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Andy Havens

Whether or not to open-source (used as a verb, of course... I love English) is an important question for software and many other types of content.

In "The World is Flat," Thomas Friedman uses a really good simile to describe the differentiation that high-value products/services provide as they move "up" the value chain; sauces and toppings on ice-cream. His point being that we are at the point where the provision of basic "vanilla ice-cream" is untenable as a business proposition. People can either: A) do vanilla for themselves; B) outsource it; C) get quotes from 99+ competitors.

He connects this to the Open Source movement by pointing out that when everyone works together, openly, at making the vanilla ice-cream (server software, for example) better, it makes it much easier/cheaper/faster for the system as a whole to get to work on lots more toppings. If we're all still competing on 206 varieties of vanilla ice-cream, and our customers are confused about that, and have to use different spoons with different types of vanilla, etc.... you get the picture.

So... one consideration to possibly look at when considering whether or not to open-source a piece of software might be to ask the question: how much is it vanilla ice-cream vs. how much is it butter-pecan-sauce? And, if it's vanilla... is it a type that will taste really good with *your* brand of butter-pecan-sauce? IE, will it help sell the thing(s) that your company is uniquely positioned to sell?

IBM is a good example of a software company that is really boldly pushing into the Open Source space, of course. They've looked at the landscape and made the determination that many of their competitors are half-vanilla, half-toppings. OK. So if they (IBM) can flood the market with nearly-free, Open Source, really good vanilla, and be the premiere provider of toppings that work very well with that free Open Source stuff... what happens to their competitors?

In the old days, you'd get in trouble for unfair price cutting if you continuously offered products/services at a price that a smaller competitor couldn't meet. But giving them away for free? I'm not sure if the FTC and various attorneys general have taken a look at the Open Source movement as a method of potential price fixing. But it's an interesting thought.

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