SAN FRANCISCO - PeopleSoft may be spending its nights tossing and turning about a hostile takeover by Oracle, but maybe Oracle should be the one losing sleep. At least that's what O'Reilly & Associates Chief Executive Officer Tim O'Reilly believes.
EBay will someday buy Oracle, open source licenses don't work, and the software market is about to change forever. These are three of the predictions that O'Reilly, a well-known publisher of technical books and an open source advocate, had to offer in an interview conducted the week before his company's annual Open Source Convention. The conference, which attracts a who's who of the open source community, will be held in Portland, Oregon, next week.
IDGNS: You're keynoting at the Open Source Convention next week. What will you be talking about?
Tim O'Reilly: I think there's a paradigm shift going on right now, and it's really around both open source and the Internet, and it's not entirely clear which one is the driver and which one is the passenger, but at least they are fellow travellers.
Let me give you an example of what I would consider a paradigm failure that happens all the time in the open source community. The critic of open source says, "Open source is just not very good at building easy-to-use software." And the open source defender says, "Oh, you haven't seen the latest version of Gnome (GNU Object Model Environment). It's really getting pretty good."
Nobody is pointing out something that I think is way more significant: all of the killer apps of the Internet era: Amazon, Google, and Maps.yahoo.com. They run on Linux or FreeBSD, but they're not apps in the way that people have traditionally thought of applications, so they just don't get considered. Amazon is built with Perl on top of Linux. It's basically a bunch of open source hackers, but they're working for a company that's as fiercely proprietary as any proprietary software company.
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.
I would go further than the fact that the licenses don't work. I would also point out that these applications are fundamentally different in that their interfaces are composed much more of data than they are of just software. My basic premise is, "Let's stop thinking about licenses for a little bit. Let's stop thinking that that's the core of what matters about open source. And that's not to say that they're completely unimportant, it's just that they can blind (us) to other things that are perhaps more important.
IDGNS: Like what?
O'Reilly: The commoditization of software. Open source is a contributor to the commoditization of software, but it's not the only contributor. Open standards lead to commoditization. The Web browser is proprietary, but it's a commodity.
Basically, we're really seeing the development of something that's analogous to hardware with the IBM PC. If you look at what happened to the hardware business, there was a transitional period where everybody tried to play by the old rules. It wasn't until Dell figured out that, no, the rules really are different, and the business levers are different, that we saw somebody figure out how to really leverage commodity hardware.