Post-bubble economics and the fate of open source

by Andy Oram

I was recently asked whether the bursting of the economic bubble will hurt open source. Certainly, it will be harder for programmers to work on open source projects. They'll be busier at their regular jobs, and on the average they'll be earning less, so they won't be as able to take time off to work on volunteer projects.

But in a couple ways, the recession may help open source. First, many companies will fail, both open source and proprietary. But the wonderful difference between proprietary software and open source software is that proprietary software generally disappears along with its company, while open source software is in the community and can be enhanced by new volunteers, just as happens to any open source software whose original developer leaves the project. (Compare proprietary BeOS to open source Nautilus.) Worries, in themselves, about the long-term success of proprietary companies may drive users to open source as a safe haven. Second, companies will be more reluctant to pay ever-increasing licensing fees for proprietary software, and be willing to consider cheaper solutions even if they don't have the bells and whistles of a proprietary project.