Monday, May 08, 2006

Open Sesame

An Open Door

The Internet has created radical new facilities for individuals to collaborate independent of geographical and economic constraints. Riding on the wave of this capability, is the growing phenomenon of open source development and services. This altruistic, voluntary trend is impacting the economics of software production around the globe. Although some would trivialize these attempts as insignificant, many others are jumping through the open door of opportunity.

How do organizations make money from open source software? This ZDNet article summarizes how:
  • Selling related services such as packaging and documentation
  • Selling support services
  • Creating custom licenses for particular customers
  • Producing proprietary software that integrates with an open source system
Of course, the product mixing strategy requires specific due diligence for an organization to ensure that they do not compromise the open-source licensing with their proprietary distribution. Here is some helpful advice from the folks at InfoWorld:
  • Don't use open source code directly in your own code
  • Don't modify open source code to implement proprietary needs
  • Consider using open source and binaries to safeguard against inadvertent code mixing
  • Choose open source projects that are active, well matched and standards-based
  • Be sensitive to target market bias towards open source components and usage
Leave Your Baggage at the Door

The brave new world of collaborative contribution requires a significant shift in strategy and implementation. Simply seeing open source as a low-cost software solution is a sure recipe for economic failure. Here are some paradigm shifts that underpin success in this brave new world:
  • Partners, not customers. One of the most difficult shifts is moving from a traditional supplier-consumer mentality towards adopting the reality of an organic community. Customers need to be viewed as partners, consumers as contributors and users as designers. This is the most significant conceptual bridge to cross. The strategic impact of this view is critically enabling, touching every facet of organizational design. Traditional roles are radically morphed as the contributing community participates in all business processes from definition through development to testing and support.
  • The community is alive. Both complexity and innovation can rapidly accelerate relative to the health of the collaborative community. Community productivity is encouraged through empowerment: sharing information; encouraging the development of personal knowledge; rewarding performance and distributing power. Leveraging the community is a matter of influence, not management.
Walk on Through

Whether you wish to increase your personal impact, or want to capitalize on economic opportunities, you must be deliberate in stepping through the open door. Understanding the rules and dynamics of the emerging open source economy must underlie your exploration. Here are some starting points:
  • Study success stories in the open source community.
  • Contribute to an open source project or an open community.
  • Review and experiment with innovative support facilities.
  • Develop relational ties with community members.
  • Explore communication and knowledge sharing capabilities.
Keep moving. History will doubtless prove that many were left out in the cold by hesitating at this door of opprotunity.

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