• September 9, 2009
  • Linux

Commercial Open-Source; An Oxymoron?

The dictionary describes Oxymorons as "literary figures of speech usually composed of a pair of neighboring contradictory words (often within a sentence) or a combination of contradictory or incongruous words".

Perhaps some view commercialization of open source as contradictory. Where does it say that paying for good value is wrong or having a strong and commercially viable entity support the use and practice of open source is bad. Exactly, almost like motherhood and apple pie. Open Source, like art has long had a history of benefactors, sponsors and champions. Companies who gave back because they use open source. Companies who champion open source maintainers by having them on the payroll and giving them the freedom to do what they do best. Companies and commercial entities find many ways of giving back.

In my opinion, another form of championship and contribution is just plain making open source software mainstream and usable, supportable and extensible by serious business. Commercial support of open standards and software in the embedded space is something that I do everyday. It is a validation of the increased use and value of open source technologies like Linux in the embedded space and the need for continued commercial sponsorship and support of open source technologies to thrive. Unlike the server and desktop spaces where Linux has achieved maturity, standards and commercial support, the embedded space has been marked by increased use of Linux and open source but also fragmentation. The ability to customize and download a Linux kernel and packages was a natural fit in the world of embedded where creating a custom OS was natural. The flip side of the broad Linux adoption was that every semi, every OEM, every project created their own Linux distribution or OS.

My argument is that commercialization is very much needed in the embedded business to achieve scale, growth and economies of scale. Commercialization for me has to be two-fold: Encouragement and support of innovators in the embedded Linux community and the pragmatic use of mainline embedded Linux.. Secondly, vendors providing commercial grade support for Linux tools, distributions and a common standard software across different hardware platforms. This sets the stage for standardization of development approaches, APIs, tools and so much more. Let innovation flourish in applications, in UIs in the way we deliver products and use products. It also makes it ‘safe’ and easy to use for many large commercial OEMs. It makes it a no-brainer that a trust-worthy commercial product is available and that there is no need to duplicate and waste time on creating a foundational OS. It would be unthinkable in the server business today, for each server vendor to create their own OS or to have to create a special Board Support Package for each piece of hardware that they support. So why should there be so much duplication, wastage and lack of reuse in embedded? Why not provide a good solid product, support and help companies get innovative products out faster. Reduce duplication, increase reuse and create more value and innovation in the ecosystem.

I think it is even trendy and hip to create reuse. Ah ah, knew it, it is green and reduces global warning and good all around. Before I go so far as to say that it will solve world hunger and create lasting peace, I will stop. Think about it, Oxymorons are not always so, they just make you ask why not?