Open Source Debate

The State of Open Source – Startup, Growth, Maturity Or Decline?

Jessica Thornsby

Bloggers debate how far along open source is in its lifecycle and, ultimately, where it is heading.

Stephen O’Grady has attempted to pinpoint where open source is, in terms of the
traditional organisational lifecycle stages (Startup, Growth,
Maturity, Decline)in his latest blog post.

Early on, he dismisses the possibility of open source being in
the Startup stage, citing both its age (according to O’Grady the
term is around twelve years old) and the hefty revenue generated by
projects such as Linux. However, here he runs into a problem: the
success of open source cannot be measured by revenue metrics, as
you might measure the success of closed software. Instead, he
suggests taking a look at a project’s download count, or using
tools such as Google Trends.

Taking his own advice, O’Grady conducts an experiment using
Google Trends, searching for several high profile open source
projects and related buzzwords – to mixed results. Projects such as
MySQL, Linux and Apache show a downwards trend from 2004-2010.
However, Android, NoSQL and Hadoop all show a healthy upwards
trend. O’Grady concludes that certain open source projects have
peaked and are now in decline, in terms of popularity, but others –
particularly those with a relation to the mobile or the cloud – are

Stephen O’Grady believes that the success of open source in
general, is having the side effect of decreasing the number of
closed source startups, as it is difficult for these startups to
compete with established open source alternatives. Logically then,
open source adoption should only continue to increase. He also
predicts that more and more companies will create software for
their own needs, and open source the code in an attempt to
encourage other companies to contribute and develop the code base.
“It will cost more over the longer term to author software
privately than it would publicly,” he states. Simon Phipps also sees this as the future of
open source, reporting an increase in the number of new,
collaborative projects which “involve synchronizing fragments of
the interests of many, diverse participants.” This is in contrast
to a project being driven by the needs of one company who are
depending on selling the software, or its direct derivatives, for
financial gain.

Matthew Aslett also agrees, calling this “the
arrival of the fourth stage of commercial open source.” His
interpretation of the history of open source, is that the first
stage of open source was developed by communities of individuals
and academia; while the second stage was all about vendors
beginning to engage with these pre-existing developer communities.
The third stage, was driven by the vendor-dominated open source
development and distribution projects, which attempted to disrupt
existing markets through open source licensing. Despite the “rapid
growth” described by Aslett during stage three, these companies
were more interested in forcing projects to develop to fit their
own needs, rather than encouraging collaborative development.
Matthew Aslett now predicts a return to a more collaborative
environment for open source development.

Stephen O’Grady concludes that open source software may be
mature in certain market segments but, overall, open source is
still growing, while Aslett agrees that “this may well be the start
of the golden age of open source.” And, whether it is called the
fourth stage of open source, or “synchronizing fragments of the
interests of many, diverse participants,” the general consensus is
that moving towards a more collaborative, community-driven
approach, is a positive step for open source.

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