"In information technology there seems to be a revolution every other week. At least that is the impression one gets when following media coverage of the sector. Yet sometimes the hype is justified, in particular in the case of open-source software, free programs developed by loosely knit groups of developers. Within just 15 years they have completely changed the landscape of the software industry, turning it from a mostly capitalist economy into a mixed one. The shift should be of interest- and not just to techies. Software is important stuff; it keeps the world moving... ...At least theoretically, open source could also resolve the main dilemma that bedevils innovation policy. On the one hand, most inventors need incentives to keep inventing. On the other, the social value of an invention is maximized if anyone- not just those willing to pay for it- can use it. Open source seems to satisfy both conditions. Developers contribute voluntarily, and share code freely. With The Comingled Code , Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman...are aiming to fill this gap. They have done a good job-although its academic tone makes it unlikely to fly off the shelves... ...Its main contribution consists of two surveys- one of users of software, the other of developers- that are unprecedented in both scale and scope. More than 2,300 companies and nearly 2,000 programmers, spread across 15 countries, both rich and poor, filled out questionnaires. And Messrs Lerner and Schankerman 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. The findings contradict much conventional wisdom. Open-source developers, for instance, are widely believed mostly to be volunteers who just love writing code. While this may have been true in the early days of computing, the motivation and background of programmers is now much more mixed. Many work for firms that develop both open-source and proprietary programs and combine them in all kinds of business models. Nearly 40% of companies surveyed fall into this category. The survey also indicates that the two software worlds are much more comingled than their respective champions would have it. More than a quarter of companies happily mix and match both sorts, in particular in poorer countries. Messrs Lerner and Schankerman view 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.. ...Having dissected open source in detail and told governments at length what not to do, the authors prescriptions remain rather vague. There is no right answer , they say in the final chapter... ...It would also have been helpful to examine the implications of the findings for technology sharing in other industries. Open source has moved way beyond software- into biology, all forms of digital content (Wikipedia, now ten years old, is the most prominent example) and even hardware. The Comingled Code is full of insights, but the literature about this important development in recent economic history if still far from complete." --The Economist
About the Author
Josh Lerner is Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking at Harvard Business School, with a joint appointment in the Finance and Entrepreneurial Units. He is the author of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed and What to Do About It. Mark Schankerman is Professor of Economics and Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London.