Shades of Gray

One of the problems in working with software is that you start to see the world in binary terms: 1 or 0, good or bad, black and white. When the reality is that most everything is a shade of gray. And the same is true of Open Source.

There is no outrage when someone decides to start a consulting practice. So why all the vitriol when someone decides to start an open source practice? The money is made in the same way. The open source practice simply markets its abilities by participating and contributing to the community.

Those who believe that open source is taking money out of their pockets need to look in the mirror. If open source is taking your market away, then you probably weren’t responding to the needs of the market or your market has insufficient barriers to entry. Every market has a low cost provider, open source takes it to the limit. Successful products have vibrant volunteer user communities; Microsoft has MVP’s and AOL had unpaid community leaders. If open source can build a community in your market and you can’t, then who is to blame?

But Open Source is not a silver bullet. It will always be best at commoditizing existing markets. Until the first solid release, an open source development team in a new market will be working part time, limited to grass roots marketing and without substantive customer feedback. Even strong teams with good ideas will have high infant mortality under those conditions.