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Open Source: It’s The Service, Silly

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While the stock market has minted a few tech people as billionaires, including the richest geek on the planet, the most successful in the open source movement probably won’t touch the same level of wealth.

Who’s more deserving of a billion dollars, Linus Torvalds or Bill Gates? Wall Street says it’s Gates by a blistering margin, even considering the revolution Linux spurred in the trenches of IT departments worldwide.

Coding Horror blogger Jeff Atwood wondered where the open source billionaires could be. The answer comes in the form of the marketplace:

Most competition for open source software comes from other open source software. It’s far more cutthroat than the commercial software market could ever be.

That last remark will be something of a surprise to the older techies out there who have watched Microsoft and Oracle in action for the past decade or so. In open source, the lack of billionaires stems from a few concepts differing between it and commercial software.

Atwood wrote how "the lack of open source billionaires is by design." It’s all about bringing the software industry back to Earth in terms of the massive profit margins they derive on the backs of their consumer base.

Please note that such margins come after paying the hardworking developers and designers who create the software; no one is suggesting the typical Microsoftie or Oracularity should work for free.

Some have built billions through open source, using it as a platform and not the means to an end. Atwood cited the Google guys and the YouTube crew as those who have created services other people want.

Google has been a heavy Linux user for quite some time, and supports open source work in a variety of ways. But Google has not been very brisk in releasing its desktop applications for Linux, or even Mac OSX, despite the wealth they have generated with their search and advertising.

Working in open source for whatever level of rewards someone wants to achieve should remain a personal choice; no one should feel forced to code for profit or some societal idea of success. It looks like those who have succeeded financially have focused on a need and not a dollar figure.

Maybe that’s the real lesson here: needs mean the most, and the most effective way of accomplishing them through open source could lead to a greater payday in the future.

Open Source: It’s The Service, Silly
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