Open Source: Everything New Is Old Again

October 7, 2019

The Andreessen Horowitz open source info blitz contains some good stuff. You will want to read the essay “Open Source: From Community to Commercialization” and, if you qualify, download the pdf of lecture notes. We noted this statement from the essay about the SaaS open source business model:

In a SaaS model, you provide a complete hosted offering of the software. If your value and competitive edge is in the operational excellence of the software, then SaaS is a good choice. However, since SaaS is usually based around cloud hosting, there is the potential risk that public clouds will choose to take your open source code and compete.


We noted this statement at the end of the article:

I [Peter Levine / Jennifer Li?] believe Open Source 3.0 will expand how we think of and define open source businesses. Open source will no longer be RedHat, Elastic, Databricks, and Cloudera; it will be – at least in part – Facebook, Airbnb, Google, and any other business that has open source as a key part of its stack. When we look at open source this way, then the renaissance underway may only be in its infancy. The market and possibilities for open source software are far greater than we have yet realized.


Years ago, the DarkCyber team undertook a study of a dozen open source software vendors specializing in search and retrieval. Today, most of those vendors have embraced “artificial intelligence”, “predictive analytics”, and “natural language processing”. That’s because search is a utility and the developers and vendors of general purpose open source software have to differentiate themselves. In the course of that research, DarkCyber noted several things.

  1. Big companies in 2008 were among the most enthusiastic testers and eventually users of open source software. Why? Our data suggested that open source allowed users of commercial proprietary software more freedom to make changes. Bug fixes would often arrive in a more timely way. Plus, the IBM- and Oracle-style license fees did not come along for the ride. That is probably true in some cases today.
  2. Open source was a free lunch. The developers often contributed for the common good; others created and made available open source software as a way to demonstrate and prove their capabilities. Translation, as one person told one of my researchers, “A job, man. Big bucks.”
  3. Monetization was mostly “little plays”; that is use our free stuff and then pay for support or proprietary extensions.

Flash forward to today. Some of these three decade old findings may still be in play, but the context is now very different.

What’s changed?

For the first time, meta plays are possible. Forget the investment, merger, and acquisition angles that motivate venture capital firms. Think in terms of just using Amazon and paying for what you need.

Start ups no longer just use Microsoft because it is available and works. Start ups use Amazon because it appears to be open source, cheap or subsidized, and available globally.

The challenge this presents to open source is significant. DarkCyber is not convinced that open source developers, users of open source software, analysts, and other professionals recognize what Amazon’s meta play and strategy is doing; that is, creating a new context of open source.

Want to learn more about Amazon’s meta play for open source? Write seaky2000 at yahoo dot com and inquire about our Amazon strategy webinar. Note: It’s not a freebie.

Everthing new is old again, including vendor lock in.

Stephen E Arnold, October 7, 2019



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