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Open Source wins only when it is better

Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
4:26 pm

I haven’t posted much to my blog for quite some time. Perhaps a quote from Larry Ellison, my former employer, will suffice for my renewed blogging effort …

During a recent visit to Israel, Mr. Ellison made a profound statement that gets right to the bottom of the Open Source controversy. At an event hosted Saturday night by TheMarker, the American Embassy and Oracle Israel, he said, “Open source is not something to be feared. Open source is something to be explained. Open source wins not because it’s open and not because it’s free. Open source wins only when it’s better.”

I agree. In a open world, with traditional barriers like availability and price stripped away, the best software will win because it is the best.

I remember many years ago when I heard John Young, then CEO of Hewlett Packard, state that HP favored open systems running Unix, rather than closed, proprietary systems. I wondered then how HP could compete without securing their installed customer positions with proprietary architectures and operating systems. History has shown that Mr. Young was right. Open systems and Unix prevailed, with the most innovative suppliers building market share.

In the long run, the same will happen with software. If Open Source creates an environment for innovation that is superior to closed systems, Open Source will win because innovation and quality will prevail. If Sun’s Open Source strategy enables Sun products to deliver superior innovation, functionality and customer benefit, this strategy will succeed.

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4 Responses to “Open Source wins only when it is better”

    Larry is wrong. Open Source wins when it is "good enough", not "better".

    Of course, "better" can be defined many ways. Good enough and free, may be "better" than highly featured and expensive.

    Comment by Mark on August 15, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    I think "better" needs to take price and availability into account. However, I think that Sun’s (or any other vendor’s) Open Source strategy will rise and fall depending on innovation, not just "open-ness".

    Comment by Mark Dixon on August 16, 2007 at 5:45 am

    It all hinges on the definitions of "better" and "wins". Better has different meanings in different contexts and wins likewise has different meanings. If I have a commercial, proprietary program that has 100% of the commercial market and is very profitable for me, have I won? What if it is specialized and only needed by 10% of all consumers and installed by all of those 10%? What if is has broader appeal, but there is an open source alternative such that 90% of all consumers have the open source program, but 10% need some special features and have bought my program, have I won or lost now?

    Comment by Brian Utterback on August 16, 2007 at 9:53 am


    Great comment. I supposed I overgeneralized. I look it from Sun’s perspective. We are clearly in a war for worldwide Operating System leadership. I propose that Sun will eventually win that war (command leading market share) because of Sun’s commitment to innovation, that will benefit Sun’s customers.

    In other specialized cases, Long Tail economics may prevail, where "winning" could be defined as capturing a small, specialized segment of the larger market.

    In either case, innovating to match the needs of target customers is a strong element of success, no matter how you define success.


    Comment by Mark Dixon on August 16, 2007 at 12:04 pm

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