CyberTech Rambler

April 27, 2006

Old world and new world colliding

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:54 pm

The last forthnight was an interesting one for closed source vs open source debate. This time, the two worlds seems to be colliding with a lot of fireworks flying around.

First salvo was Oracle's Ellison's interview by the Financial Times. I do not have a Financial Times subscription, so I only have access to an "excerpt" of the Interview Excerpt. It is widely reported and draw a response from IBM (See this article) and RedHat. Then there is the launch of Freespire Project. Freespire is the "open-sourced" version on Linspire. Linspire claims to be different from other Linux distribution on the issue of "close source" friendliness. Finally, a new news report emerged yesterday from the ZDNet network about "Banks not contributing to Open Source"

What do all three news items have in common? It is about traditional business model, the closed source approach, colliding with Open Source Development model. However, there are two twists here. The first twist here is we are sparkling this debate with money, not monopoly money but real money. The overwelming impression I got from Ellison's interview is that he is a businessman trying to control the market by out maneuvering his competition. He is prepared to spend money acquiring other companies if he can drive his competitors out of the market. He kinda demonstrated it with the InnoBase acquisition. However, this time it appears that he is really unhappy that RedHat has given him a taste of his own medicine by acquiring JBOSS.

The second twist is that all three episodes can be viewed as readiness to leech on open source. For the Bank vs Open source case this is obvious. In Oracle's case, Ellison had said that Oracle has no quirm in building on open source and cited Oracle's adoption of Apache as an example("No. If an open source product gets good enough, we’ll simply take it. Take [the web server software] Apache: once Apache got better than our own web server, we threw it away and took Apache."). In Freespire case, Linspire opens itself to accusation that it trying to profit from open source with respecting community value.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Oracle News: We got from the horse mouth, the conclusive proof we need (if one is really needed) that
    • Difficult to achieve vendor lock-in. Mr Ellision is interested to "lock-in" his customers to increase Oracle's value. His words about Oracle wants offering a "full stack" of software and willingness to acquire RedHat or Novell to give IBM headaches demonstrate this. However, he finds it difficult to attempt to control open source through traditional business methods such as acquisition and (unholy) alliance.
    • It is an impetus for innovation: Oracle uses Apache, but have to innovate on top of Apache to add value.
    • At risk of being accused of mentioning the obvious, Mr Ellison is very unhappy that RedHat bought JBoss.
    • Brian Profitt Editorial on this topic at LinuxToday is worth reading.
  • Freespire case:
    • Although I do not think missing open source and closed source software the way Freespire/Linspire wants to is appropriate, I am willing to let Freespire/Linspire try it out and let the market decides.
    • PJ is obviously unhappy about it. She do raise a few valid points. She accused Linspire of "We [Linspire] like to make money from the community's free stuff without honoring community values" strategy. I would not go so far to accuse Linspire of "not" honoring community values, but will instead says that Linspire stretches community value too far. However, I welcome this challenge, a "value" is not worth its salt if it cannot withstand tests like this. "Values" do change and evolves. It is through challenges like this where values are rethink, reevaluated and emerge stronger than before.
  • Banks vs Open Source :
    • Besides the fact that they make a lot of money, how do banks behaviour differs from that of other enterprises? Banks are consumers of technologies, not providers. Hence it is not surprising that they are not contributing especially they do not see themselves in the business of making technology better.
    • Through works for Banks, there are indirect contributions from Banks into open source. Their technology suppliers who build softwares for them, such as IBM might actually used open source program. They will therefore have to tinker with open source software and put them through its paces. It is very likely that these improvement do trickle into the community.
    • Banks are rather inept at technologies. It is not unheard of that they spend a lot of money on one piece of software just to see their staffs bypassing that investment. 
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