The Comingled Code

The Comingled Code: Open Source and Economic Development

Josh Lerner
Mark Schankerman
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Comingled Code
    Book Description:

    Discussions of the economic impact of open source software often generate more heat than light. Advocates passionately assert the benefits of open source while critics decry its effects. Missing from the debate is rigorous economic analysis and systematic economic evidence of the impact of open source on consumers, firms, and economic development in general. This book fills that gap. In The Comingled Code, Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman, drawing on a new, large-scale database, show that open source and proprietary software interact in sometimes unexpected ways, and discuss the policy implications of these findings. The new data (from a range of countries in varying stages of development) documents the mixing of open source and proprietary software: firms sell proprietary software while contributing to open source, and users extensively mix and match the two. Lerner and Schankerman examine the ways in which software differs from other technologies in promoting economic development, what motivates individuals and firms to contribute to open source projects, how developers and users view the trade-offs between the two kinds of software, and how government policies can ensure that open source competes effectively with proprietary software and contributes to economic development.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28957-3
    Subjects: Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Open source software involves developers at many different locations and organizations sharing code to develop and refine computer programs that are then distributed at no or low direct cost. Over the past fifteen years open source software has experienced explosive growth around the world. The importance of open source software today can be illustrated by considering a few examples:

    The market for server software, which is used by the computers that make Web pages available to users through the Internet, has been dominated by the open source Apache project since the inception of systematic tracking by Netcraft in 1995. As...

  5. 2 Software and Growth
    (pp. 15-34)

    For the last twenty years information technologies in general, and software in particular, have played an important role in the growth of modern economies as a source of innovation. The choice of policies that affect the software industry—of which open source is a critical component—must consider the sectorʹs consequences both for innovation and growth.

    In this chapter we survey briefly the ways in which innovation is fostered in software, and its consequences for growth. This is, to be sure, a large topic but an important one that sets the stage for the material specifically on open source software...

  6. 3 The History of Open Source
    (pp. 35-60)

    As we discussed in the first chapter, open source software has experienced enormous growth in recent years. This might lead to the conclusion that the ideas behind open source are very new.

    Reality is more complex. Software development has a tradition of sharing and cooperation. Many of the principles behind open source have been established for many decades. But in recent years both the scale and formalization of development have expanded dramatically with the spread of the Internet. In this chapter we will review the history of the development of open source. As we proceed, weʹll highlight the key institutional...

  7. 4 The Supply Side: Comingling Open Source and Proprietary Software
    (pp. 61-102)

    In chapter 2 we described the fundamental tension underlying innovation policies: it is socially wasteful for anyone to use anything but the best recipe, but it is impossible to give everyone access to the best recipe without sharply reducing incentives to invent. This tension applies to software as to all other innovation. Can open source software circumvent this trade-off between the creation and diffusion of innovation? In 2003 the respected weekly magazineThe Economistgives the following description:

    During that time, however, a rival universe to Microsoft started expanding. This is the movement for free software, whose code can be...

  8. 5 The Demand Side: Assessing Trade-offs and Making Choices
    (pp. 103-156)

    In chapter 4 we examined how open source and proprietary software are licensed, developed, and sold. The most striking fact that emerged from our analysis is that there is no sharp divide between the open source and proprietary worlds for software developer companies. The preeminent characteristic of the supply side is the pervasive diversification by software developers. Firms typically are active in more than one business activity, and they frequently develop both open source and proprietary software within each activity.

    In this chapter we turn to a discussion of the demand side of the software market. By the ʺdemand side,ʺ...

  9. 6 Assessing Government Policies toward Software
    (pp. 157-206)
    Jacques Crémer

    Both in developed and developing countries there are vocal calls for public support for open source software. Many governments have adopted such initiatives. According to one tabulation, in 2008 there were 182 different initiatives in force worldwide, and many more proposed.¹ These take a wide variety of forms, including R&D support, subsidies, preferences in government procurement, and even outright mandates for public institutions to adopt open source. They span the globe: of the 182 initiatives adopted in 2008, 95 were in Europe, 47 in Asia, 20 in Latin America, but only 9 in North America.

    We can illustrate this movement...

  10. 7 The Takeaways
    (pp. 207-214)

    Over the course of this book we have examined the way in which open source software works and how it interacts with proprietary software. Our goal in doing so has been to better shed light on how these programs affect firms, the economy, and society.

    We were motivated in large part by the fact that policy discussions around open source have frequently been characterized by more heat than light. While the questions at the heart of the debate—Can open source software stimulate economic development? What policies should government pursue?—are fundamentally economic questions, the discussion is frequently framed in...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 215-224)
  12. References
    (pp. 225-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-238)