I was reading Scott Koon's (lazycoder) post about RIAs (rich internet applications) being a platform play, what with Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight and JavaFX. Scott noted that these platforms are all "open enough" that independent implementations can be made.
This idea reminded me of a podcast on open source business models with Dirk Riehle that I listened to a number of weeks back. The core ideas are also on the Dirk's website.
Dirk makes clear a number of features of the open software market. In particular, he distinguishes between community open source and commercial open source, where a single vendor controls the direction of the project and employs the key contributors. Even though e.g. Silverlight isn't exactly open source, Microsoft has been open enough to let Novell's Moonlight be implemented. The strategies of Sun and Microsoft for their new platforms appear to be based around the ideas of commercial open source. Their profit items are hardware and services in the case of Sun, and OS and database licenses in the case of Microsoft. What Adobe's long-term strategy for monetizing its platform play isn't yet clear to me, but when you've got folks locked in, you can start selling your captive audience one way or another.
Anyhow, my point is that this new openness isn't as open as it seems to be. Community open source needs strong personalities to deliver direction
, and even then, it seems to work best when reimplementing a previously proprietary, closed-source technology. Commercial open-source has several key advantages in controlling the platform, because focus and longer-term strategy means it can usually force any potential competitors into trying to keep up with it, rather than forking and going their own way. Open platforms tend to rally around key personalities, which essentially become brands, and the commercial style means that the body corporate owns that brand. Microsoft can come out with all the IronPython and IronRuby they like, but they are unlikely to get much acceptance if they try to introduce features that Guido or Matz don't agree with. More corporately, it's unlikely that many competitors to Sun would ever become "go-to guys" for issues with the Java platform (though if it would be anybody, I'd bet on Azul in the long term).
Upshot is, going open isn't as open (or risky) as it might seem, provided that you've got something else to sell alongside.
Update: Fuzzyman in the comments has convinced me that I was wrong to suggest that the most used open source isn't that innovative, hence the overstrike. However, that wasn't really essential to the point of the post...