I'm scheduled to speak at the Open Source Meets Business conference next week in Nurenberg, Germany. This has been on the books for some time and I'm looking forward to having a chance to speak there. I had many trips to Germany last year and I always enjoyed my visits. My speaker bio still lists me as the CTO of Ingres and I'll still be representing them but I'll also have a chance to speak about other aspects of the open-source economy.
One of the things I wrote about in my last blog at Ingres was the insuppressable desire for knowledge to be freely available. The software industry has experienced this movement over the past 20 years or so and the internet is amplifying this desire to non-IT related businesses.
I started in the IT industry in 1979 and one of my first jobs was writing software to run on Microsoft's version of Unix (Microsoft Xenix). I then moved to IBM mainframes, UNIX/Risc and then to Linux/Intel. I became involved with database systems back on Xenix but really cut my teeth on Cullinet's IDMS on IBM mainframes. I started really working with relational database systems in 1989 when I joined Oracle.
One characteristic has always held true for all of these technologies - in the beginning expertise in a given technology is rare and valued and, ultimately, that expertise becomes widespread and commoditized.
I remember having to run performance benchmarks back in 1989 to prove that a relational database could handle 1G of data. The population of people who could successfully run performance benchmarks and implement systems in relational technology was relatively small. This allowed companies such as Informix, Ingres, Oracle and Sybase to prosper by building concentrations of expertise in the core technology itself. These companies were able to monetize that expertise by creating and servicing their products.
Ultimately, however, the knowledge and expertise around relational databases became institutionalized within the industry. It was no longer a mystery how to write efficient SQL statements. The original relational database companies had to find other ways to differentiate themselves enough to justify collecting fees.
I believe that open-source software is succeeding because the industry no longer places a premium value, monetarily, on the knowledge and wizardry it takes to produce operating system and relational database technology. The IT industry still values the services that help make successful implementations of these technologies.
I am convinced that we will see the same model start to creep into other industries. As information and data become available to a wider audience and cease being the exclusive domain of information brokers we will see the components that the markets value shift. I'll touch on some of these in future blog entries but for every existing business that needs to worry there's a business opportunity for a new entrepreneur.
I look forward to seeing many of my old friends in Germany next week. We should have some very interesting conversations as well as a good beer, or two.