Open Source: The Capitalists Friend or Foe?

Is open source a friend or a foe of capitalists? Depends on whether you’re already established as a software vendor (and have to defend yourself against it) or you’re a startup wanting to get to market quickly (or you’re funding said startup).

Slate has a fabulous article about open source and the perspective of SAP’s CTO Shai Agassi…which echoes what Bill Gates has said in the past as well as Steve Ballmer. The article starts out like this:

This month, SAP‘s Shai Agassi referred to open-source software as “intellectual property socialism.” In January, Bill Gates suggested that free-software developers are communists. A few years earlier, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the open-source operating system Linux “a cancer.” Considering what these guys say in public, I wonder what dark words they utter in private…that al-Qaida uses open-source software to plot terrorist attacks?

The philosophy behind open-source software is simple. Instead of zealously protecting source code—the blood and guts of any computer program—open source encourages any programmer to tear apart the code and build it back up again. The theory is that this collaborative process encourages innovation and decreases bugs by increasing the number of people with a stake in the project.

How could they have any other perspective?

Here’s the kicker though. While listening to John Furrier’s Podtech InfoTalk series of podcasts — where he talks often with venture capitalists — one refrain was a constant from the VC’s: they expect that any startup software company *will* leverage open source software. The primary reason? There is so much open source software right now (Sourceforge shows 106,235 open source projects) that using it accelerates startups so quickly that it’s now an expectation for getting funding.

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About Steve Borsch

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