Proprietary software, sustainability and “good enough”

I’ve long had the sneaking suspicion that, from the “free software” point of view, the most “threatening” proprietary software systems were not the most tightly locked down ones, where it’s difficult to do anything without paying a fortune and control is absolute, but rather those that coopt as much as they can from the open source world. You get source code, you get an open and hackable system, you get to talk with the people who wrote the code, who will tell you all about it if you want to know. You can recompile it for different platforms, or tweak it how you want. You get to talk with other users of it, and maybe even share hacks and additions you’ve created. Just that you still may have to pay for it, and you don’t get the rights to redistribute as you see fit.

Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, speaks very well of Atlassian and what they’re doing with systems like JIRA, which is a very open commercial offering:

http://boldlyopen.com/2008/09/11/sustainable-software-look-down-under/

With the challenge “Can your Open Source vendor do this?”. I don’t think he’s far off the mark; the fundamental problem with open source businesses is finding a way to introduce scarcity, as I’ve talked about before:

https://journal.dedasys.com/articles/2007/02/03/in-thrall-to-scarcity

That’s not to say it’s not possible (it is, obviously), or that open source doesn’t work (it has, beyond my wildest dreams), just that we still haven’t figured out the part that connects developers with money. One of the most successful (in terms of making Linux user friendly) companies to date is basically running on the “find a guy who already made a bundle elsewhere and is a good patron” model.

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