Thursday, March 31, 2005

An Open and Shut and Open Case...

When it comes to open source, I don't know if I'm Arthur or Martha. Part of me thinks that all software should be free and available to anyone who wants it. I love software. I don't love paying for it. I love things like mambo and apache and subversion. I love that Brazil is finding all this extra money for her citizens by not giving it to Microsoft.

And then part of me asks why people in my industry should be denied the ability to trade the fruits of their labour in the same way that countless yak farmers have done for centuries. The company I work for, TOWER Software is a traditional proprietary software vendor - you pay for the software, you don't get the code. All things considered, I think that's fair enough. We do a lot of hard work turning brainwaves into money. Giving it away seems crazy.

Now, I've read the giving it away mantra from Mr Red Hat, and I know that it's possible to make a viable business out of open source software. But the reality is that any open source ISV has no alternative but to make money through services. The margins aren't very big, and at it's worst, doesn't this encourage ISV's to provide less stable software in order to increase revenue?

Take the case in point of Matt the WordPress guy. WordPress is a very popular and pretty good open source blogging engine. (We use it to power our internal company blog.) Well, after realising that he had a huge user base, and no money to grow his company to do better things, he started taking cash from spammers to ride the WordPress site. The reasoning goes that, because each WordPress generated page contains (by default) a link to the WordPress site, the WordPress site itself had a very high Google PageRank, which made it very attractive to advertisers.

So in order to put on his first employee, he had to sell his soul to the spammers? Hmmm.

Evil? Or a Necessary Evil?

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