Regular readers of my blog know that I am an unabashed advocate of Open Source. However, in my conversations with the industry, I often come across an argument which I feel is somewhat misdirected. Even though the title of this blog post is a bit rhetorical, these arguments cannot be dismissed outright and needs some consideration. The argument in question is
Open Source != Adoption
and I will use this post to address this topic once again.
This is not my first post on this debate but I want to put my thoughts together in a post so that I can refer to this post in any future discussions. For a long time, I have been promoting the idea of Open Source as a SaaS endgame and Matthew Aslett of 451 Group disputed me on the same adoption issue and he gave very solid reasons supporting his arguments.
with open source there is life after death – if there is a committed group of developers prepared to put in the effort to keep the project alive. For many open source projects that’s a pretty big “if”.
However, the adoption problem is not uniquely related to Open Source projects alone. It is the case with even proprietary software. We have seen so many proprietary companies (big and small) going down the drain. Heck, it is a case with any product in a free market system. Then why do people talk about the adoption factor with regards to Open Source alone? Well, partly it is a result of seeing Open Source as a business model or a developmental model. Actually, Open Source is more of a philosophical platform than a monetizing strategy or development strategy. It offers the freedom to the users of the software to tinker and liberates them to innovate on top of the software. Neither the developers nor the users of the proprietary software had really understood the true power of open source till today. It is also a result of not understanding the true value of freedom itself as expressed in the open source philosophy.
Let me take a detour here and talk about one of the interesting conversations I had with someone who had spent most of his life in a country without democracy. During our discussion about democracy, he asked me “what is the point in democracy and elections when only 35% of the people vote in it”. Even though I was taken aback a bit, I took my time and explained to him that it is not about the people who don’t care about the freedom and their rights that come with it. I told him that it is always for those group of people who really want their voices heard and their rights exercised. I then went on to explain with examples that freedom and liberty are mainly spoken in the context of the minority who bother about it than the majority who don’t care one way or another. I don’t know if he really agreed with me or not but he nodded and went away.
It is the same case with respect to open source too. It is not about a big chunk of people who don’t care about the underlying source code, it is about those people, however small their number may be, who want to know what is going on with the software they are using and those who want to innovate on top of it. Let us take the case of Open Source and Cloud Computing. When pundits were busy dismissing its relevance in a cloud based world, I was passionately arguing for it not because of any adoption potential I saw but because I thought only open source can help foster a federated cloud ecosystem. Think about the difficulties people would have faced building clouds with proprietary software, especially the exorbitant costs and the issues with their licensing model (which is still based in the pre-cloud era). Think about those small service providers who want to retool their offerings to meet the needs of a cloud based world. Just like how open source played a major role in establishing the cloud model itself, it is also playing an important role in establishing federated clouds. More importantly, it will definitely play a crucial role in the next iteration too. Without the open source model, the barriers to entry are so high and only a handful could really innovate. Open Source brings the barriers down so low and opens up the opportunity for many to innovate. The adoption rate is irrelevant because it is the opportunity that matters.
Cutting down all the fluff and long winded arguments, I just want to emphasize that the freedom offered by Open Source is more important than anything else. It doesn’t matter if people take advantage of this freedom or not. It is about opportunities for those who need it and not for those who don’t care. Good Night and Good Luck.