Apparantly I'm a communist - who knew?

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (633 Words)

It looks like SAP has thrown it’s hat in with Microsoft by viewing open source as akin to socialism (Gates went even further and suggested it was communism, I’m sure McCarthy would have liked to have him on his side back in the 50s). There argument is that if there is no financial incentive to invent, ie strong IP laws, then nobody will. On a very simplistic level they have a point.

The trouble is that like most sweeping statements, it assumes a homogenous world where one size fits all and there is one solution to everything. The more extreme fringes of the open source movement are just as bad, in projecting the mirror image - that open source is the ‘one true way’ and that all closed source software is inherently evil.

Both extremes of view fail to acknowledge that the world of software requirements is a continuum, not a fixed set of discrete points. Choosing what type of software to use is a complex equation, it can never be summed up in the sound bites that either of these camps use to justify their case. There are pros and cons to all things - closed source can often bring a richer or more specialised experience (e.g. Visual Studio, OSX, ) because of the additional resource that has been invested, open source comes with additional flexibility, lower cost and better future-proofing (since you avoid all the corporate shenanigans such as forced upgrade cycles, product withdrawls, proprietary content formats and such).

Closed source software can only survive when it offers something above and beyond a commodity software experience. It’s true that by and large, rather than radically innovating most open source is mostly involved in recreating the underpinnings for software services that already exist, just in a more flexible and cost-effective fashion. This is not a bad thing - as time goes on, an increasing swathe of core software services can be provided extremely reliably by open source software. This should only bother software companies that are willing to rest on their laurels, raking in disproportionate amounts of cash from aging product lines which no longer feature much that is innovative. So, people like SAP then. 😀

I see a bright future for the co-existence of open source and closed source software. Open source can provide an ever increasing, ultra-solid and cheap base for services we all should be able to take for granted by now (that’s things like web/file/database servers, and many other classes of product that have been around for donkeys years). Companies that rely on milking their customers every year whilst doing little new won’t be able to compete with that, and they deserve to lose revenue. Genuinely innovative closed source solutions can sit on top of the increasingly commoditised base, and companies doing that will still be able to charge for these additions, provided they add value the customer can see and touch (and similarly, open source advocates should accept their right to do so). Open source will eventually catch up of course, which is why you have to keep on innovating. Sounds like a good incentive to me. This should be viewed as inevitable and a natural cycle of progression - after all, what’s innovative about charging people for the same product every year? Are people like SAP really talking about their right to innovate, or their right to take a breather without having to worry?

The tags ‘communist’ and ‘capitalist’ are outdated and inaccurate when applied to the modern software world. This isn’t the roaring 80’s anymore, people - time to rethink your world view. A combination of community and investment-led innovation is the way of the future, and companies that see things is such black-and-white contrasts are unlikely to be on the leading edge of that.