[part 2 of the series on five traits of open source and its impact in the mobile industry. See also part 1]
Open source is in many ways the antithesis of corporate software development. The culture and dynamics of OSS development are defined by the nuances of a software community collaborating over the Internet. A community is typically formed by a combination of paid-for, pro-bono and hobbyist software developers with the same motivation towards solving a particular problem ( scratching an itch in open source lingo). Community members are motivated by personal needs, peer recognition and last (and often least) financial reward. Communities are formed and organised ad-hoc around opinion leaders who are recognised based on the merit of their contributions to the community. This environment defies most rules of corporate software development:
– Processes and roadmaps: The mobile industry is accustomed to 100% specified and controlled development environments. However, thousands of open source software projects thrive despite a lack of project requirements and feature roadmaps. Open source development addresses features on an ad hoc basis; OSS projects are thereby evolved, not designed, driven by the needs and wants of individual developers or commercial participants into Linux development.
– Partner selection and management: Corporate software development projects rely on warrantees, indemnity clauses, non-disclosure agreements and service-level and marketing agreements. Each agreement is unique to the customer-supplier relationship and takes months to set up, adding up to an expensive relationship management. Moreover, software suppliers are chosen based on RFIs and RFPs which often consume extensive resources and time. On the contrary, open source software comes under oft-used licenses such as the GPL, LGPL and BSD, irrespective of the entities using or developing the software. Use of a few well-understood licenses in open source projects results in significantly reduced product time-to-development and time-to-market precluding customer-supplier negotiations. Moreover, the qualities of a software supplier are often evident through their OSS works, which are open to the community for inspection.
– Reversed customer-supplier relationship: In corporate software projects, the customer dictates conditions to the supplier and has control over project requirements, deliverables and roadmap. In open source projects, even if these are sponsored by a commercial entity, the community is the one who owns the project, not the sponsor. It is the norm for the sponsor s corporate agenda to be in antithesis with the incentives of the community members; in these cases the community may take the project in a direction well beyond the control and the desire of the sponsor. As such, the customer-supplier relationship is reversed in open source projects. The community, which may be likened to the supplier, becomes the customer who must be appeased. Managing open source projects can be likened to walking on a tightrope, finely balancing the corporate agenda with community incentives. To win the community s heart, sponsors must dedicate efforts, creativity and resources to the community.
– Innovation: Innovation in the software industry is almost always driven top-down; market segmentation and customer requirements filter all the way down to floor-level product decisions. Open source software is completely different. Innovation is entirely anarchic and ad hoc, often resulting in genuinely fresh concepts and product usage scenarios.
[Want to learn more about open source and its impact on the mobile industry? Register for the pre-workshop ‘A Crash Course in Mobile Open Source: Economics, Licensing, Linux, Java and Beyond’ (see here for workshop agenda) delivered by VisionMobile as part of Informa’s Open Source In Mobile conference taking place in Madrid on 17-20 September. Next on this blog series: ‘Mobile Linux is not about free software’]