Is it possible that, despite all the hype, open source is not necessarily the best way to develop software? That it's not about to take over the software industry, and that it's no more a threat to Microsoft than were Netscape, the Macintosh or Word Perfect?

A report released by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) reveals why it's absolutely possible.

"While open source may fill a useful role in specialized computing environments, open source does not translate to the mass consumer market for software," says IPI report author Tom Healy, a research software engineer and policy researcher in Sydney, Australia.  

"The mass consumer market is qualitatively different from other markets. It demands a much higher level of software engineering in order to provide the requisite ease of use, robustness and flexibility."

Mass Markets

Many of open sources' famed "success stories" aren't relevant to the capturing the mass consumer market:

The computer game market dominates technological innovation. Yet this innovation is not developed not via open source models, but by commercial developers. Most open source success evidence is cited in relationship to research outlets such as academic and scientific computing developments. It is the research, not the software, which constitutes their primary output and is the criterion by which success will be judged. Thus actions that undermine competitive standing of software have little impact for academics but can cripple software developers.

Academics gain nothing from protecting their source code, whereas commercial developers do. Why? Academics' pay comes from teaching or government or private grants while developers' pay comes from the software they produce.

Most open source projects are poor quality or unfinished and certainly not comparable to the commercial model.

Most open source conferences include firms that are not software developers at all. Rather, they are Web developers whose products include little original intellectual property.

Continues Healy: "Pushing the open source concept too far into areas where it's not applicable will lead to universities and taxpayers shouldering the cost of software development for business, and doing it less capably than specialist software development firms."

The information in this press release is abstracted from IPI Issue Brief, "Has Open Source Reached its Limits?" by Tony Healy. For more information visit The Institute for Policy Innovation at

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