Matt's Mind

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Open source getting down to business

I had a revelation about the real reason for open source's huge acceptance for business use the other day courtesy of Linux kernel maintainer Andrew Morton (Linus's right-hand man). I was listening to Andrew's address to SD Forum where he made the blindingly obvious but brilliant observation that free market economics doesn't work for core infrastructure like operating systems and backend services.

The reason you can't have real competition (and thus a free market) for infrastructure technology is simply because the cost of swapping infrastructure massively outweighs any potential gains - you can't switch without re-tooling, re-training and possibly buying new hardware.

So we either have a convergence on a closed monopoly (Microsoft) or we agree on an open infrastructure and concentrate on making money in a free market in the things that we can mix and match (Linux and its software stack). And it's mostly in IT infrastructure that open source is making a killing right now, Linux hosting, Apache web serving, BIND DNS provision, Samba file sharing, etc.

We have little reason to worry, like we might have a decade ago, that Microsoft will be able parlay its monopoly in the desktop space into a monopoly in the server space - the emergence of Linux and the rallying of many of the key IT players behind it (IBM, Sun, etc) put an end to that possibility.

Andrew goes on to express the refreshingly sensible opinion that open source is just a sound method of doing business, not a religion, philosophy or way of life. Closed source development is just as "legitimate", both systems can work depending on the ecosystem they're working in.