Open Source vs. Closed Source: Pros, Cons, and Strategic Implications

Open Source vs. Closed Source

• we’re looking at two issues:

• ◾ Your assertion, as the creator, of your Intellectual Property rights • ◾ Your users’ rights to freely tinker with your creation

Why Closed?

• Asserting Intellectual Property rights is often the default approach, especially for larger companies.

• If you declared copyright on some source code or a design, someone who wants to market the same project cannot do so by simply reading your instructions and following them.

You might also be able to protect distinctive elements of the visual design with trademarks and of the software and hardware with patents.

• Note that starting a project as closed source doesn’t prevent you from later releasing it as open source.

Why Open?

• In the open source model, you release the sources that you use to create the project to the whole world.

• why would you give away something that you care about, that you’re working hard to accomplish?

• There are several reasons to give away your work:

• ◾ You may gain positive comments from people who liked it.

• ◾ It acts as a public showcase of your work, which may affect your reputation and lead to new opportunities.

• ◾ People who used your work may suggest or implement features or fix bugs.

• ◾ By generating early interest in your project, you may get support and mindshare of a quality that it would be hard to pay for.

• A few words of encouragement from someone who liked your design and your blog post about it may be invaluable to get you moving when you have a tricky moment on it.

• A bug fix from someone who tried using your code in a way you had never thought of may save you hours of unpleasant debugging later.

Disadvantages of Open Source

• deciding to release as open source may take more resources.

• If you’re designing for other people, you have to make something of a high standard, but for yourself, you often might be tempted to cut corners.

• Then having to go back and fix everything so that you can release it in a form that doesn’t make you ashamed will take time and resources.

• After you release something as open source, you may still have a perceived duty to maintain and support it, or at least to answer questions about it via email, forums, and chatrooms.

• Although you may not have paying customers, your users are a community that you may want to maintain.

Being a Good Citizen

• If you say you have an open platform, releasing only a few libraries, months afterwards, with no documentation or documentation of poor quality could be considered rude.

• Also, your open source work should make some attempt to play with other open platforms.

Open Source as a Competitive Advantage

• First, using open source work is often a no-risk way of getting software that has been tested, improved, and debugged by many eyes.

• Second, using open source aggressively gives your product the chance to gain mindshare.

• (ex: Arduino : one could easily argue that it isn’t the most powerful platform ever and will surely be improved.)

• If an open source project is good enough and gets word out quickly and appealingly, it can much more easily gain the goodwill and enthusiasm to become a platform.

Open Source as a Strategic Weapon

• In economics, the concept of complements defines products and services that are bought in conjunction with your product—for example, DVDs and DVD players.

• If the price of one of those goods goes down, then demand for both goods is likely to rise.

• Companies can therefore use improvements in open source versions of complementary products to increase demand for their products.

• If you manufacture microcontrollers, for example, then improving the open source software frameworks that run on the microcontrollers can help you sell more chips.

• While open sourcing your core business would be risky indeed, trying to standardise things that you use but which are core to your competitor’s business may, in fact, help to undermine that competitor.

• So Google releasing Android as open source could undermine Apple’s iOS platform.

Tapping into the Community

• While thinking about which platform you want to build for, having a community to tap into may be vital or at least useful.

• If you have a problem with a component or a library, or a question about how to do something you could simply do a Google search on the words “arduino servo potentiometer” and find a YouTube video, a blog post, or some code.

• If you are doing something more obscure or need more detailed technical assistance, finding someone who has already done exactly that thing may be difficult.

• When you are an inexperienced maker, using a platform in which other people can mentor you is invaluable.

• Local meetings are also a great way to discuss your own project and learn about others.

• While to discuss your project is in some way being “open” about it, you are at all times in control of how much you say and whom you say it to.

• In general, face-to-face meetings at a hackspace may well be a friendlier and more supportive way to dip your toes into the idea of a “community” of Internet of Things makers.

Mixing Open and Closed Source

• We’ve discussed open sourcing many of your libraries and keeping your core business closed.

• it’s also true that not all our work is open source.

• We have undertaken some for commercial clients who wanted to retain IP.

• Some of the work was simply not polished enough to be worth the extra effort to make into a viable open release.

• Adrian’s project Bubblino has a mix of licences:

• ◾ Arduino code is open source.

• ◾ Server code is closed source.

Closed Source for Mass Market Projects

• a project might be not just successful but huge, that is, a mass market commodity.

• The costs and effort required in moving to mass scale show how, for a physical device, the importance of supply chain can affect other considerations.

• Consider Nest, an intelligent thermostat: the area of smart energy metering and control is one in which many people are experimenting.

• The moment that an international power company chooses to roll out power monitors to all its customers, such a project would become instantaneously mass market.