TR: What about services based on open source software?
LEFKOWITZ: I’m a big believer in incremental improvement-what the Japanese call kaizen. In that view of a service ecosystem you continue to reflect on how you can provide the service better and think about what things you could streamline through automation.
LEFKOWITZ: That’s a really complicated question, and my answer to it keeps evolving-in part because open source means so many things. Oftentimes if I contribute something to the open source community, it’s because I believe that the value to be derived by contributing exceeds the value of not doing so.
TR: What is an example of that?
LEFKOWITZ: People typically do that if you’re just looking at the code for reasons related to testing and porting and internationalizing. If you want to port the code to 20 different platforms then you need to acquire 20 different platforms to test it. Small developers can’t afford to do that. But if they open source it, other people will do that work.
And then, there’s the secret sauce for which you wish to capture an innovation premium. You can take that open source stuff, add your secret sauce, and create some very nice commercial products. Apple does it. Microsoft did it with ActiveDirectory. The advantage is this: if somebody else then wants to take that same code base, and add a proprietary innovation that you don’t have, they’ll be able to monetize that. It depends on the extent to which you are interested in encouraging a marketplace. Some open source projects, like those based on the GNU General Public License (GPL), are more directed at encouraging the growth of freely available software. Others, like BSD and Apache, are concerned with capturing a financial premium from innovation.
TR: Can you see a future in which open source permeates corporate IT culture? Can open source be a guiding principle in corporate decision-making and strategy?
LEFKOWITZ: A lot of executive suites are focused on collaboration and openness and free exchange of ideas within their companies. They want to encourage their people to learn more, to interact more, to share ideas more within the corporation. Well, for open source companies like Collabnet and Sourceforge, that’s their business-going into companies and selling them the service, using open source tools, or proprietary tools, to help them organize themselves and behave internally the way the open source community behaves among itself. That kind of culture is desirable. People recognize that today.