Reading about HipHop for PHP, I was reminded about a post from Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady titled "When Your Customer Is Your Competitor: The Return of Roll Your Own." Stephen argues that the traditional definition of a "software company" is far too narrow.
Why do you think Facebook would sponsor the Apache Foundation? Because, like Amazon, they’re in the business of producing software. Software like Cassandra. ... Ruby on Rails came out of 37Signals' Basecamp, a Software-as-a-Service project management tool. Django? Extracted From the Lawrence Journal-World's website. Crane? Derived from Flightcaster. Git? Written by Linus Torvalds to manage the Linux kernel tree. None of this software, of course, would be all that interesting except for one important change: this in-house developed code is open source, and shared with others. Which has led to entirely new -- and entirely unanticipated -- business models.
I agree with Stephen's claim that interesting and popular software projects are no longer solely the purview of vendors whose financial future is linked to directly monetizing the software in question. One could argue that vendors in the business of producing software that is directly monetized are at risk of being marginalized by companies offering a competitive software solution without the need to directly monetize the software itself.
For instance, who could have guessed that Zend, the commercial vendor behind PHP, would face competition from Facebook? What's more, Facebook could care less about selling licenses, subscriptions, or extensions to HipHop for PHP. Therein lies the catch-22 and, potentially, the opportunity.
Note: I'll use Zend and HipHop for PHP as examples, but the argument could be applied to any commercial software vendor facing competition from an open source project whose sponsor is not in the business of directly monetizing the software itself.