Greed is good: 9 open source secrets to making money

Low-cost marketing, hard bargains, keeping competitors in check -- profiteering abounds in the open source community

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Open source profiteering strategy No. 8: Open-source to develop shared standards
Every business and marketplace needs a set of standards so that customers know what to expect and businesses know what to build. Open source can often help create these standards of interoperability.

Take HTML, the language we use for marking up documents on the Web -- but also a crucial standard that allows Web browsers to compete. Once the industry coalesced around the HTML standard, browser makers were able to innovate and compete on features instead of content. Content creators, on the other hand, were assured that the Web pages they produced would generally work on all available browsers.

Open source tools often lie at the center of this evolving standard. The mobile browser marketplace, for instance, was largely defined by the WebKit rendering engine originally created by Apple but adopted by Google and others. Apple could have kept this technology proprietary, but that would have meant less interoperability between the iPhone and other smartphones, translating into fewer websites with content tailored to and rendered readable on smartphones in general. That would have slowed the marketplace. Releasing it as an open source toolkit nurtured a shared standard.

Open source profiteering strategy No. 9: Open-source to control the future
A number of businesses, big and small, pay their employees to work on open source projects. Some even donate large blocks of code that they spent plenty of money to create. They want to make sure they influence the way the code base is developing, and the easiest way to do this is to contribute lines of code.

This influence is constant. Many of the most important contributors to all the major projects like Linux also work for companies that want to stay current. The goal, of course, is to make sure the open source code remains useful for their purposes. If the library or tool is growing, the new features may not be compatible with the company's proprietary tools. But if the company writes a big chunk of the new features, they'll be able to ensure it fits their needs. As Alan Kay, the inventor of the Alto, once said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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