For those who may not be aware, Matthew Aslett (one of my personal favorite blogging analysts) has tendered a strong post titled "Is FOSS heading for an identity crisis?"I thought the points raised therein are well-stated and spot-on, especially the parallels between the gay rights and Green movements. In general, this brand of "where does open source go from here" assertions are coming into vogue as the very definition of open source continues to take shape.
This has left a great deal of leading prognosticators in the dark about the path upon which FOSS finds itself. A sterling example of this fact is the Forbes piece titled, "Cash Me Out," which afforded mainstream pub to open source but was laced with a number of far-reaching, lazily placed generalities. That being said, I understand that bold, striking statements is what the online editors at Forbes require from writers but an honest examination of shifting cultural dynamics of open source must be undertaken with the following facts in mind:
- Commercial outfits built around the open source software model are businesses first and foremost. The profit-generating mechanisms that they are, businesses are amoral. Therefore, drawing associations between the decisions of those running open source companies with the larger FOSS movement is a delicate matter. That being said, there are real people behind these companies who understand (and even appreciate) the values underlying FOSS, only they are compelled to act primarily in the interest of an individual company.
- There is no idealogical rift between FOSS and adjacent commercial activities. Why? Because, they are separate spheres of activity...that's why. The sale of x open source companies does not imply that FOSS is being co-opted by proprietary forces. As a matter of fact, it has more to do with the timing, dynamics and marketplace conditions surrounding the purchases than the overall state of FOSS. If a movement could be controlled solely through commercial channels, Microsoft would have taken to snapping up open source companies a long time ago. And that's the thing, even if every single open source company is acquired, FOSS will remain in tact. The converse is also true: the growth of commercial activity surrounding open source does not signal the decline of FOSS.
- There is no dominant mode of existence within the open source domain. I consider it a good thing when companies adopt FOSS principles and integrate them into forms of hybrid/eclectic approaches to the business of software. I look at this as part of an ongoing evolutionary cycle. So from my perspective, debate regarding the "purity" of FOSS is more ideological than anything else. One other note on this subject: In my eyes, it was the FOSS movement that paved the way for open source (in its commercial, hybrid and more "pure" forms). And for every direct relationship between the expanding, and increasingly commercialized, open source landscape there are numerous indirect, less-obvious ones help create a complex dynamic between FOSS principles and commercial open source.
- The values underpinning the FOSS movement and those that drive open source business models aren't necessarily interchangeable. I alluded to this above, but my point is that there isn't a unifying set of goals, values and/or directives that can be used to evaluate any and everything open source. There ARE certain characteristics that are absolute, but that's about it. After all, FOSS principles were never meant to serve as the moral authority for usage of the term open source. Meaning a commercial entity should feel free to choose from the FOSS palette during the process of painting a picture of success and profitability.
I'd love to hear what anyone else has to say on this matter...