When you get into religious discussions, it’s always safest to tread carefully. And, let’s face it, Linux is a religion of sorts. So when I received The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source, by Linux evangelist Martin Fink, I opened it with some trepidation.
Not only is
Fink the vice-president and chief technology officer for Hewlett Packard’s Business Critical Systems Global Business Unit, responsible for HP’s enterprise Linux development, he is vice-president of the board of directors of the Open Source Development Lab.
With those credentials, I expected, shall we say, some bias.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Yes, Fink is definitely pro-open source. Yes, this book waves the flag for the open source movement, and for Linux. But it does so in a reasoned and businesslike way, laying out the pros and cons, and not trying to say that Linux and open source are the solutions to every problem.
The first few chapters provide an overview of Linux and the open source movement. They provide some basic terminology (though the book is written for business people, so jargon is kept to a minimum), pros and cons of Linux deployment in business, a description of the Linux kernel, and a discussion of the licensing structure it lives under. There’s also a discussion of the many organizations and communities supporting open source.
The next section goes into building Linux distributions (a distribution is a customized version of the operating system), standards, the costs of Linux and open source, and their deployment and support. Chapter 11 will be close to most development managers’ hearts — it’s called “Business Models — Making Money,” and describes various ways to use open source to generate revenue.
The final section contains the mouthful that may be hardest to chew for businesses: how to take the open source development and deployment model and adapt it to a business environment. There’s even a chapter on the human resources considerations, such as copyright ownership and interaction with the greater open source community.
Market dynamics and the commoditization of software get a chapter of their own, where Fink talks about product lifecycles, and the differences between proprietary and open source software. The key to benefiting from open source, he says, is to understand how to take advantage of the open source community rather than to attack it. He draws parallels between the open source world and the pharmaceutical industry, with its proprietary and generic products, and condemns the tactics of some companies that indulge in what he refers to as “aggressive patent enforcement.”
He briefly slips out of objective mode when he points out that any attempt to compete with the open source movement is “usually a knee-jerk reaction that will go away with time” because, he says, “Competing against a community of first-rate developers