Why businesses are adopting the open source community approach

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A few months ago, I joined Red Hat as a marketing apprentice (intern) in Paris, France—where I am also continuing my studies at France Business School—and it became clear to me that my vision of what open source is and what it means to be part of the community has changed. This evolution has significantly altered the way I am participating in projects and communiticating with peers.

I've always been an open source and Linux "evangelist" who has loved to talk, read, and share things the open source way. And in the beginning, my vision of the open source philosophy was idealistic—focusing a lot on values like altruism and freedom. I was also passionately involved in the community—reading blogs, trying out distributions, and getting excited about every open source program I installed. I began dabbling with open source on my first computer, running tests of different Linux distributions (I felt it was never lightweight enough). To get things done, I used Open Office as my default productivity suite.

Over time, I gained new inspirations and perspectives on open source, and as the years went on, I became increasingly interested in how business could help promote open source software. It was something I had not considered before, because it seemed unrealisitc to me that businesses could survive using open source technology and the open source way of thinking. Then, a lightbulb—it was quite the opposite. I realized the open source model could be the reason businesses remain sustainable.

An open source community

Kristian Ulrich Larsen explains in this video that creativity is not only for the artist, and we could consider everyone an artist in their own way. This concept is now widely accepted: that creativity is a driving factor in technology and innovation. And, to me, communities are the backbone of creativity because they work in a collaborative way and thus are capable of providing ideas that could take years to show up in a more traditional business environment where there is strict hierarchy and ideas come from the top down.

In an open source community, everyone is encouraged to contribute and share, and prove ideas relevant or not. In that way, ideas spread faster and the community drives innovation.

The business perspective

Every company wants to have the greatest ideas and a lot of them. But the question your potential client is asking is, What do you want us to buy and why do we need it? So, the reality of things is that those ideas have to be more than just inspiring, they have to sell. How can a great idea spread and give birth to something tangible and concrete?

Together they grow

When an idea inspires us, we want it to spread and last. We want it to have it's "time." Financial support is one way to achieve this, and it's why business is good for the open source community. And communities bring innovation to the market and deliver what consumers dream about. It's clear that both structures bring advantages when coming up with something that inspires and that sells.

For a business, "open sourcing" means you not necessarily have to open your code, because you might not be a software editor after all, but it can mean that you respect the values behind open source: to share, and share with transparency. Also, open source provides a model for business that makes many feel that they are supporting a worthy cause.

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Florian is three things: a Marketing Apprentice at Red Hat, a Marketing Team member at the Document Foundation, and a Business student at France Business School. In a joint apprenticeship program with France Business, Florian wants to start promoting the community and the open source values while studying.


I work in the greenhouse industry (think large scale agribusiness vs. mom and pop flower retail), an industry dominated by closed and redundant MRP solutions. Each business in the industry pours sums ranging from single digit thousands to millions into software companies for functionality that could more efficiently be made once and made open by a consortium of interested businesses. Unfortunately, as in many industries that are not directly in the tech sector, the case for open source software is not readily apparent. Making a business case for open software will be necessary for both open software and for business to acheive their potential.

I believe our perspectives change when - surprise surprise! - we get older. We start thinking about making a living with open source, rather than just giving all our time away. As a person who has literally stood in food bank lines because of open source, I'd like to call this "sustainable" open source. When you feel you *must* make money to continue the exercise, you get more creative and intelligent about monetizing open source.

Unfortunately the reality is many business models are *not* going to make any money on pure open source, such as slapping a GPL on computer games not tethered to the internet. So you adopt hybrids and keep parts of your business closed. I do not believe businesses have to make an all-or-nothing decision, and this ideology puts me on the MIT/BSD side of licensing debates. I'll give away whatever makes sustainable economic sense to give away.

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