The big question many people ask themselves about open source is: “How do we monetize this?” The real question should be: “What are we really selling?” Answer: Brainpower.
The always-interesting Matt Asay put it this way:
What’s becoming self-evident is that open source is a fantastic way to drive community value, which funnels prospective customers into purchasing proprietary value born of scarcity. Whether Google AdWords or Red Hat Network, it’s the same phenomenon.
In other words, it’s not that businesses have bought into the ideological allure of freedom. It’s that freedom can more efficiently create a large base of prospective customers for something else.
As someone else once put it, open source is useful if your primary product is not software itself. A company whose main product is consultancy or support staffing (IBM) can make more direct use of open source as an attractor than a company that makes software itself as their main offering (Microsoft or Adobe). The more I talk with people in and around this industry, the more I think there’s a case to be made for both approaches. The hard part is convincing people on both sides that the other guy is not always wrong.