Last Thursday Matt Asay over at InfoWorld's OpenSources posted a critique of Salesforce.com's new ideas.salesforce.com project, which is an effort to provide an open set of process with which members of the Salesforce community can become involved. While ideas.salesforce.com is not open source nor is Saleforce ever going to be open source, it is a good example of how open source is affecting the way software and services are delivered. Seven or eight years ago, 'monetizing eyeballs' was all the rage, now there has been a shift in focus towards building community and encouraging collaboration. Both of which are concepts that are hallmarks of open source software communities. And that's no small coincidence.
Software companies, in particular, are beginning to realize that customers want more than just shrink-wrapped products. More and more paying customers expect that the entities behind the products will make an effort to provide more channels for interaction with the company itself and with other members of the user community. The one's who do the most efficient job of providing these channels, are going to experience the most success in the years ahead. While forums, blogs, discussion boards, etc. have been around for some time, these are being adopted by businesses large and small in an attempt to foster a better sense of connectivity to the outside world as well as to deliver alternate forms of value.
The open source software movement as a whole has done more than create freely available, high quality software. It has literally served as a long-running experiment/proof of concept for how effective the concepts of transparency, idea sharing, and open exchange can be in terms of developing/cultivating viable products/services. A reality that exists in stark contrast to the idea that most of the mainstream crowd [surprisingly still] holds in their mind about open source consisting of geeks giving away their personal coding hobbies.
The essence of open source is something that has less to do with software development than most people think. Those who recognize this are attempting to adopt it in various forms, like Salesforce.com is doing, in order to keep them competitive in an increasingly global, pressurized playing field. Despite the fact that words like 'collaboration' or 'community' sound generic, they do exist and they function as sharp, competitive differentiators. Look at Google, which has taken some flak of late for not 'producing' anything else of note outside search capabilities, but is nonetheless using open processes to slowly build a platform that is going to encompass quite a bit more than just searching web pages. And last time I checked they are doing pretty well on the financial side of things.
As open source begins to further blend with open approaches to business, personal interactions, and much more, developing software and releasing it as open source won't be news anymore. And this is a good thing, not only because it implies acceptance by the masses but also because it will cause people to begin to focus on the other reasons open source is here to stay. So even if I will never agree that every software product would benefit from being made open source. I do think that the core principles of open source can be helpful far outside the realm of software development.