Monday, 8 April 2013

Open always wins?

"Open" is one of my tribe's worship words. It is a word that is beyond criticism, analysis or critique except from professional trolls.

So what does it mean when people say "open always wins?" It means that because TCP/IP, HTML and Apache won then open systems, open standards and open source will always win given a long enough timeline. If the open solution isn't winning yet then we just have to wait.

This may seem like a strawman but Chris Saad bluntly stated "Whether it’s a year, a decade or a century, Open. Always. Wins."

I disagree. Mere openness isn't enough. Just because your product or service is open doesn't mean it's destined to win. Plenty of open solutions have 'lost' but we tiptoe past that particular graveyard. We either pretend that we don't remember its denizens or that they're merely sleeping.

Whilst I have a religious belief in openness and standards I can see the difference between what I want to be true ("open always wins" and "next year will the year of Linux on the desktop") and what is actually true. I want open systems to win but I'm also aware that this isn't guaranteed.

In fact when open solutions win it's because they:
  • have superior User Experience
  • have superior Developer Experience
  • give each user/developer/company more value than the equivalent closed solution
  • create a larger (and thus more valuable) market/network than the equivalent closed solution
  • co-opted the existing closed solutions
  • do something that no closed solution can match
  • commodify existing closed solutions thus rendering them unprofitable

Despite this I'm always surprised by the number of people who believe that openness is a sufficient condition for success. I'd even go so far as to suggest that if the only quality a solution has is its openness then that's a good indicator it's going to fail.