Book review: The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source <i>by Martin Fink</i>

Book review: The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source by Martin Fink


An introduction to the open source community targeted at business managers, this book by Martin Fink offers members of the free software and business communities glimpses of each other’s world view. It also includes a lot of practical advice for businesses interested in cashing in on the success of free software.

An older book, but still very relevantAn older book, but still very relevant

This book is firmly in the “open source” school of Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens, and if you are a free software ideologue, or evenly remotely anti-commercial, it may turn your stomach at a few points. But, I recommend you read it anyway, as it does convey some valuable insights into the minds of the people on the “other side of the fence”, working in corporate environments. If you are relatively new to the free software community, you will find a very nice collection of community concepts, economic theory, and pragmatic strategy. Even if you’re an old hand in the community, the insights into the special problems (and benefits) of commercializing open source software, freeing proprietary software, and even using open source software in business will probably interest you.

If you’re trying to figure out how to make money with open source software, I highly recommend this book

The contents

The book is broken into three distinct parts. Part I is an introduction to the free-licensed open source software community. It starts with an account of the present level of success of Linux and open source, covers basic concepts like licensing and bazaar development, and moves on to specific organizations and even individuals. Part II is all about using Linux, and addresses many of the benefits, but also the changes that a company needs to make in order to get the most out of the experience.

By far the most interesting part to me, however, was Part III, where the book addresses the issues involved for companies that choose to engage in the production of software connectedwith open source. I was extremely skeptical of the first chapter of this section which proposed using “bazaar” development strategy on an internal proprietary software project (though it’s still an interesting read), but the rest of this part rang true for me.

Who’s this book for?

This book is ostensibly for a technical manager in a corporation. It might be a good read for upper management, but it does require a fairly high level of technical understanding for that group. The book is not intentionally written to help community members understand the business world, but it nevertheless works well in reverse.

Relevance to free software

Richard Stallman would probably hate this book. It definitely does not embrace his vision of all software becoming free. On the other hand, it does provide a lot of pragmatic help for companies both wanting to use free software and wanting to contribute free software back to the community. I suspect that this soft sell approach is much more likely to get results with conservative business planners.

The insights from a commercial perspective will be very valuable

Pros

If you’re trying to figure out how to make money with open source software, I highly recommend this book. It offers a lot of practical implementation advice.

I also recommend it to members of the free software community who are: trying to get a job writing open source software, trying to interact with corporate stake holders on their software projects, or trying to go into business for themselves. The insights from a commercial perspective will be very valuable.

Cons

For all its good ideas and practical advice, I found the book to be too conservative. I’m not sure this book makes a good enough case for engaging the free software community on the level of ideals and vision. The book does not make me imagine charismatic, visionary management, but rather the plodding kind that may need a few whacks with the clue stick in order to get on track.

One technical gaff that bothers me are poorly-conceived graphics. The chart of “Linux adoption” on page 4 is a particularly bad example of the sort of chart chicanery that is all too common in the business world. This is probably inevitable in a management book, but it still irks me.

Title The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source
Author Martin Fink
Publisher Prentice Hall
ISBN 0130476773
Year 2003
Pages 272
CD included No
FS Oriented 7/10
Over all score 7/10

In short

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Comments

EmmaUK's picture
Submitted by EmmaUK on

This is quite interesting and a new twist on how to view Linux. I like the ideas that come from this book as it gives a different view. Though at times I do not agree on all the author has to say, or the importance he puts on it. Well worth reading.

Author information

Terry Hancock's picture

Biography

Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.