The open source blogosphere featured two articles the last week of December 2008 that inaccurately draw software-market history timelines from which the authors then inaccurately position the place of open source software in the information technology (IT) market. I doubt if the statements are intentionally misleading; they are most likely the result of ignorance or sloppiness.
One such article is the ComputerActive article, CA investigates: Open-source software. Among its many inaccuracies, there is a sentence that says:
"Long before Windows was created, the open source movement was founded by Richard Stallman with a project called GNU."
As Stallman himself will explain if he hasn't spazzed out after reading the ComputerActive article, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the GNU project, not the open source movement. Although Stallman had been writing what he later called free software prior to that, he announced GNU in 1984 and founded FSF in 1985. This was at the same time as the first version of Microsoft Windows was developed, not "long before it." However (as the article itself notes elsewhere relative to GNU) neither GNU nor Windows were originally operating systems, nor did they even compete with each other, so ComputerActive even making the comparison makes no sense.
The open source movement goes back to the beginning of the computer industry although many date its founding to the creation of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) in 1998.
To understand the dynamics of open source vis a vis the software market, it is important to keep open source separate from FSF. It’s also important to keep the FSF’s concept of free separate from most people’s definition of the word free. The best example of software that is free is the Adobe Reader; but it is neither open source nor free as in Richard Stallman’s view. Specifically
- FSF is Stallman's philosophical movement.
- Open source is simply a set of licensing terms and conditions, embraced by all software suppliers including Microsoft (MSFT)
The Mouth of OpenNMS doesn’t seem to get the difference. Its December 27 blog post says:
“Starting about the time that Bill Gates wrote his infamous Letter to Hobbyists, the commercial software industry has sought to control and restrict access to source code. Before that time, code wasn’t explicitly free, but it was often freely exchanged. The rise of the commercial software industry put an end to that."
Actually the “rise of commercial software” predates Gates’ memo, if not his birth. The industry actually does not care much about restricting access to source code; it just wants to be paid for intellectual property it develops. The fact that Stallman does not want to be paid is his choice just as Gates’ position that he wants to be paid is his choice. Even Stallman grants that. Why Gates' letter is infamous could only be understood by the blogger with an agenda who posted it.
The OpenNMSer proceeds to write:
“When the modern open source software movement was formalized by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond, the commercial software establishment pretty much ignored it. There was no way that useful software could be created for free. Then along came the Linux kernel, the GNU operating system and applications like the Apache web server, and suddenly open source software was not only useful, its adoption started growing phenomenally."
But that formalization by Perens and Raymond is the same 1998 founding of the OSI mentioned above. “Long before” 1998, using ComputerActive’s concept of time, the “commercial software establishment” in the form of IBM (IBM), HP (HPQ) and other major software and IT systems suppliers had embraced Linux and funded Apache web server development.
The history-challenged OpenNMS blogger goes on to say “In response came companies like Red Hat (RHAT)…” but in fact Red Hat had been founded five years earlier, and the software publisher that acquired Red Hat in 1994 (but retained the brand name) goes back even further.
The blogger goes on to say:
“… there is a huge difference between companies that garner most of their income from the support of software and those that earn most of their revenue from the sale of proprietary software licenses.”
It’s completely unclear what this huge difference is since there is no such dichotomy in the market. Most software companies, such as Oracle (ORCL) and SAP (SAP), recognize about 33% of their revenue from licenses and 67% from maintenance and professional services. IBM receives relatively little of its revenue (as a percentage of its total revenue) from “the sale of proprietary software licenses;” even the revenue of IBM’s software group is highly oriented to mainframe software (and therefore comes from selling the system, even though the software is “unbundled.”) Microsoft receives a high percentage of its revenue from product OEMs such as HP and Dell (DELL) and increasingly from advertising, consumer services and other forms of software monetization.
What is even more unclear is what the various revenue-flow mixes of various software companies has to do with open source. Apparently the blogger feels that his company, the company that supports OpenNMS, is different than IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP because it only services software. Ever hear of King Gillette, Mr. Mouth?
-- Dennis Byron