Sometimes I have discussions with my colleagues about how economics can be influenced by Open Source creations. Basically, they consider stupid to give out know-how for free. Companies making their know-how open are throwing out value or, even worst, giving engineering for free to their competitors. When we reach the hot point of the discussion, I always mention the same history. It’s the history of a big company giving a book for free. Not a little company, not a simple book… look:
There are a few books that dramatically influenced human history. Some of them are about religion, others about economics, politics... I would like to present you one of those books. This one is about computers.
Here you have a photo of it:
I recovered it during a warehouse clean-up in my former company. I still have it. Please read the preface. Why did we stop to do this kind of things?
This book describes in very deep detail the first IBM Personal Computer. Standard communication protocols were explained, electronic diagrams were included, even the BIOS was disassembled, including comments!
This book helped to create a lot of parallel business, from printers to video cards, from file compressing software to anti-virus. But, most of all, it gave millions of companies, individuals and families a wonderful gift: the transaction cost of complex communication decreased by a factor of 10^n.
At that time, Apple was selling his Apple II with commercials showing it at home, in the kitchen.
On the early 80’s, IBM was a Hardware company in a hardware world. The name of the game was “the one who grows faster gets all” (sounds familiar?) and the Pc won that first round of the game. Macintosh came a few years later. Then the mobile phone, the Ipad… The rest is history.
IBM created the XT (including Hard disc, wow!), then the AT (having mathematical coprocessor, wow again!). Mobile computing came right after. But plenty of alternative companies were struggling to deliver better & cheaper Pc’s. IBM won a huge pile of money selling Pc’s but 25 years after his creation, IBM completely left the Pc business making loses on this part of the company.
In my opinion, IBM made 2 wrong assumptions:
- They expected to be & to remain the center of a community forever.
- This community was formed by companies creating & providing hardware depending on IBM new Spec’s. “Who cares on the software? Who knows which software will be used tomorrow? “
But once you get open, you are just one more. People care about which is the original one only for a short while, then they go for the best option.
Microsoft took over IBM by proposing a radically different paradigm. They detected that future was all about software, not hardware. And, on top of all, they didn't focus on the hardware community: they focus on end users. Computer producers were just the sales channel, not the customers. They focus on End User Companies using a nice approach: You must have our products because everybody else have them. Do you want to share documents with other companies? Then you must pay us first!” Brilliant: The more people entering into this Ponzi scheme now, the more people will enter in the future.
Microsoft was /is not an open company. You get nearly nothing for free out of them. Microsoft philosophy is: “I develop, you install & deliver, they pay us”. One could think that the Microsoft /Copyright concept won the IBM/Openness one. But it is not true. Microsoft (and many other) used the Open System provided by IBM to grow.
After earning a huge amount of money, IBM went to his real core business: let’s create information systems that help people. They went software. And Microsoft... well Microsoft will die as Microsoft.
To be or not to be open, that's the question... What is your answer to this dilemma?