Open source narrative – growing not dying
Brian Prentice at Gartner wrote a post titled Open Source’s Dying Narrative in which he talks about his perception that the ‘narrative’ behind open source is fading away. He says:
Well, actually, it’s interesting only to the extent you still believe the romantic narrative that commonly circulates around Open Source. That story involves bands of fiercely independent geek-heroes. Armed only with an Eclipse IDE, a weekend’s supply of Jolt Cola for energy and a poster of Jean-Luc Picard for inspiration, they set out to usurp the big software companies in their attempt to control the software universe.
This ‘romantic narrative’ that he is talking about is the ‘Free Software’ story, not the ‘Open Source’ story. As such Brian is falling into this trap – Misunderstanding open source #4: not knowing your own alignment
In my opinion open source has its own narrative – that open source, due to its inherent freedoms, is a better way to develop software, and that using and participating in open source makes sense from many angles. It is a pragmatic narrative not a romantic or ideological one.
But Brian’s point is interesting. I think he is correct. Certainly there are some topics, such as the on-going ‘open core business model’ debate, where the Free Software fans are very vocal. But in general it is natural and good that Brian has this perception – here is why:
Open source is slowly but surely being understood, accepted, and used by the mainstream software and IT groups. You only have to look at what has happened at Oracle and Microsoft in the last few months so see evidence of this. As this growth happens the new participants will talk about it and the press and the bloggers will chime in. Due to the nature of their involvement with open source, these new participants (established software vendors, systems integrators, IT departments, software startups, VCs etc) will be mainly aligned with the open source narrative, not the free software narrative. So as open source is adopted by the mainstream markets there will be much more open source narrative, but only slightly more free software narrative. The ratio of new news about open source vs free software will shift further in favour of open source. Since we can only consume so much information each day, our perception will be that the amount of free software narrative is decreasing. In reality it is not, the amount of romantic free software narrative is growing, but the volume of pragmatic open source narrative is drowning it.