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Is open source software a deli or a bee hive?


I really like using analogies and metaphors to explain things. I think good ones catch on quick and get carried further and further until they sound ridiculous - but that's when you know there was a grain of truth to them. Two that I've heard recently that really worked (or at least got used over and over again!) are open source software as honey and open source software as a deli.

Open source software model = Bee Hive 

James Dixon originally wrote the bee and honey analogy in the The Bee Keeper. His analogy is:

  • The open source community are bees,
  • The open source software they produce is honey,
  • Companies that foster or "own" open source software are beekeepers, they create an environment that fosters honey creation.
  • Companies are processed honey eaters or "supported" software.

Matthew Aslett takes the idea even further. He applies it to companies that certify and support open source software, as well as those that have proprietary and open source software solutions and even pure open source software projects with no  commercial company attached.  He starts by pointing out that there are two types of honey: domestic honey (company owned projects) and wild honey (community only projects).

In his model, OpenLogic is a "honey collector":

There are some consumers (adopters) that might prefer the taste (and low cost) of wild honey and are happy to go to the effort of collecting it and processing it for themselves. However, if they do not want to take the time or the risk to do so instead they might pay a honey collector (support provider) to do the job for them.

While the honey collector does not have responsibility to look after the bees that a bee keeper has he will have to take care not to disrupt the nest and may well choose to make an effort to nurture the nest and encourage honey production. Of course, as these are wild bees there is also always a risk that the bees will leave the nest or production will dry up.

OpenLogic is also a "blender":

blenders (service/certification providers) that pick and choose honey from a variety of freely available bee nests and blend it together to produce a more palatable product.

And then there are "brewers", companies that create hybrid products of open source and proprietary software:

An example would be a brewer of mead. A brewer could of course choose to develop his own honey using man-made hives or acquire honey from a bee keeper, but by exploiting wild honey he lowers production costs and focuses on the additional value he brings to the production process.

Open source software = Deli

A couple of weeks ago I was at an HP event where r0ml gave a talk "The Software Deli". His analogy was that proprietary software is like automobile manufacturing and open source software is like sandwich manufacturing. You don't go into a deli and order the same sandwich as everyone else. You go into the deli and you pick and choose what kind of bread, what type of meat, type of cheese, ... that picking and choosing and custom software is a lot like how companies use open source software. I knew it was a good analogy when ever speaker after him, and everyone that asked a question, tried to frame their thoughts in terms of sandwich making! The talk was recorded and should be on the web soon - I'll add a link when it is.

Got any more good open source software analogies?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
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