Commercial Intent

A point I have made often in my blog over the past year and a half is about the commercial implications of "open" solutions. The fact is, the big money and human resources being applied to projects such as the ODF specification process and/or large OSS dev projects such as Linux are being done for commercial gain. Fine, great - more competition is good. I love the idea that our product teams need to crank out better products if we are to remain successful. Let's focus though on the real drivers behind all of the "openness" rhetoric. Commercial intent is not dirty or unsavory - it is in fact good for all of us who think that earning a living working on software is a good thing.

Do you suppose that because IBM has been so strongly advocating that governments avoid the evils of closed APIs and trade secrets (truly pernicious things), that they are going to open source all of the Lotus technology? Or is it open enough because of the XML-based format? Might it be that commercial interests (IBM earns >$15B in revenue from software = >35% of their profits) would suggest that open is good some of the time, but closed might be reasonable too provided you continue to deliver value?

*****Updated May 16 - 3:30pm (PST)*****

A second article poped up today that is instructive in this same vein of thought. Louis Saurez-Potts from CollabNet makes it very clear that this is about product competition. He would like to see OpenOffice succeed and is concerned that the dev projects to create technical interoperability between ODF and Office will extend the life of Office. I'm of the opinion that the value built into the features and functions of the Office products will extend the life of the product more than any possible effect of the file formats.

Comments (1)
  1. Wesley Parish says:

    FWIW, my name is on at least one of the petitions to IBM to open as much of the source tree of OS/2 as IBM owns, under the CPL or whatever OSI-approved license IBM approves of.

    Personally, I would like to see IBM open the Lotus SmartSuite source tree under a similar scheme to the one suggested for IBM OS/2 – mostly to offset the opportunity cost of purchasing it in the first place then letting it stagnate.  If it’s free to good home, it’s free to take off, and the lesser chance any one company has of shutting down competition in the OfficeSuite marketplace.

    I expect IBM will need to open the source tree for Lotus Notes sooner or later, to ease its adaption to a web-centric world.  Or to put it more bluntly, to enable it to survive when the mindshare is taken by FOSS web collaboration tools.

    IBM has reported it is opening its WebSphere under an OSI-approved license, or at least its base as Community WebSphere, and keeping its upper levels proprietary under one of the ideas suggested on the OSI website.

    And in relation to the last point, mentioning Louis Suarez-Potts’s views: I might point out that I am one of those F/LOSS heretics who don’t believe in "taking out" Microsoft.  minimsft makes the point – repeatedly – that Microsoft is doing that quite adequately on its own, thank you, and doesn’t need anyone else helping, thank you very much – which is why minimsft’s so angry.

    Indeed, I have been known to advocate keeping Microsoft products alive – stuff like MS Office 97 and MS Win98 and MS WinNT 4.0, with the source trees opened under the Microsoft Community License, since Microsoft is no longer supporting them and is indeed in active competition against them.  Most "Mom’n’Pop" stores I have come across, still rely on those products, and Microsoft’s abandoning them is adequate reason why those source trees should be opened.

    Can’t get any more heretical than that, for a F/LOSSer, now, can you?!

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