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A New Model: Open Source Software After It's Acquired

From MySQL to XenSource, open source companies are in increasingly high demand. For users of the software, it presents a new set of questions.

Can a big vendor like Citrix that takes open source code in a proprietary direction stay ahead of the open source development community? With Linux, no commercial distributor has been able to move the operating system forward faster than the kernel developers, who make their work available to all. XenServer, with the resources of the Citrix-Microsoft alliance, might be a different story, as might other big-vendor-backed projects.

Crosby promises Citrix will contribute back to the open source project, but for Xen users, the XenSource acquisition takes them a step further away from the open source guarantee that they will always be masters of the code. That's because key supporting products will be proprietary. Will they wake up one morning two years from now and find so much has changed that they again face vendor lock-in?

So there you have it. Open source code has gained in value over the last two years, and that value is recognized in the high acquisition prices. The open source code, of course, remains freely available, but the code's value withers if there's no community of independent, critical users and developers driving it forward, with leadership to guide it.

Some acquirers will seek a return on their huge investments by turning the open source into an enhanced "enterprise" product line that, in a matter of months, creates lock-in no different from proprietary code. Some will sustain and encourage a community, balancing the community's interests with the need to drive profits. Some software companies have grown by being good at acquiring and integrating startups. They have a new skill to learn in doing that with open source.

For business IT teams, the industry dynamics make picking the right open source projects all the more difficult. The next two years will answer some of the questions hanging over this brave new world of acquisition and merger. You're surely an optimist if you think all the answers will reward users in the same manner as the original Apache project.

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Multivendor Xen Paints A New Model