Open, yet not Free, as in CO NW Parkway

4 06 2007

The difference between “open” and “free” jumped right out at me last time I visited our Colorado office. The Colorado NW Parkway, which cuts a dreary 20 minutes off the drive to and from DIA, is open for me to use anytime. But the $6 tolls certainly don’t make it free of cost. Yet while one is about liberty and the other economics, there is a relationship between the two…

CO NW Parkway

I can complain with the best about the toll fees, but I also understand the need to collect toll money since the Colorado Highway Authority ran up $416 million in debt building that highway. So much debt, as a matter of fact, they are actually considering leasing the highway to a private investor to raise funds. A private investor could experiment with different toll pricing, like peak pricing or even yikes $20 fees, without having to worry about voter reprisal. But since there is no intent to limit use to certain people, the highway would still be “open”. There’s an interesting article in the May 7th issue of Business Week on privatization of public infrastructure.

The biggest open in my life lately is open source, an interesting development methodology for building solutions to challenging problems. The openness of source code is governed by a license that dictates terms with which a developer must use the code – for example, must all modifications automatically be made available to the community as in the GPL (used for Java) or can a developer hold some back as in the CDDL (used for Solaris)? Check out the plate I saw on a truck parked at the movie theater last weekend – based upon other bumper stickers I could tell the owner was a Linux fan – but if the truck was actually covered by the GPL, the rights to any truck modifications would actually go back to the truck manufacturer. Certainly this is a simplistic view on licenses, but you get the picture.

And while open source doesn’t equate to free product cost to customers, there is an interesting relationship. Some customers might find it cost effective (again, depending upon licensing) to build their own infrastructure with open source. ISVs might chose to contribute extensions to an open source community to enable said ISV to offer a layered product at additional cost. Economics dictate how each uses the source code and economics will dictate how the use changes over time.

I recently heard the IT team from a large bank lamenting the high cost of software licenses – while they’re thrilled processing costs continue to drop, software that is licensed per CPU or per core is killing their budgets. While open source won’t directly help with their problems (the software application in question is not available via an open source community), there is work being done in open source that will eventually help. Open source lowers the bar for new players to come in and offer competing solutions – new players that can bring different economics to the game, eventually unseating software incumbents with high costs.

So yeah, I appreciate that the CO NW Parkway is a choice for me when I have barely enough time to catch my plane. And I’ll deal with the $6 (Humm, I could expense it… Or I could just blow past the tolls while talking on my cellphone, like one of my coworkers who shall remain nameless – or is that a license violation?).

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