How Open is Open Enough? Melding Proprietary and Open Source Platform Strategies

Interoperability, Competition Policy and Antitrust and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Joel West


Research Policy, Vol. 32, No. 7, 2003


This paper studies Apple, IBM, and Sun Microsystem’s support for open source software.

Policy Relevance

Firms under competitive pressure might offer open source to try to expand their products' appeal. This can reduce revenues and innovation, so they must combine open source and traditional models.

Main Points

  • Economic “platforms” offer building blocks or tools for different users, such as software developers and consumers. 

  • Apple, IBM, Sun and Microsoft (to a lesser extent) each opted to support open source software as part of their platform strategies between 1995 and 2002.

  • Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own needs; open source code under the General Public License (GPL) must be distributed free.

  • Firms relying on a proprietary model, selling access to the platforms for profit, can go to open source when economic or technical factors require change.

  • Shifting to open source makes it harder to innovate and capture revenues. Firms can adopt a hybrid approach that combines open and proprietary platforms.

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