Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

The Open Source Innovation and Commoditization Frontier

Following up on Matt Aslett’s excellent post about the growth of permissive licenses and a short discussion about it on my research group’s blog, I wanted to suggest here a thought about the ratio of new vendor-owned vs. community-owned open source projects. I’m ignoring existing projects because of their path dependence (read: only today do we know what we are doing). My point is being illustrated by the following figure that I occasionally use:

This figure shows my speculation that software innovation is being driven forward by both single-vendor and community-owned open source projects, but that software commoditization is solely driven forward by community-owned projects. Single-vendor innovation takes place because there is money to be made, and community-owned innovation takes place where initial fun meets eventual business (or other) needs. Ultimately, all single-vendor innovation will be commoditized through a community-owned project. Today’s single-vendor SugarCRM is tomorrow’s community-owned CiviCRM.

Thus, for every once-new single-vendor open source project there will be an eventually-new community project, in addition to the originally-new community projects. The ratio may play out to be something like one single-vendor for two community-owned projects, though I think the total number of new community-owned projects is likely to be much higher. So the ratio of successful single-vendor / community-owned projects may well be stabilizing in the 1-10% range. (Please note that I’m just guessing; also, I’m excluding small random ultimately not successful hobby projects here.)

Going back to the original discussion about licenses, I’m assuming that new projects will chose a strongly reciprocal license if they are vendor-owned and a permissive license if they are community-owned. Community projects that don’t choose a permissive license are at a Darwinian disadvantage over those that do because the later can receive contributions from a broader set of enterprises than the former. This will translate into the reciprocal / permissive license ratio of about the same 1-10% range I just suggested above.

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  1. Dr.V.B.Singh Avatar

    Through community based open source projects , we can also address the community problems.

  2. […] has a tendency to cannibalize and commoditize – and not just surrounding proprietary projects. As described by researcher Dirk Riehle, open source involves a process of continuous innovation and […]

  3. […] Dirk Riehle discussed the difference between vendor- and community-led open source projects with regards to licensing and […]

  4. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    Hey Thomas, long time no see! And good to hear from you. The Eclipse Foundation is one of several forms for organizing community open source. So where you see “community open source” in my blog post, think Eclipse, Apache, etc.

  5. Thomas Mäder Avatar
    Thomas Mäder

    Hi Dirk,
    it seems to me you’re ignoring one of the runaway open source success stories: Eclipse. Between the single vendor project & the community project, there’s the consortium: a community of vendors.

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