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Comingled Code Hardcover – 2 Nov 2010

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"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.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
a reader's perspective 17 Mar. 2011
By Larry Roshfeld - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Comingled Code is a thoroughly researched and documented econometric analysis of the global Open Source market. Having read the book, it's clear to me that it is a well-written and thoughtful academic study, though definitely not geared towards the casual business or technical reader (i.e. it's not an "easy read").

As someone whose company is part of the Open Source community, and who has competed with Microsoft for most of my career, I have no love for the Evil Empire. Yet I saw absolutely no indication that The Comingled Code was anything but what it claimed to be, an objective, fact-based analysis of an important segment of the software industry, "characterized by intellectual independence and analytical rigor."

There have been allegations of a pro-Microsoft bias (due to Microsoft funding of the study as an attempt to promote a "less ideological discussion of the pros and cons of software choices...") by some people who may not have had a chance to read the book. From my perspective, none of the book's conclusions were either surprising or based on anything other than statistically valid data that could be independently analyzed by those who make claims of bias, should they choose to do so. I don't know and have never interacted in any way with the authors (professors at Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics), but I find it it's extremely unlikely that they would risk their careers and professional reputations to slant their conclusions based on any particular funding source.

In fact, I'd call your attention to the top of page 58, which contains the following quote (which I absolutely love!):

"[I]n every release cycle Microsoft always listens to its most ignorant customers. This is the key to dumbing down each release cycle of software for further assaulting the non-personal-computing population. Linux and OS/2 developers, on the other hand, tend to listen to their smartest customers... The good that Microsoft does in bringing computers to non-users is outdone by the curse that they bring on experienced users. (Nadeau 1999)"

It would take the most committed conspiracy theorist to believe that Microsoft funded this research and then manipulated the results in order to drive that kind of message in print.

The Comingled Code is an important book that goes beyond emotional arguments to provide data and insight into the reality of the Open Source industry. It's a valuable contribution to the field, though an extremely challenging "read" for even the most committed readers.
4 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Looks like Microsoft anti-foss propaganda 21 Jan. 2011
By Walter A. Byrd - Published on
Format: Hardcover
According to techrights: "Microsoft had paid Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman, who in turn produced literature which echoes Microsoft lobbyists and gives those lobbyists something academic to cite later." Dr. Glyn Moody, on computerworlduk, is also very critical of this study. You may want to see the blog article titled "There's No FUD Like an Old FUD."
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