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How will the open source software revolution impact users and vendors?

How will the open source software revolution will play out for users and vendors? Will vendors' roles change, or will maturity of leading open source applications bring a return to the current model? Will users benefit or lose out?

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The open source revolution has in many ways already played itself out.

On the development side, it has proven itself to be a successful alternative to traditional commercial development methods. Apache and Mozilla are prime examples of open source model success stories. Open source software (OSS) development has fundamentally changed the basic motivation, economics, market structure and philosophy of institutions that develop market and use software.

The OSS model is built primarily from volunteers, though it must be noted that many projects are supported by real companies seeking profit. Open source projects are mostly run by volunteers and organized informally, where decisions are made by consensus rather than decree. In many cases, the work itself is not assigned; people choose the work they want to perform. There is also no real detail design or project plan that must be followed in an orderly fashion.

Despite the lack of traditional coordination mechanisms, OSS development has been found to be in many cases to be even superior to software developed by traditional means. One reason is that there are many more sets of eyes to spot problems. Another reason is that the code itself is written better because the developers are only writing for things they really love to do, and presumably do well. Where in the past programmers felt trapped by the confines of policies and procedures, open source gave them the ability to become creative and autonomous. Because the current model has been so successful, I hope that some of the leading open source application vendors will not bring a return to the traditional model. If it does, I feel that the users (except maybe the ones who hide in fortune 100 companies) will not benefit, as the open source movement has helped shape the entire scope of the Internet and where it sits today. Just think of where the Internet would be without Linux, Apache, sendmail, Bind and Mozilla!

This was first published in July 2005

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