February 3, 2005

Analysis: The economics of commercial open source

Author: Lajos Moczar

Editor's note: This is the second article in the series "The Open Source Monopoly." The goal of the series is to expose a trend in open source that is leading to the creation of a new breed of "effective" monopolies by commercial open source companies. The third and final article, "A Call for Open Source Reform," (to be published Friday here on ITMJ) presents some solutions to the current trend in open source and offers a challenge to the open source community for reform.

This article expands upon my previous one, "The Open Source Monopoly". In it, I laid out the premise that commercial open source (COS) companies the likes of Red Hat, MySQL, and JBoss are examples of a new trend in the open source movement. In this trend, which I call the "Commercial Model" of open source; these companies have positioned themselves to be the de facto "names" in the open source movement. While this may be seen as a natural evolution of the marketplace, I believe that it violates the true spirit of open source, a spirit based in freedom, artistic expression, and technological innovations. The result of this trend is what I am calling an effective monopoly, one in which a select group of brand-name open source companies dominate the industry. Thanks to this monopoly, open source is ending up less the revolution it was intended to be and more an opportunity for the industry at large to redefine old practices under new terms.

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