Gapingvoid Got It Wrong

by Sam Ramji on April 19, 2007 04:18pm

A few key people in the industry (Stephen Walli and Matt Asay in particular) pointed out the flaws in Hugh Macleod’s strip on Open Source.  I like the Blue Monster idea (there’s some real passion in that art) but this one missed the mark, because Hugh framed the issue wrong.  Hugh is clearly a smart guy and is in the process of learning about this field of software.  The resulting discussion on Hugh’s blog was quite productive thanks to multiple viewpoints – including members of the Microsoft ecosystem that we are serving today.

However, Hugh’s approach is not in line with Microsoft’s strategy.

Here is my attempt to get the conversation on the right track by providing our official viewpoint:

There is a basic problem when people frame “traditional software vs. open source software” – the assumption that there is a zero-sum game to be played and that therefore it is war.

This is a mistaken understanding.  Software is technology.  It can be delivered as  a product or as a solution.  It must meet the needs of its users.  Users come in different segments as defined by their needs and their ability to communicate with each other about the technologies they are using.

This may seem obvious, but segments vary!  High-level, simplistic discussions of “A vs. B” miss the reality that there are different right answers – and sometimes multiple right answers – for any given segment.

I have personally heard – among other places, at the Open Source Software Think Tank 2007 – enterprise CIOs state exactly this: “I don’t have time for science experiments.”  I believe this was Max Rayner, CIO of SurfControl.  You can take that quote as disparaging open source, or you can include the context of the statement, which is this: enterprise CIOs are looking for technologies that solve their problems.  Their definition of the problem includes long-term viability, mission-critical support, and interoperability with their other technologies.  So what this quote means is “if you have a technology for me – open source or not – you have to provide for my key concerns.”  Companies like Novell, Red Hat, JBoss, and MySQL have built businesses based on meeting these needs.  This is reality.  It is foolish to label these companies and their customers, users, and community as playing with things that are “not proven” or “science experiments”.

This is not a war.  This is about technology.

It’s only a war when we hold on to hunter-gatherer era tribal mentalities and say “Our way is good!  Their way is bad!”

It turns out there’s a non-zero-sum game to be played here by working together, communicating intelligently, and thinking through the details.  But it will never happen while we hold on to old, fuzzy ideas about competition and tribalism.

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