As I said in a previous blog, financial booms are history. I simply don’t believe and also don’t hope that we will see another one of them. With the Financial Boom comes the Financial Crash. And as I have said before: the Boom was practically invisible to most people (at least in Europe) but the Crash not.
However, I do believe a Boom will come – it will just not be a financial boom this time round. As with most cases as one boom turns into an ugly mess the next has already started to climb out of the crap it left behind. This time I suspect the boom will be in the area of open source. And I am not limiting this to the open source we have so far seen most of, IT, but in many areas of business. I know opensource in IT has been around for some time but it has now reached a critical mass as people start to use and contribute in greater numbers. I have even recently passed back code into the community for my eeepc ACPI Fn F2 button (ok it was small and insignificant but it’s years since I did coding for a living).
Opensource probably needs a more general definition: I think it is “free use and distribution of ideas with possibly the only restriction to the user being to redistribute any additions / modifications made to the idea”.
I think the Chinese are helping us here by NOT enforcing copyright / patent issues. And personally I agree with this. Nobody “owns an idea”; can you imagine if it were possible to trace the inventor of doughnuts? Would this person then be paid a couple of cents for each doughnut sold across the world. As ridiculous as companies like Qualcom – which to me make no sense. Armies of lawyers protecting their ideas with patents. Is this efficient on a global human scale? Wouldn’t it make much more sense for this to be an open source foundation sponsored by Nokia, Sony Ericsson Huaweii and the like. In a similar way to google sponsoring the mozilla (firefox) foundation? Everyone benefits – except the negative work from patent lawyers (which we of course all indirectly sponsor). The companies not investing would of course have no say on the directions of research but would still be able to use the results. Similar to what is happening with the symbian OS.
Android (the OS on the googlephone) is another perfect example of how people can make money from open source. And in the end everyone benefits. But open source projects like firefox, linux, android and symbian also show how even in IT there are different models for making money without ruining the opensource ethic.
So, let’s look now at a couple of other industries outside of IT to see how here the opensource model is being used and could be extended….
Already in the fashion world with burdastyle.com there is a platform for opensource fashion design. This has the advantage for the designer that they get a lot of free marketing as their profiles get lots of hits. If they are clever they can then point to other platforms where their wares can be bought. And of course they can also perform quite clever market research amongst their peers.
Why should all car makers fight alone trying to make the perfect hybrid motor. They can still add their USP at the end of the chain. Who cares if the new earth saving battery is the same used everywhere – infact it would probably make a lot more sense if it were – reducing cost. And in the end everyone wins again. If the experts from Toyota, GM, VW, … got together in an opensource foundation type model I am sure we would get a better solution faster. The car industry has already started in a way in this area with a series of joint ventures in the areas of manufacturing – all is needed is a little more fantasy to identify the truly global components. This may not only save the troubled car industry but also the world.
The same could be true for many engineering type products. There is always a basic common fundamental with room for everyone to add a USP. Take a flat screen TV: most of the components are the same – i.e. this basic design could be opensourced with each vendor adding their polish or rendering engine as the USP. Supporting an opensourced foundation spreading costs between many firms would enable experts from all companies to work together and ultimately make products cheaper for everyone.
I guess the writing of blogs is also an extreme form of opensourced thinking with ideas and thoughts being made freely available. Also, I see more and more e-books also often entering into this area. Here the aim being to promote other work of the same author. The reader has the chance to try and if good buy the next one.
Architecture has probably always worked in this mode – or at least I am not aware of a patent on a “square window” or “stairs down to cellar”.
If further proof is required that this model works check out the news in last weeks “Die Welt”: the fastest CPU of the world has just been produced by an international team focused around Karlsruhe Uni – it overtook the previous fastest from Intel. Proving that money is not the motivator.
So as you can see opensourced thinking is already not restricted to the IT SW domain and has potential to spread into others although it is important to understand that each industry will have a slightly different model. The learning curve will not be easy but I think as you see it just makes sense. I think many forms will be found such as foundations and I also believe research teams in universities will have a big role to play.
But as we all have ideas then I guess we can all make a difference. Open up your mind takes on a whole new meaning…
If I were a patent lawyer I would be retraining myself now on learning things like the various flavours of GPL , BSD, … and how these kind of license models can be used in the rest of the world.
There is a lot still to be discussed here so … to be continued…