Saturday, December 26, 2009

Google's Open-Source Manifesto Tells the Truth

Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice-president of product management at Google (GOOG), put up on Dec. 21 what was more of a tome than a mere post on the company's blog. Entitled "The Meaning of Open," it was originally sent to Google employees as an e-mail, but it reads like a manifesto.

Arguments have raged for years about exactly what is entailed by an open-technology strategy, as opposed to a closed one. In the open-source community, the free software definition explicitly states that truly free software means "free as in speech, not free as in beer." It further explicitly states that freeware—software applications that you or I can use without paying—differs from true open-source software, whose source code we can view and change.

Rosenberg's open manifesto goes well beyond the concept of open-source software, however, in that he goes on to tackle open standards, the value of an open Internet, and the overall concept of open information. He writes: "To understand our position in more detail, it helps to start with the assertion that open systems win. This is counterintuitive to the traditionally trained MBA, who is taught to generate a sustainable competitive advantage by creating a closed system, making it popular, then milking it through the product life cycle. The conventional wisdom goes that companies should lock in customers to lock out competitors…Open systems are just the opposite."

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