Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

O'Reilly on the Commoditization of Software 285

Iorek writes "International Data Group/Sverige has a great interview with Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates Inc. From predictions of eBay's purchase of Oracle to discussions of the failings of open source licenses, O'Reilly's certainly not reserved. I couldn't help but be reminded of the rise of this site and slashcode."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

O'Reilly on the Commoditization of Software

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:38PM (#6370694)
    How well is Andover/OSDN [], owner of Slashdot, doing? Honestly.
  • by Exitthree ( 646294 ) on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:56PM (#6370753) Homepage

    ...Apple. Look at what Apple did with OS X. Apple took an Open Source OS and pinned it up with a proprietary front-end. The system benefits from all of the Open Source advancements in hardware control, while at the same time, the user has all the benefits of a modern, easy-to-use interface.

    Perhaps the article should have pointed out that the commoditization of Open Source largely involves the things the user never sees. What hasn't evolved yet is a fundamentally easy-to-use Open Source GUI for the whole slew of commodity parts in the back-end.

    Other companies have taken a similar path with commodity software, Red Hat for instance. However, their business plan involves capitalization on commodity products, not in the interface department, but rather in the support department. In theory, these two branches aren't that far separated. Interface and support both help the user accomplish the same thing, that is, getting work done on the computer.

    I think we're nearing the turning point where we decide there aren't that many tasks we haven't managed to code on the computer. In comparison, we have a much larger area to cross in making things easier for the user. It would make perfect sense, business-wise, to assume that the area that is most open for development is the area that is most profitable. Therefore, I imagine this is the next area that software, internet, and computer manufacturers will flourish.

  • by sbwoodside ( 134679 ) <> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#6370768) Homepage
    What's wrong with this picture? Well, one thing is that one of the fundamental premises of open source is that the licenses are all conditioned on the act of software distribution, and once you're no longer distributing an application, none of the licenses mean squat.

    One of the things that was criticized about the APSL [] was that it covers deployment as well. And they define deployment as anything other than R&D and personal use. Check it out in Section 1.4.

  • by minus_273 ( 174041 ) <> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#6370774) Journal
    hinderances to OSS is the image. I say this because ive met people who will use macs but they wont use linux because of the people who promote it as an anti business anti capitalist vehicle. The mozilla logo doesnt go very far in helping remove that image. then there those who genuinely belive that through linux they can bring a revolution of a politicla nature. its unlikely to happen it wil just hurt linux
  • GPL3? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdxi ( 3387 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:07AM (#6370791) Homepage
    To condense, O'Reilly says that licenses which allow you to modify and use code without releasing it because you aren't distributing it -- as is the case with Amazon and eBay -- are failures, because they don't force those changes and possible improvements back to the community.

    He does not, however, provide a solution or an alternative, or get into the question of whether Amazon and eBay actually are "distributing" the code by having millions of people outside their organizations use it every day. I believe this (the "ASP loophole") is one of the things being addressed by version 3 of the GPL (the current version dates to 1991, before the birth of the web). If the GPL does change to define, say, execution of programs via CGI interface, as distribution, it's hard to fully imagine what the repercussions will be.
  • by g_arumilli ( 324501 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:12AM (#6370804)
    True, but stable Market Cap is at least a good indication of size, not necessarily stability and/or viability...Given EBay's history of putting up profits and considering that there doesn't appear to be any fall-off in its business despite this "recession", I think it's fair to say that they're a large company that would be next to impossible for Oracle to acquire...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:13AM (#6370806)
    Well with all due respect, so what? You're saying that these people won't use Linux because some people promote it as anti-business? Good grief, what do you want! You get stable, fast, powerful code for FREE, source code and binaries, packaged up all ready to go with easy installation, people willing to support you for nothing, and they're afraid because some wackos think it's anti-capitalist?!

    What is it? What do you want? A troupe of dancing grizzly bears or something?
  • by JLyle ( 267134 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:15AM (#6370816) Homepage
    Tim O'Reilly's comments about open source licenses and their irrelevance for internet applications reminded of this article [] by Joe Johnston from a few years ago. It was written around the beginning of the media blitz on Microsoft's .NET platform, and goes into some more detail about possible ramifications for open source software developers of the shift to web services and internet applications.
  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:24AM (#6370839)
    That a certain percentage of the population be given machine lathes with the condition that they have to produce at least one additional lathe to give with the same condition to someone who didn't have one yet.

    Very soon, everyone would have lathes. The market for lathes would be nil. The new market would be for what you could produce with your lathe. Even that market would wane, since anything that was produced for market could be quickly copied by others.

    I think eventually, the market would shift again. Now, the lathe owners would create new proprietary tools that would be used to produce goods and services.

    It seems the IT industry is going through those evolutions now.

    The PC is our lathe, and the software is the first tier of production from these lathes.

    When a new application comes out, such as the browser, it's just a question of time before the concept is copied to the point of market saturation.

    Open Source is the recognition of this inevitability, and is providing the templates for this first tier.

    Now, the challenge is to take these tools and make our own, custom applications and profit from them.

    Amazon and Ebay have done this for themselves, but are wisely cooperating with individuals who are making new tools to profit with them.

    If Bucky was right, the wealth that can be created by such cooperation has no limits.

  • Disturbing trend... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by diabolus_in_america ( 159981 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:31AM (#6370854) Journal
    I think O'Reilly is right, but it points to a very disturbing trend, especially if you are someone who makes a living writing code.

    What he is saying is that business solutions in the immediate future are no longer going to be development and integrated applications (basically, code), but ideas. Why is this disturbing? Because it removes the an entire industry from the equation, or at least, it shifts the software industry down in terms of relevance and importance.

    He is saying that innovation will no longer come from companies like IBM or Oracle, but from the development of new business processes.

    In fact, if you replace the word commodity with the word marginalization in his interview, you'll better see my point. And as software becomes more and more marginalized, the value of the software as well as those of us who write the software drops.

    Frankly, it scares me to think that the skills I've worked so hard and spend so much to develop (and continue to develop) have nothing but marginal value.
  • by rekkanoryo ( 676146 ) <rekkanoryo AT rekkanoryo DOT org> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:42AM (#6370884) Homepage
    Is it just me or does that license look like BSD License meets GPL, with the provision that Apple is allowed to do basically anything they want with any derivative works?
  • Re:GPL3? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rifftide ( 679288 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:45AM (#6370894)
    That would be a radical change to the GPL, to say that distributing products created by the software amounts to distributing the software. I doubt Linux will buy into that and many customers won't either - they'll take their software from forked codebases if they have to.
  • by LibertineR ( 591918 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:11AM (#6370967)
    "It is tempting for Open Source developers to look at Microsoft's marketing blitz surrounding .NET and scoff. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft is positioning itself for the future. Because only descriptions of Web Services are needed in order to use them, Web Services greatly reduces the need for vendor-supplied libraries to be installed on local workstations. A Web Service aware application will become a small shell of a program that contains display logic. Where does this leave the Open Source community? It won't be hard to create Open Source work-alike applications to access the same services that the closed source version does, but is that the point? The Open Source movement is about the freedom to play with code as if it were a box of Lego; Web Services just might take the most interesting parts away."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:32AM (#6371021)
    I know what you mean about Mozilla. Once there was this poll on Mozillazine [] asking what color the Mozilla logo should be. All of the choices were red! Do these people realize how important it is in these times of heightened patriotism to reflect American values? Do they really want to do even more to show the anti-capitalist character of what they are doing, as if Richard Stallman's rantings weren't enough to convince the world of the truth of the comparisons made by SCO CEO Darl McBride between open-source software and Napster?
  • by LibertineR ( 591918 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:47AM (#6371068)
    GNU/Linux treats information like information rather than a false property right

    Totally false. If you dont think information is 'PROPERTY' then go take some that is claimed by someone else and see what happens to you. Information is like anything else. It can be free, it can be owned, it can be rented, it can be stolen, it can be borrowed and returned. It that is irrational, then the world is irrational.

    The GPL is moot, pal. Or did you read the article and understand it? Web Services kick the GPL in the ass and send it running home to momma.

    Copyrights become even more important now, because services themseves will become redundant, and features and availability will determine who gets the dollar. It used to be that the guy who made the movie got rich. Now, it is going to be the guy who sells tickets, and the maker will be happy to share his wares with anyone and everyone who wants to build upon them.

    Microsoft has moved toward Web Services more than any other vendor. With a couple of strategic purchases, I think they stand to win big time.

  • Really. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:10AM (#6371131)
    Actaully, that never even came up. The choice to use linux as a platform for projects is based on whether or not it can deliver, and how easily the developers involved in the project can work with it, and the cost/benefit ratio of using it.

    Complying with the license, in this case, sharing source again, is simply part of the cost of using it, and not that hard in practice to deal with.

    So while what you say about linux treating information freely is very true, and quite important from an overall viewpoint, it is not the reason why people, or companies, use it.

    I can guarantee that the company I work for didn't decide to use linux just so they could "give back" to the world... they picked it becuase it got the job done.. giving back is part of the cost.

  • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:15AM (#6371148)
    The point is that it's all about tools, not about the code as an end product.. the business model, or the particular instance of use of that code is what's important.

    This is not simply about who writes the open source code.. it's about how it's used.

    Open source code will exist for the same reasons it's always existed.. the point is that just having code to do basic stuff , after a while, will no longer even be an issue. It won't be a question of whether or not any basic function can be done freely or not, but how they are put together.

    In other words, because of open source, the same basic tools will be available to everyone equally, and it's how they are used that will matter.

    This might seem logical, but it's not how things have worked in the past.
  • build to order (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Parsec ( 1702 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:48AM (#6371240) Homepage Journal

    Does anyone get how open source will be a profitable "build to order" business plan? Certainly there are a lot of tools which are yet to be created in open source, but it seems like the whole system already is "build to order" for free. You figure out what you need, do a little research, testing, and implementation. A standard procurement model. CD-RW drives all do the same thing, but no one manufacturer is the sole provider. RDBMSs all do pretty much the same thing (+- important features for some), but there's still plenty of room of Postgresql to live along with MySQL and Oracle.

    I can see the use of companies who offer service plans for a base configuration (i.e. a distribution, e.g. Red Hat), and at some point in the near future, much more automation as a whole. But where can you profit from build to order free components except for service, be it sys admin, or tech support?

    IMNSHO, information technology will someday be a commodity service sector. But I don't think software will be the product... just the tools, like a deep fryer or a bucket and mop.

  • IBM sells Linux? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by solprovider ( 628033 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @03:00AM (#6371289) Homepage
    Yes, IBM claims to be selling Linux solutions [], and I am certain they are responsible for many installations of Linux. Also see their PDF of software available for Linux. []

    But IBM has not ported a critical piece of their own software to Linux clients.

    Clients for DB2 seem to have been ported to Linux.

    Tivoli clients have been ported to RedHat and SuSE.

    Rational seems to have been ported only for RedHat. It also works for SuSE if you are running IBM hardware. (Is this a marketing ploy or because of technical difficulties?)

    WebSphere has a developer client for Linux. I first thought it was not available, then I found this mention of it []. But I could not find it in the Buy Now area.

    Lotus does not have Linux clients. IBM recommends running the client under WINE, but this is not acceptable for Fortune 500 companies with tens of thousands of desktops.

    This is the killer. DB2, Rational, and WebSphere are used by developers. Tivoli is used by administrators. Every employee needs to use the mail client and information resources and collaboration abilities of the Lotus Notes client. Without a Linux version of the Lotus Notes client, many companies cannot migrate to Linux desktops. Also, Lotus Notes is the only commercial software with significant marketshare to compete with MsOutlook .

    So, yes, IBM is pushing Linux for servers. But they control one of the major blocks for the Linux desktop in the corporate world, and they are letting us down.
  • by Read Icculus ( 606527 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @03:07AM (#6371318)
    From the front page at OSDL - OSDL []
    OSDL, a non-profit, global consortium of leading technology companies dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux
    Some of the sponsors from their sponsors page - "Dell, IBM, Cisco, RH, Transmeta, VA Software, Intel, HP" So the "3 - Profit!" stage is somewhat seperate from OSDL itself.
  • by Malcontent ( 40834 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @04:14AM (#6371476)
    MS makes most of it's money from windows and office. Both of those products are now competing with a commodity free version. They use the profits from those products to dump other products on the market like IE, xbox, exchange etc. Without those monopoly subsidies those products would not last long enough on the marketplace to gain a foothold.

    In the end MS has to find a way to make monopoly level profits from one or more of their other products. More likely they will simply buy something.
  • by slux ( 632202 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @05:00AM (#6371564)
    Yes, but given back very little in comparison to what they've got. The projects Apple has "borrowed" from would exist without apple, OS X most likely would not without them. But then again, they've chosen their licenses so that they allow this, and it's entirely okay if Apple takes everything and never gives anything back.

    The impression I get from Slashdot is that many GNU/Linux /BSD users are these day jumping to Apple because the only motivation they ever had for using it was the utility value (which the OSI advocates) and they see more of that value in OS X with all it's non-free programs. Fine if you'd like that to be the future of operating systems but I sure as hell wouldn't. Go ask someone who was around about the old UNIXes.

    What we have with GNU (/Linux/*BSD/Hurd) is a free OS which can change the way people think about software completely and bring the copyright law (at least for software) eventually back to reality. Even if you can't do everything you can with Apple's proprietary stuff right now, if it feels like the right thing you should refuse to sponsor the software companies that choose to license their software non-free.

    I for one think that a future where all software was free would be better for the society. Not necessarily for the same reasons Stallman has, I'm not sure I see how non-free software is "morally wrong" but you can accept that idea even on lighter grounds, just like the current copyright law has accepted that we should not have these freedoms by default.
  • by Doubting Thomas ( 72381 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @05:33AM (#6371609)
    What you're talking about is commonly known as Conceptual Integrity.

    It's something that a lot of projects end up wrestling with, but community projects (open source, or otherwise), usually find themselves in trouble from word one.
  • by freeBill ( 3843 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @06:43AM (#6371750) Homepage
    ...O'Reilly's point. Commoditization is not the same as marginalization.

    He is comparing the current situation to 1980 when Wang could charge $40,000 for a minicomputer word-processing system. IBM commoditized the market with an open architecture for microcomputers. Tim's saying the same thing could happen in software with its commoditization (which is coming whether programmers like it or not).

    The '80s didn't produce a "marginalization" of hardware engineers (except those who insisted on continuing to sell word-processing for $10,000 a station). It produced a golden age for hardware engineers.

    Tim's also noting that the ultimate winner in those hardware wars was not the company which commoditized it (IBM), nor the company which first took advantaged of the commoditization (Compaq), but the company that realized the ultimate goal of commoditization was build-to-order (Dell).

    It might not be totally clear who O'Reilly's comparing to IBM in the software commoditization process (maybe he's thinking of Microsoft or even Red Hat). But he explicitly states that IBM is filling the role of Compaq with its Websphere package. And he suggests the ultimate winner will offer something like Websphere with no proprietary components and make their money customizing it to each user.

    Not a bad idea. I'm putting my small personal fortune behind it and finding it's not costing much more than Michael Dell spent in his college dorm room. I hope to be announcing just the kind of product he's talking about at OSCON.

    So maybe I'm a little biased.

  • Re:Tim O is right (Score:2, Interesting)

    by neutralstone ( 121350 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @07:00AM (#6371778) is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office.
    As much as I love OpenOffice, there's no getting around this: With MS Word, I click the little launcher icon, and within a second, I can start typing text. With OpenOffice Writer, first I launch it. Then I get all of my shopping done. When I come back, I start a load of laundry and maybe read a section of the newspaper. That's usually when the OpenOffice splash screen goes away.

  • by musicmaster ( 237156 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @07:15AM (#6371799) Homepage
    Linux is just Linux and Perl is just Perl. They are just two nice little pieces of software that Amazon is using. Sure, they are making a lot from what they have built on top of that. But that is their right. Wasn't opensource about freedom? I think we should be glad if Amazon reports a Linux bug if they find one.

    O'Reilly is right that data collections like Yahoo maps, E-bay and Amazon are the future. However, he is wrong about the answer. We will have to collect our own data. And just as with the software it may take some legal experimenting before we find the right formula.

    There will be some setbacks like CDDB, but we can overcome that.

    Also I am not very worried about the fact that the first implementations of such collections are commercial. The power of the opensource/opencontent is not in being first. It is in being with many and in being volunteers who provide things for free. We are a herd: slow to react, but impossible to resist.

    Let me just do some guesswork how the answers might look like:
    - Amazon: for the book evaluations we might have some open alternative that gets supported by a lot of smaller vendors. Just as with Netscape one vendor (maybe Borders) might pay the bills and let the others have a free ride just to get access to a wider public.
    - Yahoo maps: at some point all software about maps will be standardized. At that point it might very well happen that the real providers of the data in the maps - mainly government agencies - take over.
    - E-bay. E-bay doesn't have a real data collection. It is just the place where everyone goes, just as Slashdot is the place where everyone goes when they want a certain type of discussion. But this is a rather delicate position. It is just as with pubs or search websites: for years one is the most popular and then at once there is a shift.

  • by binary paladin ( 684759 ) <> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @07:34AM (#6371831)
    The unfortunate reality is the humans are creatures of habit, don't like change and don't like being in unfamiliar territory.

    The one thing that's really kept me with Linux as of late is the fact that I can tune it and customize it a whole lot. In the case of a desktop environment I can even change the underlying window manager and I can't explain how impressed I am when I run Konqueror inside of Gnome (I love Konq as a file manager!) and it just works with this completely different setup.

    For someone like me, a tech and a control freak and someone who loves to toy with things, this is great. Unfortunately I'm a minority. So are a lot of other developers.

    I think Apple's strength isn't in its lack of openess but rather the fact that it's a company. Open source projects are of, by and for programmers. Apple, on the other hand, has developers, but there's more to the company than that.

    This being said, their GUI is tuned nicely from the start and MOST people won't do a lot of changing. Just because something can be fine tuned doesn't mean it will be.

    Apple's GUI stands on its own because it is both beautiful and functional out of the box, period. Often times projects don't understand the importance of both of those factors and it's usually obvious which one of the two got the most effort.

    When someone non technical sees me working in Gnome, they don't generally say anything and aren't terribly interested. It looks nice but, particularly its look right out of the box, it's nothing that makes you go, "Wow!" Whereas, when most non technical types walk by my friend on his iMac (one of the newer flat screen ones) they go "Wow, what's that?"

    Apple sells and impressive package that's useful AND beautiful and it's that way out of the box. Whether or not you can change the way it looks is irrelevant because MOST people won't.
  • by binary paladin ( 684759 ) <> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @07:45AM (#6371853)
    Eh... I dunno how anti-capitalist Linux is. I use it to make money every week.

    Besides... it's all free. Cutting costs and maximizing profit with a completely blind eye to any sort of ideal is all about being a capitalist. So is using someone else's hard work for free. While I love the sort of sharing/working together mentality and ideals of a lot of open source, it's the best of both worlds. Hippies can hug it and Republicans can exploit it!
  • by lanalyst ( 221985 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @08:39AM (#6371939)
    Using OSS tools (Perl, php, gcc) and running on a OSS platform (Linux, Apache, mySQL, pg) is a decoupling from vendor centric solutions to one that's portable across a full range of hardware today and probably well into the future. The same source that runs on a z Series mainframe can run on the smallest devices available - phones and handhelds - and everything in between. Portable code.

    I see just the opposite for the 'lack of standards' argument. Built with XML/SOAP, data is portable.

    If I have to rewrite it's because of a better *idea* - a new way of doing things.. not because some bean counter can get a better *deal* from another vendor.

    A MDSN Universal subscription for 1 year is over $2,500 - locked into ia32 architecture and a propritary os, etc. Right where they want you.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @11:13AM (#6372344)
    I dont think this is about the ability to tweak, tune and skin on OS. It's deeper.

    Most people perceive tweaking and tuning an OS as a deficiency. They might ask something like this: If I hafta to waste my time getting this thing to run faster and more conveniently, why didn't it come that way in the first place?

    Apple successfully controls what it means to be a Mac program. They do that by forcefully controlling the code and the API's that are the platform's core.

    In many ways, the "choice" touted by the open source community benefits open source developers more than it benefits open source consumers. Developers have the choice to modify code as they see fit. Unfortunately, what consumers often get is another half-finished, idiosyncratic product with a very high annoyance factor. This is the kind of choice we don't need.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @11:48AM (#6372453)
    The problem with examples like OpenOffice, Mozilla, Opera, etc., is that they are functional copies of proprietary applications.

    People use Office not for the joy of using Word, or PowerPoint, or Access, or Excel, or Outlook, or Internet Explorer. They use Office because they need to write, to draw, to store and manipulate data, to calculate, to communicate, to deal with the web. What Microsoft is really selling is a solution to that problem.

    By concentrating on building software that mimics the proprietary software that is already meeting those needs, open source is simply playing catchup. More importantly, all those open source apps will become useless overnight when someone successfully markets a better way to write, draw, store, calculate, communicate, etc.

    To conjure a poor analogy, who cares about free VHS recorders when the DVD guy shows up?

  • by slux ( 632202 ) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:06PM (#6372926)
    The space is there because the BSDs generally (with the exception of Debian GNU/FreeBSD) try not to use GNU tools wherever possible.

    I think people miss Stallman's point with the whole GNU/Linux thing more often than not. He started a project to assemble together a operating system called GNU in 1984. When Linux came around, thanks to the GNU projects efforts there was _everything_ ready to make a complete free operating system except the kernel. People then grabbed all the GNU tools and the ones GNU hadn't had to develop because they already were there and combined them with Linux to get an operating system. They then continued to call this Linux. Stallman had been working to achieve this from the 80's and now his project wasn't getting any kind of credit even though it had been a main player in making this possible.
  • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:50PM (#6373098) Homepage
    Wasn't opensource about freedom?

    The Open Source movement eschews freedom. The Free Software movement is about freedom. When Open Source advocates adopt the language of freedom, I think that's good and telling at the same time--good in that more people need to know about software freedom. I agree with the FSF when they say we need more freedom talk []. And I think everyone is grateful for the Open Source movement bringing in more people who use and develop Free Software (as well as securing the GNU General Public License--developed by and for the Free Software movement--as the most widely used Free Software license). But I find it is also telling at the same time because it means the message the Open Source movement was based on, the message that movement conveys--a development methodology--is being lost.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal