Open Source Software != Free

Information Week released a story yesterday which details Google’s recent contribution to MySQL.

What I find interesting about this is that it points to how Open Source isn’t free… as a matter of fact it requires an investment model similar in kind (but not magnitude) to any “Packaged Enterprise Application”.

The thing about open source applications is that they – just as often as Enterprise Applications – fail to be a complete solution “out of the box”. As Google’s work points out, in order to get what you need from an open source application you’ll need to invest in it, create code that satisfies your need, and then give it back to the community.

The last part of that statement is, perhaps, the only thing that separates the open source model from the traditional Enterprise Application (i.e., Siebel, Oracle, SAP, etc) in terms of investment and IT staffing. This holds true for most Open Source applications… less so (my opinion) for OS.

One of the traditional knocks on OSS is “Why would I pay to develop software and give it away?”. The simple answer is “For the same reason you develop Siebel or Oracle functionality… because it is valuable to your business”. The real question is… do you want to give away the code that provides your business some type of real durable competitive advantage?

Investment in OSS will need to be tempered by that. And more importantly, enterprise architects have a whole new Intellectual Property problem to solve… realizing the business benefit within the construct of the OSS license without giving away competitive advantage.

I will not attempt to debate if the investment profile is more or less for open source versus traditional Enterprise Applications (yep, I’m a coward) but feel free…

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