Cool, the Mozilla Foundation has budded off a commercial taxible subsidiary. I agree with Karim. This is a very exciting development.
While we have seen numerous attempts by commercial firms to capture some of that Open Source magic. Most of these have come from people who’s motives are principally commercial. Now there is nothing wrong with those motives, but it tends to color their attempts. The motivations that serve the establishment and stewardship of a rich open commons tend to move progressively (sic) to the back burner.
It is difficult to create a hybrid in the space between these two very distinct ethical frameworks. It is not entirely clear if one even exists. What is clear though is that a lot of people from the commerical side are searching really hard to find one. I’m always happy to see search parties heading out from the nonprofit side of the space.
This is a particularly important one though.
My bemused characterization of the driving force for most open source start ups goes as follows: On the one hand we have free stuff! On the other hand we have rich CTO/CIOs! We will just stand in the middle and make money! It’s a plausible premise.
If you stick a firm into that gap there are a lot of other aspects to bridging between those two, it’s not just money. For example on the Open side you have a high value placed on the creation of a huge pool of options; while on the commerical side you have a high value placed on minimizing risk and maximizing predictablity. On the open side you have a enthusiasm for rapid release and adaptation. On the commercial side your required to synch up in tight lock step with the buying organization’s schedules. On the open side the evolution of the project is a continous negotiation among the projects particpants; a deep relationships. Participants are often locked-in. On the commercial side the relationships are kept at arms length with contracts, specifications. Buyers strive to commoditize markets with multiple vendors, avoiding lock-in. I could go on.
There is arguement to be made that the CTO/CIO side of these businesses should adapt. I have no doubt that over time they will. For example I suspec that CTOs will adapt before CIOs. But it is always hard to shift an installed base. It’s obviously hard when you dig into all the APIs of complex peice of software, like Microsoft Windows. But it even harder when you dig into the complex tissue of social webs. Changing the rules for how firms manage software isn’t easy. That’s why the CIO organizations will shift more slowly than the CTO organization; one has a much more complex social web to adapt. At minimum a much larger one.
But back to the reason why the Mozilla move strikes me as important. It’s not just that I’m glad to see experimentation comming out of the open side of things.
Firefox is key. Installed base on the client side is key. To reach large swaths of market share the Mozilla community needs to solve a consumer marketing problem. That includes finding the ways and means to move the product down the existing distribution channels. Thos channels are directly analagous to gaps between the open source community and the needs of the CTO/CIO software users.
It’s my hope that the Mozilla Corp. can enable them to leverage those channels.
Just to mix the two examples together. Consider how hard it is for a CIO to justify installing Firefox rather than IE given how extensible it is. While for a open source guy that extensiblity looks like oportunity for the CIO it looks like increased risk and hightened support costs. An open source guy thinks Grease Monkey is cool. It makes the guys in the IT department quake in their boots. A varient of Firefox that addresses their concerns is a no brainer. It gives the CIO access to the vibrant innovation around Firefox, but it allows him to limit the risks.