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Where Are All the Open Source Billionaires?

On 4/25/07, David Kramer <david at> wrote:
> Seth Gordon wrote:
> > David Kramer wrote:
> >>
> >>
> >> If Open Source software is free, then why bother spending money on
> >> Microsoft Partner stuff? I already know what Microsoft's detractors
> >> will say: "There's no reason whatsoever. $40 billion per year is
> >> totally wasted."
> >>
> >> "This, however is not a very satisfying answer, simply because it
> >> doesn't quite ring true. Otherwise there'd be a lot more famous
> >> Open Source billionaires out there, being written up in Forbes
> >> Magazine or wherever. And Bill Gates would've been ousted years
> >> ago. "
> To be clear, when I send something like this to the list, I do so
> because it is interesting and on-topic.  I don't necessarily agree with
> it, in part or in whole.  That's how I roll.
> > Giles Bowkett said it better than I could:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Jeff's post is a good post, and he provides a much calmer and nicer
> > answer than I'm about to, but I don't have his vast reserves of
> > patience. That is the _stupidest question_ in the *world*. Where are
> > all the _air_ billionaires? Where are all the _gravity_ billionaires?
> > What about the _light_ billionaires? Huh? Huh? Where are they? Tell
> > me! If light is so damn useful, why hasn't anyone been able to
> > _license the sun?_ *It must not be worth anything!*
> >
> > Wow. Good point there, Einstein.
>   Giles's paragraph above is a little silly if you ask me.

Derision without explanation rings hollow.

He also has
> at least one major flaw in the rest of his article.  He makes it sound
> like all companies should just rely on open source software, and
> everyone saves a lot of money and everyone wins.  What he's forgetting

He's not forgetting anything.  You misunderstand the economics of open
source and the nature of shared infinite resources (like light,
gravity and knowlege).  In general terms, if all companies spent their
existing technology budgets contributing to open source software, the
world would be full of paid technology professionals (direct FTEs or
otherwise).  And everyone does win.

Collabnet paid Sussman [1] and Fitzpatrick to work on Subversion.  Now
they work for Google, (and still work on Subversion).  Where did
Collabnet lose out?  They didn't.  They have a healthy business built
on Subversion, and they can pay for as many people as they want to
have work on Subversion.  Who can you point to that 'lost', except for
BitMover or some proprietary version control system company?


> is that writers of open source software write software for free that
> *they* want to work on.  Software that's interesting to them, and on
> their schedule.

Many people all over the world have the luxury of working on their own
initiatives on their free time unpaid (it's also known as
volunteering).  In business, there is an increasing mass of HR,
Marketing, Product Managers, Developers, CEOs, Secretaries etc.
working 'regular' jobs connected to open source technology.  It's like
saying the whole school system is working on 'open' education.  It's
not new, but it is different from the proprietary (aka 'secret')

> Since there are so many OSS developers out there, maybe you can find
> someone to work on your program, maybe you won't.  Maybe they'll start,
> then leave when a new shiny thing comes along, and since you're not
> paying them, you can't do anything about it.

This just isn't accurate.  Companies don't risk their existence on
volunteers.  All companies, governments, educational institutions and
organizations do receive a great deal of benefit from volunteer
resources, and other shared infrastructure.

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