Ian Murdock posted an essay on his blog yesterday titled Open source and the commoditization of software. It was a timely post for me, as I had been asked by someone at work for resources that provided insight on the use and viability of open source as part of an enterprise information technology strategy. For those who know that Ian is the founder of my Linux distribution of choice, Debian, you may be thinking that this is the manifesto of yet another wild-eyed wilderness prophet about Linux overtaking Windows. It is nothing of the sort – in fact, it is one of the most level-headed, well-informed, business-minded takes on hardware and software history and their impact on the current thrust of software commoditization that I have seen.
The essay starts all the way back (relatively speaking; after all, the computer era is rather brief from an historical perspective) at the fullness of mainframe prosperity and moves forward. The juxtaposition of the hardware and software markets is something I had not seen presented in such a clear fashion. The missteps of the UNIX market’s fragmentation and the fortunate standardization of PC hardware (albeit not intentional on IBM’s part) are laid out in an engaging short narrative, followed by Microsoft’s staggeringly triumphant conquest of the then-vacant PC software market. The success of companies who chose to participate in commoditization rather than attempt to stem its tide is refreshing. Participation rather than domination is shown to be the way forward, and Murdock goes on to show that even in the Linux ecosystem, there are those who flirt dangerously with the temptation to control a market through manipulation.
If you’re a fellow Debian or Free/Open Source Software advocate like myself, I encourage you to take a few mintues out to read the essay. You may find it gives a less-rabid voice to your zeal and provides an entry point into our cause for those less persuaded by the principles of the movement(s).
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