Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Open Source and the Transistor Radio?

I recently listened to Clayton Christensen's presentation from the 2004 Open Source Business Conference called "Capturing the upside." (Actually I streamed it from Doug Kaye's wonderful IT Conversations site).

Clayton compared the adoption and success of open source to Sony and their first transistor radios and the first Japanese autos exported to the US. Basically the early transistor radios were feature-wise pitiful when compared to the existing products on the market. However, they succeeded because they addressed a new market: young people who would put up with the static and poor reception because they could actually afford them, combined with the fact that they relished the ability to listen privately to there rock music, away from parental earshot. Existing radios, while high-quality, were big and expensive, and thus out of reach of most teenagers. So while the existing market supposedly clamored for ever-more features, the "good enough" transistor product proved that features and functionality had gotten ahead themselves, and the new "poor quality" upstart came in to open a open a new market. And then of course the transistor radio slowly improved, and the rest is history...

Clayton points out that open source is doing the same thing today. Beyond the now established open source infrastructure standouts like Linux, MySQL, Apache, etc., there's a newer crop of applications like SugarCRM, Gluecode, and Firefox that have also started out humbly as "good enough." Many people just aren't served by feature-saturated, high-priced commercial offerings. Instead they're finding relatively immature open source alternatives to be good enough, and also lower TCO or be more customizable or... I'm now looking at innovation and market evolution with respect to open source with a new twist -- thanks Clayton!

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