Doc Searls' On valuing freedom more than cushy jail cells seemed to resonate with a great deal of what I've been writing about as of late. So I decided to add a bit of parallel commentary. Granted, Doc has a lifetime full of colorful and practical experiences on which to draw when making a point, yet I'll attempt to follow his post with one which doesn't totally bore the 18 Bloglines users who subscribe to my feeds here.
I've had the opportunity to write about the concept of collective competition in the past and the deeper I peer into the dynamics of the open source software industry, the more convincing the fact, that this concept is at the heart of its maturation, becomes. In the same breath, Doc makes mention of the fact that the closed, silo'd business models so prevalent in our current value system actually serve to reduce overall growth and health prospects. I agree wholly. I also tend to view the current value system as a qualified initiator since companies (especially those of the publicly traded variety) are under constant pressure to exhibit forms of ever-increasing profit growth as a sign of stability. Under these circumstances very little, apart from the bottom line, is valued. This pressure has caused a premium to be placed on gaining lock-in as part of overall business strategy, where Microsoft (not throwing stones, just stating facts) reigns as the modern standard for super profits achieved through lock-in.
On the other hand, the open source software marketplace has fomented a balancing force to the proprietary segment of the software industry by providing alternatives to software created to perpetuate vendor lock-in. Instead open source has relied on a concept I refer to as inter lock-in. A term which describes the manner in which specialized components are mixed and matched into the process of developing modular, comprehensive ones. These feature complete pieces are, in turn, interdependent (inter for short) on the various components which they leverage. The result of high levels of organic reuse creates a situation where open source is literally locked-in to the availability of other open source.
Interestingly, inter lock-in doesn't breed tension between those involved, instead it encourages collaboration through contribution and participation within respective communities. At the same time, the "hook" for users is freedom of choice afforded by software whose main purpose isn't to restrict and limit that choice. Where they aren't viewed as entities to be trapped or locked down. Likewise, communities invested in the output of others often contribute to the health of those to ensure their own robustness (see: examples of involvement by the broader open source community with the Apache Software Foundation). In place of the eat-or-be-eaten mentality exhibited by proprietary players, it's a feed-to-get-fed mindset that rules. And all of it is made possible by open source code.
Another angle to inter lock-in is how it creates bi-directional dependencies that are not only technology-centric but also methodology based. Once a community or vendor stakes claim to the open source model and begins to draw both other open source and users into the fold based on that fact, open source becomes part of its DNA. This is one reason I believe the threat that commercial open source outfits will chose to "close off" their product line and run, actually decreases exponentially over the progression of time and growth. It isn't about a brand issue related to marketing rather it's simple dynamics. The larger the vendor, the more that's at stake in abdicating its open source arm. Exactly the point where forms of closed, runaway accountability that feeds vendor lock-in goes out the window.
The interlocked-in layers of open source software have only spawned the initial set of opportunities for profitable businesses to sprout around them, one of the first points where a concept like collective competition is relevant from an industry perspective. Jasper for MySQL is a prime example of how this is taking shape. JasperSoft and MySQL, two leaders in open source BI and DBMS got together to help meet the needs of OEM's who need to [from the website] "...cost-effectively embed Jasper for MySQL into their applications, which adds value to their solutions and gives users access to a complete reporting functionality." This may not sound like a testimony to inter lock-in seeing how partnerships like this occur everyday outside of the open source marketplace. However, both products are in a position to partner because of open source. It's a natural fit for MySQL to choose JasperSoft for a similar set of reasons on that initially attracted Ingres. After speaking with Nick Halsey of JasperSoft last week, he concurred that the open source model will push a new wave of feature-completeness at significantly lower price points than is offered from the proprietary side. A push which is set to bring more choice and value without the archaic concept of vendor lock-in.
Eventually, I see the interdependence within inter lock-in evolving into a pervasive interoperability that spans the entire open source landscape (isn't this already becoming a reality?). Will we see a day where inter lock-in is standard within the software industry? I can't speak to that, but it's safe to say that it's definitely changing the game.