I'm continually amazed at how few proprietary companies have begun to incorporate some of the successful elements of open source into their business models. While it's been noted that open source can learn from their proprietary brethren, the opposite is also valid. Among other things, the open source model has proven capable of:
- Delivering quality source code that can power high quality products.
- Lowering the barrier of participation for contributors.
- Engaging prospective customers.
- Leveraging the efforts of a distributed team of developers.
- Integrating user needs directly into the development process.
It does not take much effort to see how each of the above benefits the bottom line of any number of proprietary software outfits, large and small. The great thing is, not one line of source code has to be released to the public in order to make this happen. Because open source has less to do with visible source code and more about the approach/model for the business end as well as the software development side, working characteristics can be adopted by companies who never intend to release the source code for their products. In the same manner, a company can claim to be open source based solely on the fact that their source code is available for download without actually qualifying as one in full.
Right now, the proprietary method of developing software is too closed overly sales oriented. Plus it does not take reflect the reality that involving qualified participants definitely pays dividends over the long haul. Even companies at the top of the food chain (Oracle, Microsoft, SAP) are doing more to increase channels of interaction between themselves and prospective customers. Whether it's through the adoption of blogs or free forums this trend is one that has been driven in part by the standard set by open source companies. The companies which understand this first and foremost will have the advantage of establishing momentum before the trend becomes commonplace.
Since the integration of additional transparency will do nothing to harm the bottom line and everything to keep proprietary software companies relevant in the rapidly changing global IT market. The process of encouraging the establishment of user communities around a product has become a surefire method of tying some of the strengths of the open source model into non-open source company. Additionally, because communities are as natural to the human species as breathing and eating, they don't take very much top down governance while implicitly serving as a vine through which to pump and extract value into a user base.
In essence, responding to the challenge presented by open source should entail the incorporation of the very qualities that make open source the very real threat it currently is to the proprietary world.