The Secrets of Open-Source Managing
Start treating your customers like employees.
From: Inc. Magazine, December 2004 | Page 33 By: David H. Freedman
Computer-game maker Valve Software had high hopes for Half-Life 2, an eagerly anticipated sci-fi shoot-'em-up thriller that had been five years in the making. And when the game finally became available over the Internet last year, fans were ecstatic. There was just one problem: Valve hadn't actually released the game. Instead, the code had been snatched by hackers, who'd posted it online for anyone to download. "This could have been a real hit to our bottom line," says Valve marketing chief Doug Lombardi.
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Why would a posse of online gamers -- a group not known for respecting niceties like copyrights -- set out after the liberators of the program they had so eagerly awaited? The answer can be found in the open-source movement, in which software -- the Linux operating system is the best-known example -- is developed by a community of mostly volunteer programmers, and anyone is free to use or modify it. Open-source ideas are fast moving beyond the high-tech world that spawned them. And while few firms are ready to give their products away, a growing number of entrepreneurs are embracing the idea of handing over their intellectual property to a community of volunteer enthusiasts to perform tasks that have long been the province of salaried employees. Call it a "hybrid open-source" model: The company owns the product, but the customers help customize and improve it. "Having people constantly adding to a product extends its life and fills out market niches that the original product wouldn't have reached," says Lars Bo Jeppesen, a visiting scholar at MIT who has studied hybrid open-source efforts.