Open Source Communications…

Over time, more and more important SW markets get targeted by the Open Source Movement.  Some piece of SW that is unecessarily “expensive” is recreated by volunteer engineers.  Sometimes someone even “skins” the underlying software app to make it ~very~ similar to the targeted software.  Gimpshop as a replacement for Photoshop being a compelling version of this to me.  (If this group was a real commercial enterprise they would get sued, right?)

In the communications market, Asterisk, the open source PBX has been the most significant project.  There are some VoIP communications clients ala Skype that feel like they should be just as big but to this point they have not.  Apparently according to experts the underlying engine in Asterisk is “state of the art” although it still takes work and expertise to get going.  It can go head to head with PBX solutions and the PBX market is in pretty bad shape although how much Asterisk is the cause is certainly debatable.  (With infinite time I would sure love to try and set one up at my house.  Geek alert!) 

The latest in this line of Open Source destroying value, (and a potentially very important one) is the open source router being built with Vyatta.
http://gigaom.com/2006/02/23/here-comes-open-source-telecom/

As is frequently the case with these sorts of projects, consulting companies spring up around these open source tools to help businesses realize the value.  They focus on the services necessary to enable the free software to provide value.  It seems to me that without these service companies, it seems many of these projects flounder or sit in obscurity.  They are just about as good as their commercial brethren but with no marketing push behind them and no comfy place for enterprises to go for support they just suffer for traction.  I guess this begs the bigger question of where is the value of software.  (Actually I should fill it in as we refer to it at my day job, “its just software.”)

In the end it is all about business models I guess and having someone drive the demand.  The claim is “lack of support” is the biggest fear but I really somehow don’t buy that.
I actually think its more a matter of reputation and how the products make people feel.  I am a serious engineer or IT guy if I paid alot for my tools.  If they were free anyone could be me.

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2 responses to “Open Source Communications…

  1. I have very mixed feelings about the open source movement. On the one hand I think its generally commentable that people come together and volunteer their time to produce a tool that serves other people. However, too often I think the open source movement seeks to DENY profit to someone else, someone UNDESERVING. That motivation is certainly less altruistic.

    I’m much more admiring of the folks who produce original open source solutions, where they are freely solving a problem that hasn’t been solved before and giving it away. These are the folks who are really contributing to society and not just undermining someone else’s hard work.

    The consulting firms that spring up to support open source products strike me as both smart, perceptive and opportunistic. In some sense, they are taking advantage of a revenue shift. They look for traditional markets that are under attack by OS and seek some of those ‘dollars in play’. While they might support OS and even ultimately benefit that cause, I don’t see them sharing in the philosophy.

  2. Indeed there are different motives and different results. Clearly there are dollars in play but the question is are there less and less in the shrinking market? What does this mean for SW over all. Less money in the market, customer expect more and more for free and can outfit machines with no SW tax. Is this good? Definitely less paid programmer jobs. But it probably is good in a world wide human race sense… probably. But probably not good for the US in general and US SW industry in particular. Provocative questions I am not sure are really even being discussed.

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