Not Always 'Us vs. Them' in Open Source


Professors at Harvard Business School and at Stanford Graduate School of Business published a paper recently that provides a strategy for commercial software vendors attempting to stem competition from open source companies. Apparently some open source enthusiast bloggers are taking exception to the report and alleging that it was sponsored by the likes of Microsoft or Oracle. Writing at SeekingAlpha, Dennis Byron, who also blogs here at IT Business Edge, said:

The open source blogosphere is up in arms again with its typical "don't-let-the-facts-get-in-the-way" postings against Microsoft. This time Microsoft's co-conspirators are the Stanford and Harvard business schools because two of their professors did a "study (of) how a commercial firm competes with a free open source product."

Not all open source bloggers go to such extremes. In fact, the only post about the research that I saw before reading Dennis' piece was one by Randy George for InformationWeek. And though the headline was arguably sensational with its talk of "destroying" open source, what headline isn't, within reason? A headline's job is to draw people in. That's another blog post though, and not the point I want to make today.


George didn't suggest that Microsoft or other commercial vendors had sponsored the study and then go on to bash Microsoft and the others on the "bad guy list." He said that the paper outlined a good strategy for keeping up with competitors, period, and that successful commercial open source vendors are using it effectively -- even better than most non-open source vendors.


He says, in part:

Commercialized open source shops get it. They realize their value isn't necessarily in matching the market leader feature for feature. What's really important is cost, support, and the size of the community standing behind the product.

Zenoss, according to George, is a prime example of a company that has done just that and done it well. He says the open source-based network management system vendor isn't taking business away from the best known vendors in that segment because its software can do everything the other NMS software can do but because it costs less.


I think Microsoft itself is directly mentioned only once or twice in the entire post. And those brief mentions don't paint Microsoft in a negative light. Not everything about open source is automatically anti-Microsoft. Dennis makes valid points in his post, but I think he may be exacerbating the very problem he's so weary of here.