Something I've noted in passing about the recent spate of open-source acquisitions -- Nokia and Trolltech, Sun and MySQL AB -- deserves to be expounded on at length. What's being bought here is not the software, but the talent behind it. The software is free, or as free as this sort of thing gets. Talent is priceless. That's what's being bought and sold here.
The other day while talking with Anil Dash of Movable Type, I made this same point -- that the reason behind most open source acquisitions seems to be talent and not the technology per se. It made sense to him as well. Anyone can write a piece of software, and once the software's written and "out there" (especially if it's released under an open source license), it's possible for most any other programmer to continue the work.
The thing is, a lot of projects demand more than just any old programmer. For something as large and ambitious as MySQL or Movable Type, it typically requires a team -- especially if you're trying to produce something that will be adopted for professional use. A good programming team is hard to find, and once you find one, you tend to want to hang onto it and get the most out of it.
That's what's really being purchased here: a tightly-knit, well-functioning group of people whose expertise is with a particular piece of software they've written. That's probably also why I was silently praying, Dear Sun, please don't mess with a good thing after the ink dried. I doubt it will, though: it at least seems to understand that the team is so much of what makes the software special.
And that's also what I think will be the case in future purchases of open source software companies. It'll be about the team and the talent, and not just the tech. What remains to be seen is if buying and funding such a team can work as intended -- as an incubator for bigger and better things -- or if it will turn into a case of trying to monetize something that really doesn't work best when it has a price tag attached.