We continue our occasional series on open-source and “forking” with a hypothetical pitch by our master of the fork, Yogi Berra, in the form of a pitch to a venture capitalist with oodles of boodle hoping to make even more oodles…
Yogi: My son Yoda is a progammer. He’s very good at his job, and he and some friends have come upon a uniqure business opportunity, one that can make us oodles of boodle.
VC: Do tell! Tell me more.
Yogi: Yoda and his friends have spent years mastering a particular piece of internet technology. They are as good as it gets. This technology is used to power almost all the web servers on the planet. They are so good they have found a way to make it run twice as fast as the competition.
VC: Sounds exciting. Go on.
Yogi: They have written what is called a “patch.” If you apply this to the competitor’s software, then their version is twice as good, beyond dispute.
VC: But how do they get access to the competitor’s code? How much does it cost? How much do we have to pay?
Yogi: Nothing! Zippo! Nada! Or as I say, “”A nickel isn’t worth a dime today.” It’s free! It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
VC: Unbelievable. How can this be possible.
Yogi: Those idiots did a good job, but they used some wacko technology called “open-source.” It’s freely available. I can download their code at no cost and apply Yoda’s patches. Those patches are like a light saber, cutting through the crappy code in their web server.
VC: I’m sold. How big a check do you need?
Yogi: I didn’t really say everything I said. But it’s still a good deal. How about ten million for seed money?
VC: It’s yours. Hit it out of the park.
Now go back and read that again, substituting “Bill Gates” for “Yogi.”
This is both the power and beauty of open-source.
Apache httpd server has been the dominant web server for almost a decade now.
For each and every day of that decade, Microsoft has had the option of forking the code, since Apache uses a very liberal license, yet they have never done so. Why not?
Let’s assume that the skilled programmers in Redmond could indeed come up with a patch that made httpd server run twice as fast in half the memory, a patch so good they could say to Apache, “Fork off, we’re outta here. You folks are toast.”
What would be their advantage?
Even if they could write their patch, how long would it take the skilled programmers at Apache to figure out what they had done? Not long, these folks are good, very good. They would figure out what must have been changed, and would soon match the patch. I’m even confident they could write their way around any patent that Bill and friends could put together.
Never underestimate the skills of the best open-source programmers. They are, literally, as good as it gets.
This is why I am in a ways saddened whenever I see folks done the garb of Chicken Little and worry about the onslaught on commercial software as it goes toe-to-toe with open-source.
Bring it on! We can handle it! Not to worry.
The real reason folks use httpd server is that they know the folks behind it will be there a year from now, five years from now, or decades from now, standing behind their work each and every day.
It’s the community that counts, not the code.
Open-source is not about license, it’s not about code, it’s about the community that stands behind that code, and the opportunities that result once you engage with that community on its terms.