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Innovation of Open Source Software

For the geologists in the crowd, I will attempt to date myself in the technology equivalent of the rock record.  I love getting together with techies and trying to see who was the first to deploy xyz; “I installed Novell Network 0.9”, “I had the very first DEC PDP 11”, “We had the first IBM MVS OS in the state”, “I stood in line at the Apple store for the first iPhone”, and the list goes on and on and on.

 

One pattern has been very consistent in technology.  As the physical presence of technology becomes more accessible to a greater population, the rate of change increases at a proportional rate (consider this Craig’s fourth law of thermodynamics).  For the record, technology doesn’t simply encompass computing. Consider gun powder, steel production, electricity, etc.  The reason for this is simple; a greater population of minds is able to apply the technology to their specific problems and thereby create a new solution.

 

The ‘90s ushered in Open Source software.  Unlike shareware, Open Source (as the name implies) didn’t simply provide an executable, it supplied the raw source code whereby users could take the product as is or change / enhance it to suit their needs. One caveat, however, is if you alter the code, you, in turn, place your changes back into the public domain for others to share.  An entire ecosystem of innovation was birthed overnight.  The crowning moment was the introduction of a true multitasking, multi-user, operating system (OS) named Linux.  Linus Torvald’s single greatest achievement was not just supplying the technology world with an operating system but also supplying the world with a platform for innovation.

 

The concept of an entire operating system that could be molded to an individual’s personal needs and uses revolutionized the world of technology.  Pair an open OS with development tools like C++, IDEs, and ultimately a GUI and make it hardware independent – you now have the ingredients available for anyone with an inexpensive computer to create, and create they have!  Before Open Source, a young software developer would have had to purchase a proprietary Operating System, a proprietary Integrated Development Environment, and a proprietary set of software libraries.  I know, it cost me nearly $3,000 per developer in the 1990s to simply outfit software engineers on my team.

 

Today every smart television, smart appliance, and the majority of smartphones are driven by Linux derivatives and Open Source software.

 

Enter the bean counters.

 

Accountants as a rule are great people — not necessarily people to invite to a social event, but great people nonetheless.  A subset of these fine folk has developed a nasty habit; identify a unique piece of technology, acquire it, create a proprietary hook, sell the hound out of it, flip the company (either with an IPO or other transaction), take the cash, rinse, repeat.  The challenge for the consumer then becomes the end of this wash cycle.  After a product has been acquired by the second generation investor, it is only a matter of time before the product is obsolete and cast aside, leaving the consumer to pick a new solution.

 

This investment model has now started encroaching into the Open Source software community because that’s where innovation is occurring.

Coming next… Independence of Open Source Software

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