Banking

Can open source survive acquisition by proprietary companies?

There has been a string of high-profile acquisitions of open source projects by big-name companies, such as Sun's purchase of MySQL. Can open source survive these mergers, or is it a death knell for further code development?

In the September 1 issue of Information Week, the cover story was an in-depth report on the string of acquisitions of open source companies, ("Open Source for Sale" by Charles Babcock) and how they've panned out so far. You can download this report from informationweek.com. In the article, Babcock addresses some of the high-profile mergers/acquisitions: XenSource by Citrix Systems, Zimbra by Yahoo, MySQL by Sun, and Sleepycat by Oracle.

Babcock explores the problem of how open source projects coexist in the same company with proprietary systems. Is the integrity of open source destroyed or can it be integrated into the big picture and wiggle its way into the enterprise space at the same time?

In Babcock's view the major risk of these partnerships lies in the "weakened developer and user community relationships."

Open source code has gained in value over the last two years, and that value is recognized in the high acquisition prices. The open source code, of course, remains freely available, but the code's value withers if there's no community of independent, critical users and developers driving it forward, with leadership to guide it.

I encourage you to read the entire article if you have the time. Babcock interviews some of the prime players -- both the disgruntled and the hopeful.

Do you think open source can complement proprietary systems without being subsumed and eventually drained of its value by the other? What do you think about some of these acquisitions?

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

5 comments
thommym
thommym

Having Sun Microsystems in the same text as proprietary only shows that the writer has no clue whatsoever. Sun is the absolutely largest contributor to open source and they have even opened up their hardware. They also stopped MySQL from closing part of the code when they aquired them.

linux for me
linux for me

If any proprietary company tries to absorb an open source company, either they let the open source projects go on and support them, or those working on the project leave, fork off a new version, and then continue as before. There may be obstacles throw in the way, but there is no way to completely shutdown the open source code development.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Do you think it's actually good for other open source initiatives when some of the most popular open source projects gain enterprise access via the big-name companies?

Ekline
Ekline

What do you mean when you say, "most propular open source projects gain enterprice access" I don't think Big Name companies have the right to take the ideas of programmers who are distributing their work for free and make money from it if that is what you're getting at...

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

These open source companies are selling for many millions of dollars to big companies that offer even bigger distribution channels (IBM, Oracle, Sun) for their software, thus increasing their potential to be used in more enterprises. The rather huge drawback is that, yes, they often lose programmers and community backing if they don't agree with the new direction.