In the computer industry, a lot of advance innovative work in computer science is being driven in academia. I suspect over time that as an industry becomes more mature that the major drivers of innovation shift from universities to corporate research labs. Large corporations steadily accumulate greater wealth over time and pour some of that more money into research departments. The resources and budgets of these research departments soon dwarf those of their university cousins. These are the Bell Labs, Xerox Parcs, IBM Watson research centers.
This is probably happening to Microsoft, but we still have that mindset of old Microsoft. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been saying that the software advances in the next decade will surpass all that has happened before in the industry. It may take us new versions of Windows and Office (perhaps Vista and Office 12) to help dispel our old assumptions. Indications are that Vista Beta 2 will be quite a shocker and Office 12 has been called “revolutionary.”
I am beginning to see a time when I won’t be able to say that Windows still can’t do what my Amiga or my Unix workstation did twenty years or Office still can’t do what FullWrite or FrameMaker did fifteen years ago. I am beginning to see a time when features I couldn’t imagine are coming to light and I have a very good imagination.
Is this necessarily bad for open source? Open source doesn’t have the nice feedback loop offered by revenues. I think open-source will continue to prosper because a few things still remain in its favor:
- Counterweight to Microsoft. There is a community of developers, a band of corporate rivals (IBM, Sun, Oracle, Apple), a number of customers (government, organization, and individual), and companies (RedHat) that will continue to finance open-source endeavors as a check against Microsoft’s monopoly power.
- Free software. Zero is a powerful number, causing standard business formulas to blow up to infinity and enabling new “impossible” business models.
- Bottom-up approach. With projects like Mono, open-source may become more of copier than in the past, but its grassroots nature will ensure it continues to innovate.