Harvard Open Source Case Study

Harvard Business Review has published a case study titled ‘Open Source: Salvation or Suicide‘? The focus of the case is a fictitious company that is dealing with the pros and cons of open sourcing their gaming platform. It is great to see Harvard paying attention to open source, however it is somewhat disappointing that the case study is not based on a real company. Surely there are a number of companies that would make great open source case studies?

The case includes four responses, including one by Jonathan Schwartz, who proves he understands open source strategy (I would hope so). However, one response was from an IP lawyer who demonstrated a distinct lack on real-world knowledge with quotes like:

“…, open source code comes from an amporphous community of unknown people, and parts of it are much more likely than homegrown software to have been copied from someone’s proprietary code.”


“Most software companies, however, are in business to make money, and it is very difficult to make money on open source.”

It has been a long time since I have seen such ignorance of open source software. Either this lawyer is hopelessly out of touch or is spreading fud? Either way it is too bad HBR allowed these types of comments to be published in their publication.

4 thoughts on “Harvard Open Source Case Study

  1. “copied from someone’s proprietary code”

    Well, I think that might not be true in most cases, but it sure happens (unless you have strict IP management, which the Foundation does have).

    “it is very difficult to make money on open source”

    I would not challenge that part. At least not if you would like to make money from the software itself (instead of services or commercial products based on on the open source product). That does not mean it is impossible, or that open sourcing does not make sense.

  2. I think that the first quote is just a representative of the “legal” approach. I think that it’s the opposite – nobody would care/dare open sourcing a code that he didn’t write.

  3. Rafael,

    Unfortunately, I am sure ‘copied code’ happens in proprietary and open source but as Genady points out, doing it in open source can be much more visible.

    I also think it depends on how you define ‘make money’. The companies involved in Eclipse all make money selling software. Their involvement is not due to charity but good business reasons.


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