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The Greatest IT Bottleneck of Them All Is Finally Falling: Vendor Lock-in

The Realities of Support in an Open Source World

One of the most exciting things about the software industry is how fast it moves. Software is constantly optimizing itself around the state-of-the-art. Inherent industry bottlenecks change cyclically every five years or so. Architectures and solutions change too. CPUs too costly? Enter dumb terminals. Network running slow? Build client/servers. It comes full circle – the network becomes fast again and thin clients talk to big servers. Networks become really fast, now you have grids. At the beginning of each of these paradigm shifts, it’s not always immediately obvious what we’ll look back on as the brilliant technology decision that carried the day.

The indisputable force in recent years – open source – has come to be renowned as the innovation to take on innovation itself. As a direct result of the transformation of the software industry and maturation of open source in the marketplace today, we’re seeing perhaps the greatest bottleneck of them all finally fall: vendor lock-in.

Supporting the Old Guard
In predicatable evolution, software was owned and controlled by a single company. Buying into a given technology often meant buying into a single vendor. Companies were single-focused on building software that filled a need and that need meant customers would buy. Support was an afterthought. And software vendors knew that. They couldn’t really ignore customers or be so negligent that customers defected to a competitor. But customers were truly buying point solutions and support from all vendors was about the same, so the process worked.

This vendor lock-in approach worked well for decades. Optimized around the fact that it’s very hard to find good programmers, big software companies would compete to hire the best programmers and use them to build software and defend their business around that software.

With open source in the picture, this changed. As more people began to code, there was more good code available. As a result, being able to write acceptable software became commoditized. Tools and libraries became more available – and there were more of them – making it easier to develop software. Development outsourcing today is a thriving industry, because there are reasonable developers working across the globe often in countries that have weaker currencies.

More Stories By Will Pugh

Will Pugh is chief architect and co-founder at SourceLabs. He's worked in the software industry for over a decade in both start-ups and established companies like BEA and Microsoft.

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