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Viewpoint: Time for Open Source Software Vendors to Think Beyond Free

Thinking that free is the only aspect of software that matters is "freetarded" - Microsoft is onto us

Of the many sins that Silicon Valley practices, none are more dangerous or prevalent than the sin of smugness. Savio Rodrigues had a good posting recently making the point that Microsoft is learning from and adapting to the open-source movement, while the open-source movement is so enamored with "free" that they are not paying enough attention to the total cost of ownership from a customer's perspective.

Let's be clear - the free part of open source is a great innovation and worthy of a few minutes of self-satisfaction. The aftermath of the Y2K bubble was the erection of enormous barriers around IT to prevent tem from trying anything new that would cost the company money.

Free provides a "frictionless" entry point for new technology products into the corporation after finance barred the door. Free also enables technology self-service across the corporation, making it possible for anyone with an internet connection and a geek gene to get as wired as they wanna be.

However, free is only worth so much. If it takes me 3 hours to get my "free" open source download working, it cost me however much I or my boss thinks my time is worth x 3 = not free. Similarly, even if an open source product (for example Dojo) is technically superior in every way to Silverlight, that superiority is of no practical value if it is easy to hire experienced Silverlight developers but next to impossible to find, let alone hire, Dojo developers.

Thinking that free is the only aspect of software that matters is freetarded. This is where Microsoft can beat the open source community in general, just as its .NET platform is beating J2EE.

Let me quote from the insanely great Fake Steve Jobs blog:

Red Hat, the single company freetards always point to when they want to prove that open source can make money, has turned inept, with nothing but bluster and bravado and a deluded belief that they're actually a thorn in Microsoft's paw. Bottom line: they're the new Borland. They're 15 years old and have been publicly traded since 1999 and last year they did all of $400 million a year in sales. Microsoft does more than $1 billion a week. That's right. Red Hat's entire fiscal year is a good three days for Microsoft.
Microsoft is onto us. Time for open source software vendors to think beyond free.

More Stories By Christopher Keene

Christopher Keene is Chairman and CEO of WaveMaker (formerly ActiveGrid). He was the founder, in 1991, of Persistence Software, a San Mateo, CA-based company that created a new approach for managing data in high-transaction banking and communications systems. Persistence Software investors included Cisco, Intel, Reuters and Sun Microsystems. The company went public in 1999 on the NASDAQ exchange and was sold in 2004 to Progress software.

After leaving Persistence Software in 2005, Chris spent a year in France as chairman of Reportive Software, a Paris-based maker of business-intelligence tools, and as an adjunct professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD, a leading graduate business school.

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