invested in it. In many ways, I wonder if OSS may be a late casualty of the dotcom years.

Dotcom History

For those of us that covered the dotcom years the problem came down to one big thing: a complete avoidance of financial fundamentals. People were building products and services that either didn’t have defined customers or revenues that ever could exceed costs, often both. Free was in, everyone was running around saying they could provide the next big thing and Netscape was the example, a company that largely gave away their product and still was successful, for awhile anyway.

Of course, in Netscape’s case, they actually were trying to sell something and collapsed when they actually shifted to Free and belatedly learned that the right model was closer to what Yahoo and Google adopted, with minimal focus on the browser and a lot of focus on what the browser was connected to.

Open Source grew up during this time, and many who support it undoubtedly benefited from the rise, but the concept of Free, as in Free Beer, should likely have been abandoned or at least enhanced to ensure that people earned a fair return for their contribution to the effort. That wasn’t done, and with regard to the people actually building the Open Source stuff there are still a lot of very strong contributors who help make companies like Google successful but don’t share in that success. And I doubt will continue to do so indefinitely.

Look At the Outcomes

If you look at what appears to be the outcome of all of this OSS focus, Microsoft is still reporting record revenues but is just as clearly not the power player they once were. That spot has been taken by Google, a company that makes massive amounts of money from Open Source software but doesn’t seem to contribute back any more than Microsoft does (and no I don’t think Free Search and Google Apps count).

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