Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Proprietary Threats

In a recent entry about the state of the Postgres project, the author explains that the project is still in good health. This explanation was brought about by the recent idea that Oracle could simply buy them out by head-hunting the core developers. This is a lot more difficult to do than it sounds. Especially for open source projects such as Postgres.

The fear seems to be that Postgres will go the way that MySQL did. But, as the entry points out, they are entirely different in terms of development culture. Postgres is different in that it doesn't have a single authority in which to make decisions.

Proprietary vendors can threaten open source projects in more ways than one. It can overcome open source projects by nothing more than intimidation. They have a lot of resources. These resources include buying power. Large corporations can typically purchase their way out of potential competition.

Open source developers really shouldn't concern themselves with this threat for two reasons. One, open source projects are largely distributed both geographically and in interests. New people join open source projects every day. Again, as the entry suggests, there are more than enough developers that will be willing to pick up the slack of those who leave any given project.

Another reason why the open source community shouldn't concern themselves with proprietary vendor threats is that competition can also be a good thing. It can be a good thing for both parties.

In a given domain, lets say databases, users have a choice between proprietary products and open source projects. Both sides can benefit from one anther because they provide a reference point in which to do comparisons. So the open source project can say "you can pay for feature X or you can get feature YZ for free" while the proprietary vendors can say "sure, feature YZ is stable, but you paying for stability in feature X".

The list goes on. There is never going to be an entirely open source or an entirely proprietary software world. Threats will be posed from both directions. If you are a developer, your best bet is to just use what is made available to you to make the best software possible. Better than the last version anyway.