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 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?


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...

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