CIO Insight has a great interview with Berkeley political scientist Steven Weber on the open source movement and it’s current and future business impact. A few choice bits:
Economists are shocked at the notion that people engage in behavior in many parts of their lives for nonmonetary reasons… It’s an interesting reminder that human motivation is a really complex thing… Creativity is really important to people. And taking the opportunity to engage in these open-source communities allows people to stretch their creativity and learn while they’re doing it. It’s an important reminder to managers that there’s a lot of motivation out there that most organizations don’t tap into very well.
Good ideas and innovative thoughts are randomly distributed throughout the human population. It’s critical to recognize that if you give people the infrastructure to create their own products, they’re likely to figure some out, because they know what they need better than you do. I think the open-source community, at least at the level of underlying operating systems, has done that, not necessarily because that was what they intended to do, but they created an ecology in which that’s possible.
The most commonly used argument against open source is, that if companies can’t patent what they invent, innovation will stop because they can’t effectively make money of it. That is of course b.s., and here’s why:
I can give you one example that friends of mine who work in the biotechnology industry would cite on the downside of holding lots of this stuff in proprietary IP rights.
They call it “the tragedy of the anti-commons.” Let’s say I’m a researcher working at a small biotech firm here in the Bay Area. And I think there’s something interesting I would like to do with a particular molecule and its interaction with a particular gene. Much of this stuff is now patented, and there are so many competing patent claims on so many different parts of the things I would need to work on, that the cost of actually figuring out what permissions I need are astronomical. So lots of small companies simply can’t work on it.
They call it the tragedy of the anti-commons in the sense that in order to work on this, they’ve got to get a permission to use this molecule and a license to play with this gene. That’s just too expensive, so they walk away from it.
The tragedy of the anti-commons… I’ll have to remember that one :o) “Intellectual Property” is a concept that makes zero sense. Trying to enforce IP means stifling innovation and holding back technological and scientific development. I say we give up the notion once and for all and see where that takes us.
Microsoft has plenty of money, sure, but so does Google. Google may have less than Microsoft, but they have enough to do whatever they choose to do, and Wall Street has shown it will give Google more money anytime. As for muscle, Google matches or exceeds Microsoft brain-for-brain, and has the same kind of outsized corporate persona Microsoft has, though minus the bad-guy image of a monopolist bully.
Google has the mojo.
Read the rest of this excellent article over at Cringely. Let there be no doubt: My sympathies lie with Google, who’re actually contributing value and new ideas to the world.
The business question I ask myself most often is this: What can I give away? What do I have, know, think, write, say that I can give away easily?
This may seem like a strange attitude towards business, but I believe it has been the key to our success in the Happy at Work Project – we have gotten an amazing amount of traction and good will from all the stuff we give away like our newsletter, articles, book reviews and more.
And here’s a cool example I found during a walk in Washington DC:
In my opinion, there’s something innately healthy about giving stuff away.
Here’s a previous blogpost, that starts with the decision that “I accept the idea that I should give everything away”, and then examines what implications this may have on how you work and live. One conclusion: Wealth is relationships.
Nokia underscores their commitment to open source by creating a new website: opensource.nokia.com.
Does it matter whether IT people have fun at work? Autrijus Tang thinks it does, so when he set up the Pugs Open Source project, he had an explicit goal: Optimize for fun. The results are clear: More people get involved in the project, their work is of a high standard and they’re more creative.
Of course, this should come as no surprise. As any cognitive science expert will tell you, fun is a great way to focus the mind. Developers that aren’t enjoying themselves will slow down, write buggy code, make poor decisions, and eventually leave the project (even one that pays). Conversely, rampant fun will bring coders in droves, and give them a passion for their work that shows in quality, quantity, and goodwill. It’s a pretty good bet that optimizing for fun will produce a better product than almost any other method.
Here are the main thoughts of Autrijus on the subject (translated from geek-speak – sometimes it pays, having been a geek myself):
* Make fun your primary goal
* Embrace anarchy
* Avoid deadlocks
* Cast responsibility far and wide
* Working code is more fun than mere ideas
* Build a rich, supportive community
* Excitement and learning are infectious
Damn, that guy’s good!
Read the whole article here.
Here’s a batch of Open Source Software news:
Open Source leader Eric S. Raymond got offered a job at Microsoft. His answer is classic:
…I’ve in fact been something pretty close to your company’s worst nightmare since about 1997. You’ve maybe heard about this “open source” thing? You get one guess who wrote most of the theory and propaganda for it and talked IBM and Wall Street and the Fortune 500 into buying in. But don’t think I’m trying to destroy your company. Oh, no; I’d be just as determined to do in any other proprietary-software monopoly, and the community I helped found is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
Gartner Group says Linux is only 5 years away from mainstream use:
Leading-edge businesses are generally still in the early stages of Linux deployments but Gartner expects increased commercialisation and improved storage and systems management for the operating system by the end of 2005…
And governments are starting to get it too:
In a report to be presented at the World Bank today, a group that includes senior government officials from 13 countries will urge nations to adopt open-information technology standards as a vital step to accelerate economic growth, efficiency and innovation. …the spread of open-source software in recent years has probably been the most striking example of the benefits of openly sharing information technology to reduce costs and make it easier for users themselves to innovate.
About 2 years ago I got myself a new PC, and since then I’ve only use one piece of software that I paid for – and that’s Windows. Every other program on my computer is open source and free, and it has worked perfectly. I haven’t missed Outlook, Microsoft Office, Dreamweaver or any of those other programs I used to use. Instead I’ve been using:
openoffice.org – Reads and writes Microsoft Office files and works just as well. Contains a Word, Excel and PowerPoint clone all of which have all the features you’ll ever need. And you can save your documents as pdf files.
Audacity – An excellent program for recording and editing sound. I used it to mix music and to edit an audio book.
nvu – HTML editor. REALLY easy to use.
Firefox – The best browser around.
Thunderbird – A mail program that kicks Outlook’s butt.
Filezilla – A killer ftp client.
Azureus – The best bittorrent client around. Has the best user interface of any program I’ve ever seen.
egroupware – Additionally we use egroupware in The Happy At Work Project to share calendars, adress books and to manage some of our websites.
Not only is all the software mentioned here free and open source, it’s also available on multiple platforms, so if I decide to switch to a Linux or Apple machine tomorrow, I can continue to use the same programs and to work on the same files.
So why are you still paying Microsoft and others for software?
The traditional view of evolution says that genes are passed along from ancestor to offspring. This view is currently being expanded to include horizontal gene transfer.
Horizontal gene transfer is any process in which an organism transfers genetic material (i.e. DNA) to another cell that is not its offspring. By contrast, vertical transfer occurs when an organism receives genetic material from its ancestor, e.g. its parent or a species from which it evolved. Most thinking in genetics has focussed on the more prevalent vertical transfer, but there is a recent awareness that horizontal gene transfer is a significant phenomenon.
Horizontal gene transfer is common among bacteria, even very distantly-related ones. For example, this process is thought to be a significant cause of increased drug resistance; when one bacterial cell acquires resistance, it can quickly transfer the resistance genes to many species.
Who knew that bacterie were open source :o)
Why is this interesting? It provides yet another example of cooperation in nature – yet another reason to believe that nature does not favour the strong, tough and ruthless, that quite to the contrary, nature favours those who can and do cooperate.
And so does the business world.
Here’s another great example of a naked business practice: How a business’ website shows up in a Google search can be crucial. Being on the first search results page is gold, finding yourself relegated to the back pages may cost you customers. Consequently, many people try to improve their Google ranking by means that can be fair or … shady, let’s say.
And what does Google do with these people who seek to unfairly exploit their system? They invite them to a party!
Google works hard to thwart the mischief makers, sometimes branded as “Black Hats” because of their subterfuge. Engineers frequently tweak the algorithms that determine the rankings, sometimes causing websites perched at the top to fall a few notches or, worse, even plunge to the back pages of the results.
Hoping to ease the tensions with webmasters, Google hatched the idea of its “dance” party during an annual search engine convention held in Silicon Valley, just a few miles from Google’s headquarters. The company invited some of the Black Hats, effectively welcoming the foxes into the hen house.
“Google realized it was never going to get rid of these (Black Hats), so it decided it may as well work with them,” Chris Winfield, a Google Dance party veteran who runs 10e20, a search engine marketing firm. “Until then, it always seemed like it was ‘us against them.'”
The guests have mostly behaved themselves, although a couple years ago there was an unsuccessful attempt to steal one of Google’s couches.
Just like the example at Amazon that I blogged previously, this open approach to business is efficient, positive and speaks of a high level of organizational maturity – which is especially impressive in the case of a young company like Google. Kudos!