The economics of open-source software

What will the world of software look like once the open-source transition is complete?

Some programmers worry that the transition to open source will abolish or devalue their jobs. The standard nightmare is what I call the “Open Source Doomsday” scenario. This starts with the market value of software going to zero because of all the free source code out there. Use value alone doesn’t attract enough consumers to support software development. The commercial software industry collapses. Programmers starve or leave the field. Doomsday arrives when the open-source culture itself (dependent on the spare time of all these pros) collapses, leaving nobody around who can program competently. All die. Oh, the embarrassment!

We have already observed a number of sufficient reasons this won’t happen, starting with the fact that most developers’ salaries don’t depend on software sale value in the first place. But the very best one, worth emphasizing here, is this: when did you last see a software development group that didn’t have way more than enough work waiting for it? In a swiftly changing world, in a rapidly complexifying and information-centered economy, there will always be plenty of work and a healthy demand for people who can make computers do things–no matter how much time and how many secrets they give away.

Here is the full essay, if nothing else it is provocative. It is also beyond my sphere of expertise, but anyone interested in the private provision of public goods should check out this piece.

Thanks to Steven Pearson for the pointer.


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