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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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Most Recent Comments
Mark Murphy 04/21/08 04:45:57 PM EDT

"Savio Rodrigues had a good posting..."

If that was a "good posting", this comment might be worthy of a Pulitzer. Any article, blog posting, or whatever using the term "freetards" doesn't exactly give you much credibility. Morover, Mr. Rodrigues failed to provide any proof for his assertion that "the OSS movement has been prematurely readying Microsoft’s eulogy", among other curious unqualified statements.

"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"

The "open-source movement" doesn't have customers, any more than a libertarian has customers, or a Catholic has customers. Open source is a development model (see http://www.opensource.org/), Free Software is a philosophy (http://www.fsf.org/about/what-is-free-software), and neither are a company.

If you want to cite how individual firms offering open source solutions are or are not paying attention to TCO, that's a fine comparison to make. But comparing the "open-source movement" to Microsoft makes no sense.

"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."

And if it takes you 8 hours to get the equivalent not-free product working, it cost you the price of the product plus 8 hours labor.

In other words, all products have TCO to consider, not just "free" ones. Once again, you need to compare like constructs -- pointing out that "free" software has non-zero TCO and ignoring the fact that non-free software also has non-zero TCO is poor journalism.

"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"

Again, though, this is not a free vs. non-free issue. Most commercial COBOL installations are not free, yet there may be more Dojo developers than COBOL developers available for hire. Any given technology may have more developers than some other technology. You have not demonstrated how this can be construed as being a free/not-free issue.

"Thinking that free is the only aspect of software that matters is freetarded."

There's that word again. Free Software is a philosophy; calling Free Software advocates "freetards" is a slur no different than the slurs for Jews used by people who don't agree with their philosophy. Please explain why your use of slurs makes your article a better piece of journalism.

"Time for open source software vendors to think beyond free."

You might consider, possibly, listing some vendors you believe are not thinking "beyond free", rather than simply setting up a straw man to back your slurs.

derk 04/19/08 09:53:37 PM EDT

You guys left out one major open source successful product - Apache web server, which is owning 55% to 75% of the market.

bumpy 04/19/08 10:31:25 AM EDT

Time for you to think beyond "free as in beer". Think about "free as in freedom". Software whose source code is secret is worthless to me.

lefty.crupps 03/16/08 03:00:10 PM EDT

Free Software has a more important version of Free than its cost -- it's the freedoms to use, modify, and distribute the software under the GPL. *That* is the importance of Free software (and the emphasis), not its cost.

A. Banerji 03/16/08 03:47:33 AM EDT

Is absolute figure (Redhat v Microsoft) the only determinant of success? A redhat may die tomorrow, M$ can also follow it's worthy predecessors of the 60s - ICL died ... were they dealing in freeware?

It's all about adaptive business model. If Google is still doing well today (with mostly freebies for the average user), it's got nothing to do with the meaningless free v patent controversy ... Google has got it right so far - tomorrow's another day.

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