After contemplating how exactly open source meets the needs of CEO's and shareholders and subsequently coming to a similar conclusion as Seth Godin did, it struck me perhaps the issue at hand isn't so much how open source meets the needs of those in the boardroom or executive suite or even the datacenter (it happens to meet the needs of all those mentioned and more, by the way) but how this happens and how evident is that fact. Since I tend to mention the word 'value' quite a bit (the business value of open source, the value of community, etc.) it's probably relevant for me to explain how value is best expressed, as a means of providing a clearer picture of what it actually is.
Level of expressed value <= quality of (vision + execution + communication)
It might seem a tad vague to boil this conversation down to what looks like basic algebra, but I think the above equation serves as a caption for one of the ways value can be perceived and the different ingredients which should be present in order to justify its existence. As is evident, the level of value which can be grasped by a larger majority of persons never exceeds the sum of the quality of vision, execution and communication [where my use of the less than or equal comparison operator is an indicator that there are actually numerous other variables of note not shown]. Still, the point is that it's illogical to assume how well and clearly a value proposition is to those at the outer edges without investigating the sum effects of lucidity of vision, execution and communication.
In terms of the current state of open source software (and not just software but open anything) today, I would have to say that there's enough value busting from its seams that we've only begun to scratch the surface of quantifying and leveraging it. However, the amount of value being expressed to those 'outside the know' could be related with something such as the following, all use of imprecise generalities aside:
Perceived value of OSS outside close circles = (1/1000) * (actual value)
I chose 1/1000 not randomly, but based on personal experience observing industry trends and interacting with those who do the same as well as those that don't. Accordingly I've come to realize that open source has done an incredible job of 'spreading the gospel' as far as the outer limits of its extended community, but not as efficient in establishing new outlets for expanding its reach. Some counter that those who want to know will find what they need, but that assumes they only desire to acquire a rudimentary level of comprehension. For example, gaining a solid understanding of how open source is valuable in today's technical and business climate is far more complex than grasping its different types of licenses. While understanding both as a whole is thoroughly important, as truly effective evangelism doesn't stem from blind ideology but from a core of grounded knowledge.
At the outset of the movement towards open source software, this sort of insider's edge was not only self-serving but mandatory. Before it came to mean more than GNU Linux and gcc, it would have been utterly pointless to extend past the boundaries of those immediate communities. At that time, barriers to the acquisition of information was actually a useful filtering mechanism for identifying those best suited for involvement. Lean and mean tends to be most proficient when establishing a rooted foundation at ground level.
However, some years and several phases of growth cycles later, this is no longer the case. Now it is time for as many as possible to become aware of what is occurring. At this point too much awareness and understanding is an oxymoron. Granted, there has been a flood of interest surrounding open source as well as a rapid explosion within the closer circles of involvement I mentioned above. Yet inroads need to be made towards increasing my extrapolated 1/1000 factor instead of creating what amounts to successive layers of esoteric knowledge.
Since I happen to be a big fan of platforms and try to envision individual open source software operations as such, with their related services and channels. One such purpose of doing so is to change the perception of open source software from solely product or project centric to a viewpoint which captures the essence of how the open source model provides multiple layers of value to a wide range of people. In this case the point isn't to 'convert' anyone rather it is to continuously stretch the limits of those who can be ably reached.
The great part is that increasing levels of perceived value doesn't have to be done using marketing magic but by better packaging the natural-born characteristics of open source. The focus of this packaging should be to concisely express the who/what/why/where/how of the open source value proposition while its delivery should be constructed to reach those who might be in the proverbial dark about some or all of it. A strategy worth exploring may lie in finding better methods of culling the vast quantity of user-generated information already available in the form of blogs, wiki's, etc. and distilling it into a unified format which can be more easily digested. Or a solution might be for the community to simply reach out more consistently. Whatever the case, the fact that perception shapes reality is one that has some penetrating implications for the future growth of open source software in general.