Open Sauce is more expensive than proprietary

Two academics have penned a book which claims that the Open Sauce movement is based on a lie that its systems are less expensive than buying software.

Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman from the London School of Economics have just released their tome “The Comingled Code”,

Lerner and Schankerman apparently asked a lot of questions, from how much open-source software a firm has implemented to whether governments should mandate the use of such programs.

What they found defied conventional wisdom. Open-source developers, rather than being volunteers who just love writing code is largely untrue. More than 40 per cent work for firms that develop both open-source and proprietary programs and combine them in all kinds of business models.

Their survey also indicates that the two software worlds are much more “comingled” with more than a quarter of companies happily mix and match both sorts, in particular in poorer countries. The environment of software developers and users as a complex ecosystem akin to a rainforest. It would be wrong, they say, to see the two types of software as substitutes for another or as interchangeable.

All probably fair enough, until the question about cost appears to raise its head. Lerner and Schankerman said that free programs were not always cheaper. While the upfront cost of proprietary software is higher companies that use such programs spend more on such things as learning to use them and making them work with other software. It can be cheaper depending on the customer’s circumstances. However in complex projects it could be a lot more expensive.

As a result Lerner and Schankerman do not believe that governments should intervene in favour of open-source software.

Governments should make sure that the two forms of software compete on a level playing field and can comingle efficiently. One way of doing this would be to promote open standards to ensure that proprietary incumbents do not abuse a dominant position.