Traditionally, a "standard" is established when multiple vendors sell essentially the same technology and customers demand that this commoditized technology be accessed via a standard API. Vendors can then compete on implementation. J2EE is a prime example of the success of this approach.
Open source turns all of this on its head. If there are multiple implementations doing roughly the same thing behind the same API, why not simply collaborate on a SINGLE implementation? One or two best-of-breed implementations inevitably are settled on and everyone can move on and work on technology that has not been commoditized. We have seen this happen with operating systems (Linux) and web servers (Apache), and it will soon happen with databases and application servers.
Everyone wins with the open source approach: customers get better technology at lower cost, vendors do not waste brainpower replicating and maintaining commoditized technology, and developers can step through the source when there are problems.
Every time a model evolves there are stragglers, hybrids, and early adopters. An example of the hybrid model is Java. While Java itself is not released under an open source license, there has been a ton of open source innovation in Java, ranging from Struts to Ant to JUnit to Hibernate. Such hybrid models do cause strange occurrences, such as the JCP continually recreating existing and popular open source projects. A cleaner model, which IBM and many folks in the Java community are advocating, would be to open source Java and integrate leading projects such as Hibernate rather than recreating them.
In the early adopter LAMP stack, where everything is pure play open source, there are still a lot of balls in the air with competing projects, such as the zillion web server API's in Python that are finally coming under a single umbrella. Open source is the accelerated Darwinism of software components, where the strong survive and the weak die in the purgatory of one committer with zero download counts.
One thing is certain, open source is a meritocracy where the best-of-breed technology wins. As open source matures, it is now moving beyond replicating existing commoditized software to providing advanced technology beyond the apparent capabilities of the large software vendors. As we have learned time and time again (ie, AOL and CompuServe vs. the Internet), emergent behavior compounded with a network effect is the path to success.
- Peter Yared
- Peter Yared is the CTO/CIO of CBS Interactive, a top ten Internet destination, and was previously the founder and CEO of four enterprise infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends and TigerLogic. Peter's software has powered brands from Fidelity to Home Depot to Lady Gaga. At Sun, Peter was the CTO of the Application Server Division and the CTO of the Liberty federated identity consortium. Peter is the inventor of several patents on core Internet infrastructure including federated single sign on and dynamic data requests. Peter began programming games and utilities at age 10, and started his career developing systems for government agencies. Peter regularly writes about technology trends and has written for CNET, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, AdWeek, VentureBeat and TechCrunch.
Many thanks to Bob Pulgino, Dave Prue, Steve Zocchi and Jean-Louis Gassée for mentoring me over the years.