The State of Open Source

By Kevin Shockey
June 26, 2012 | Comments: 1

I've spent the last 6 months actively studying the open source ecosystem. I've confirmed some of my assumptions, and discovered a few others, but the one description of the ecosystem that I think best fits is Stephen O'Grady's "The State of Open Source: Startup, Growth, Maturity or Decline?"

What is troubling me, however, is the acceptance that certain aspects of open source are in decline, and that's a natural and acceptable state. When the founders of the Open Source Initiative met, I don't think they expected that they would be so successful that key leaders in the community would one day be okay if interest in it was in decline.

Brand Management

5367326629_09d465e8c1_b.jpgFrom the beginning, open source has been an exercise in brand management. Free software was not something the corporate world would understand. So a surrogate brand was created that included aspects of the free software definition of Richard Stallman, but used different words that were more amenable to top IT leaders.

So as O'Grady rightfully indicates. certain projects are in decline, not all, just some of the most successful ones. Others are still moving through the startup, growth, or maturity phases. I say "bullocks!"

Brand Leadership

I've had several open source leaders quickly brush aside the declining interest in open source as a result of market saturation. Of course, open source is in decline, it is so well understood that reduced demand for information about open source is only natural. I say, "this is a error in the brand managmenet of open source."

Look at Pepsi and Coke. Do you think that they are willing to accept a decline in any aspect of their brand? No, they keep pushing, making sure everyone knows what they are drinking.

I propose a similar campaign for open source. Let us make sure that users of cloud computing, for example, know what they are using. They are using free and open source software. Google Drive anyone?

Every Android user should know they are using Linux. And the gazillion of other websites/services/apps that are produced either mostly or completely using FLOSS should make sure customers are aware of FLOSS.

If you're looking for some of the research I've released so far, I've got a lean startup experiment running on "Financing Freedom." If you're going to OSCON and you have the tutorials, please check out my tutorial "How to Organize and Fund Free Culture Projects."


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1 Comment

What made me start wonderring about Opensource in decline was trying to find an opensource file recovery tool. I have a digital camera and an SD card has become corrupted. I had thought that file recoveryt was so well understood that a good opensource tool would be available. This seems not to be the case and this got me thinking.

I can think of two reasons why Opensource might be in decline. First, The Internet has given anyone capable of writing good software a vast market. You could make your software free or you could make some money out of it. A lot of people will think this is a no brainer.

Secondly there seems to be a general trend away from computer which require technical knowledge to consumer products like smart phones where the maker (Samsung, Apple etc) want to control the whole experience. The companies obviously want to do this to make a lot of money but there are technical reasons too in that controlling which software can be installed, the company can have a better grip on stability.

Opensource might still flourish at a lower level for the guys who create specialist software but I had thought that eventually we would be able to get free versions of most consumer software. I think that this is now unlikely.

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