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Bad times good for Open Source?

There is a certain meme floating around about bad times being good for Open Source.   I’ve heard it from a wide variety of people, from project maintainers to execs at large companies to VCs.   On the face it, it would seem to be an obvious statement, that Open Source does well when people are squeezed economically.

I’ve seen this first hand in work I did for the US Navy.   As budgets were increasingly re-directed to warfighting, critical but non-combat systems were increasingly developed with Open Source technology as a way to alleviate the funding gap.  In one case I know of, a portable system budgeted at 20 units doubled it’s deployed units by switching to an Open Source architecture.   That and other successes allowed more widespread acceptance of Open Source, with resulting wider adoption.  That said, in the last downturn, I also saw a lot of executives use the threat of Open Source use as leverage in contract negotiations with proprietary vendors.  In actual fact, they probably would have never deployed any Open Source….

It’s also true that a lot of innovation and new companies starts in downturns.   I’m seeing this all around Silicon Valley with a lot more people starting companies that even 10 months ago, even if a lot of VCs are nervous about their LPs pulling out.  And this dynamic benefits Open Source projects as people find themselves with more free time or need to update their skills.

However, none of this is really revolutionary, we’ve seen it happen before.   Now, however, there are a bunch of new companies hoping to benefit from these trends, both as consumers of Open Source and as businesses built around Open Source.   The problem right now is that financial panic has lead to a widespread bunker mentality at all levels of business and it’s making it hard for anyone to make a sale, never mind just getting calls returned.

Open Source-centric companies are no different, but where they do hold an advantage is in their ability to get adoption without a PO.   Technology users still have business problems to solve, even if they have no budget and that is good for Open Source.   When everyone finally emerges from their bunkers and decides that they need support, maintenance, additional functionality, professional services, whatever; Open Source and it’s supporting companies will be there to assist.