Glyn Moody's piece over on the Linux Journal highlighted what is becoming a common suggestion following the MySQL acquisition, i.e. that the purchase of one of the most successful commercial open source companies foreshadows the "fate" for similar outfits. To credit Glyn's perspective, there is a noticeable rash of acquisitions that have begun to characterize the face of "open source success" as of late, each of which has generated a fair share of coverage so there's not much need to rehash details at this point. However, in spite of the tendency to note solely that "big proprietary guys" are buying the "upstart open source kids," consideration of the effects of such mergers and acquisitions should not be limited to a proprietary VS. open source/winner-loser perspective.
Interestingly, the increasing number of corporate divisions composed of formerly independent open source firms speaks more to an industry-wide transition than to the co-opt of one model (open source) by another (proprietary). By that I mean, openness has begun to emerge as a critical feature of software ecosystems that are intent on effectively competing in the marketplace. When coupled with the trend of consolidation that has gripped the entire software industry it has resulted in the buyout of several notable open source companies...a direction that will continue over the next 12-18 months but also one that isn't relegated to the open source space. In fact, Oracle's purchase of BEA does more to validate that this is definitely an industry-wide condensation phase if nothing else.
On a related note Glyn's article briefly mentioned shaken investor confidence in light of recent troubles in world stock markets across the world, but did little to highlight the fact that the public markets in the U.S. aren't exactly a safe bet now that the dreaded "r-word" continues to circle key economic and financial circles. Additionally, since no one is sure how long this economic downturn will last, the prospect of "riding the storm out" isn't as appealing as it might have been 6 to 8 months ago. Along the same lines, as larger, traditional software companies witness the rapidly decreasing degree of sustainability of their closed product portfolios I expect that open source will become complete its transformation from a competitive threat to a feature of overall corporate strategy. And these companies will have to consider the overall costs of instilling openness themselves (a risk-laden prospect) versus snapping it in the M&A markets.
Currently acquisition ranks as the preferred method for adapting to the potential threat/opportunity presented by open source disruption, but it's my perspective that various forms of direct investment in open source ecosystems will out pace a great deal of the acquisition activity by 2010. More companies will recognize the value of aligning with open source efforts outside of looking to buy the commercial operations behind them. This should result in a new wave of partnerships, technology integration agreements and more community involvement by large corporations, one which will strengthen the crop of "surviving" open source vendors.
The bottom line is that the dynamics of industry evolution/change which have shaped open source as an emergent, productive force all operate in conjunction with actions of industry players both large and small. So while recent acquisitions provide great fodder for the blogosphere and news wire, the supposition that they will result in a dying breed of commercial open source vendor is not supported by overarching, industry-wide movements and indicators.