Is Open Source Just for Tools And A Threat To American Software?

Open source apps rock!

The question of whether open source software is a threat to the software industry is a tired and old argument that has been debated and disproven many times in the past. The question of whether or not it is a threat to the American software industry specifically is really no different, just a subset of the bigger question. But that is just what long-time open source journalist Dana Blankenhorn discusses in a recent article on The Street. In defending open source, though, I think Blankenhorn gives open source "a left-handed compliment."

What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean that while Dana plainly says the answer to the question is no, he qualifies it by saying that open source is mostly and best used only for "tools." What he says exactly is:

Turns out there are two kinds of software. There are tools, which are used to create new software, and there are applications -- the programs that actually do things.

Open source mainly works with tools. The Linux operating system, the Eclipse set of programming tools, Apache's set of web tools, the OpenStack cloud stack. These programs improve everything that runs on them. They make applications easier to write, they make them more secure, they make programmers more productive.

So what does that mean? Are open source apps not as good as commercial apps? Are open source programs that are not tools truly a threat to American software? I say Dana is wrong on both counts.

There plenty of great open source apps. Here is a list of 100 great open source apps by the folks at Ubuntu. While some may classify some of these as tools, for the most part they are apps and they are very good. Many of them I have used myself.  Clearly open source isn't just for tools. By the way, I don't disagree with Blankenhorn that open source excels at producing fantastic tools as well. I just don't think tools are all open source does well.

As to the issue of whether it is a threat to the American software industry, I think that is an irrelevant question. The genie is already out of the bottle. We can stick our heads in the sand and make believe open source doesn't exist or we can embrace it and make it ours. 

If we choose to ignore it, I can assure you that the rest of the world will not. Open source as a model is well established. If it is in fact a threat to American software companies, then they need to out innovate, out produce and exceed the quality of what is coming from open source. You are not going to stop the tide of open source adoption.

Maybe the old axiom of "if you can't beat them join them" is in order. Let American software companies adopt, expand and evolve open source models to their own liking. I believe American ingenuity will makes lemonade out of those lemons and be even stronger for the competition.

Open source software and the principles behind it are a wave sweeping the globe. Anyone who doesn't get in front of it will be drowned out if they don't adapt.

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