Ian Murdock, the guy who started Debian, and now runs a company called Progeny Linux Systems is right on track with this. Instead of seeing Linux as a product, he sees Linux as a set of commodity software components he can put together for different purposes.
IDGNS: Isn't that how IBM sees Linux?
O'Reilly: Absolutely, but I would say that IBM's current strategy with open source is very close to the Compaq strategy in the early days of the PC. There were a whole bunch of vendors who took this commodity thing and tried to tweak it and improve it and add value in some way, and differentiate themselves that way. And so (with) WebSphere, for example, (IBM says) "OK, we'll put together a bunch of open source components with a bunch of proprietary components and we'll bundle it up in some way that everybody will say, "OK, I guess I've got to pay for it." That's a lot like Compaq's strategy.
Somebody will come along eventually and put together the complete open source stack. If you look at the history of the PC, the Compaq strategy didn't fail. It's just that the Dell strategy was marginally better. The whole essence of the Dell approach was build to order, and I think we're going to see the emergence of that business model for Linux.
IDGNS: Is the open source software stack mature enough for there to be an open source Dell?
O'Reilly: Probably not yet. There's this great quote from (optical character recognition and speech technology pioneer) Ray Kurzweil. He said, "I'm an inventor, and I started looking at long-term trends because an invention has to make sense in the world in which it was finished, not the world in which it started." A lot of people are doing plans for the world that's rapidly ending, and you have to do your business plan for the world that's coming.
No, it's not mature enough yet, but that's why there's opportunity there.
IDGNS: Where else do you see opportunities created by these changes?
O'Reilly: The value will be driven up the stack to data. For this I go back to my Amazon and Google examples. Google may have less of a lock. They probably have more of a traditional software lock in that they're just better at what they do. But there's not much difference between Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com in the software they have. What are different are the customers they have, and the amount of customer contribution to their data.
With eBay it's even clearer. The fact is, it's the critical mass of marketplace buyers and sellers and all the information that people have put in that marketplace as a repository.
So I think we're going to find more and more places where that happens, where somebody gets a critical mass of customers and data and that becomes their source of value. On that basis, I will predict that -- this is an outrageous prediction -- but eBay will buy Oracle someday. The value will have moved so much to people who are not now seen as software suppliers.
Amazon is the furthest along this path, in a lot of ways. Amazon really understands that they are becoming a platform. They are becoming the e-commerce engine of an awful lot more of the Internet than people realize. It's not just a site, but they're running e-commerce for other people, they've built Web services, so people are building applications that (Amazon doesn't) control that use some of their back-end services. They're really moving down that path, and I think other people like that will emerge, and we'll suddenly go, "Oh my God, how did they become such important players?" It will be just the way that IBM thought that Microsoft was not really a competitor until one day they went, "Oh my God, these guys are in the driver's seat."