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Addendum to Mezick’s Theorem [Theorem Homepage]  
Posted: 1/16/2004

Mezick's Theorem states that open source dominance is the last phase in the lifecycle of all mature horizontal software markets.

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Background:

Mezick’s Theorem was formulated in 1Q2001 and published in June 2001. The essay ‘Enter Late and Dominate’ provided the premises for the theorem and the theorem itself, but did not explain in detail why it actually worked. It simply observed reality objectively and stated an assertion (the Theorem) based on those observations. I am working on additional essays that will detail (at least in part) why it works.

That first essay also defined and described some logical conclusions based on Mezick’s Theorem. For example, the original paper described the coming, relatively higher perceived value of market-owning vertical software, when compared to OSS-threatened mature-horizontal markets such as desktop (MS Office) productivity apps.

What follows is an update in Q&A format that addresses the most frequent feedback I have received. The essay “Enter Late” is enjoying sudden, widespread interest from Linux and OSS/GPL sites worldwide. It seems that software industry observers are starting to acknowledge the validity of Mezick’s Theorem. The Microsoft purchase of vertical market player Great Plains, the SCO/Linux lawsuit, and other events have done much to validate both the theorem and it’s logical conclusions based on it. At the same time, very little has transpired which would even hint at invalidation.

Q. Doesn’t Apache invalidate Mezick’s Theorem?

A. No. However, Apache does seem to invalidate my theorem. I suspect that Apache is an anamoly-- in several ways. First, the leadership of the project was not the "proven" Linux model of one, strong, galvanizing personality. Two, it is not the GPL license. Third and finally, it found itself sitting on a huge NEW market that was the antithesis of mature-- in fact, for-profit firms ultimately were falling all over themselves to clone Apache.

And is this not exactly what happened?

If Apache invalidates Mezick’s Theorem, then other Apache-like examples will abound. Question: where are the additional instances of Apache-like OSS products dominating a young or mature horizontal category? There simply are not any object instances besides Apache itself.

I admit that Apache presents problems that can legitimately be used to argue against my theorem. What I want to see is a repeatable pattern that proves the Apache point, namely: that OSS can dominate a young immature growing horizontal software market. I do not think so and the evidence is in. So far, OSS offering that are successful have aimed their guns squarely at mature infrastructure, and mature user-horizontal software markets. This is a repeating pattern, while Apache was, is, and will be likely seen, historically, as a 1-time OSS software event. Apache occurred at a key moment is software history: the advent of the mass-media internet. I suspect Apache-like status is not (and will not be) repeatable. If it is, show me the (multiple) examples.

My theorem, if correct, can and will be used to literally predict the future of the worldwide software industry. Nothing has happened since early 2001 (when the analysis was written) to invalidate Mezick's Theorem. And there have been a string of events in succession since 1Q2001 that have validated predictions in the paper which were predictated directly upon the theorem.


Q. There are many instances of OSS/GPL software dominating a vertical market….doesn’t this invalidate the Mezick’s Theorem?

A. No. My theorem’s subject is large, mature horizontal software markets.
I am saying that large mature horizontals go OSS late in the life cycle naturally, for many complex, interrelated and somewhat mysterious reasons. My theorem applies to all large mature horizontal software markets, NOT all of open source.

Actual OSS projects that threaten a mature horizontal may start 5-7 years before they gather significant (usage) market share. Yet the existence of that OSS project itself should ring a little bell in the head of that software market's owner. Because the bell is signalling, "You are old, and you are vunerable. Look out."

As for very small verticals that are successfully addressed by OSS, my theorem does not speak to this at all. It speaks only of mature horizontals. However, the existence of small verticals dominated by OSS do not invalidate my theorem. Certainly small software markets that could generate a living for 1,2, or 3 people are a special case. They are too small to be of interest to for-profit software firms. As such, users of such software benefit from, and support any and all efforts, OSS and otherwise, to keep that app (which addresses the small market) alive. By definition, such markets are insignificant when considered against the entire market for software worldwide. You simply cannot say that about large mature horizontal software markets. These markets ARE significant. Therefore, if my theorem is correct, OSS will transform these significant markets and in so doing, transform software business history.

Small verticals invented by or addressed by OSS do not invalidate my big-market theorem of OSS software.

Q. Don’t corporation have the DEVELOP as well as USE open source for open source to be successful against well-funded for-profit software market owners?

A. No. Many OSS zealots are looking for corporations en masse to get actively involved in OSS development. This is how they define success. But the situation is simply not shaping up that way.

Here is how the situation is shaping up: a few corporations like IBM get value from products that compliment their core product offerings. Such firms seek to ‘commoditize the compliments’ to their core product. For example, Henry Ford wanted to commoditize rubber tires; that is, help make them cheap, easy to get, and plentiful. Why? Because tires were a compliment to the core Ford product—autos. And compliments help sell more core product. It’s really that simple.

In a similar way, a few corporations (IBM for example) are actively commoditizing Linux—which is a compliment to the core IBM product, which is computing hardware…and associated services. It is here that all the OSS development is taking place—inside IBM, not inside IBM’s customers. IBM is spreading Linux, and making substantially all of the corporate development investment. They do this to sell more IBM hardware and services.

This is important to understand. It can help predict who will be the likely supporters of OSS, and as such, help predict future OSS influence overall. For a truly excellent discussion and analysis on the economic commoditizing of compliments, please see: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/StrategyLetterV.html

Quote from the article:
“Demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease.”

Q. Where are all the OSS software development jobs? If corporations are not getting involved in OSS development, where are the OSS development jobs (if any) actually being created?

A. The open source development jobs are being created by the for-profit business entities (such as IBM) that are actively commoditizing open-source software. They are motivated to do this because the activity promotes more sales of their core product and service offerings. Any company commoditizing OSS software to “sell more core product” is creating OSS jobs …strictly as a side effect.

For now, anyone that wants to work OSS for a living must seek employers that have identified OSS offerings as true compliments to their core offerings, for example IBM. IBM sees correctly that Linux is a compliment to IBM hardware. They are therefore busy commoditizing that complimentary item.

Q. Mezick, what is your definition of a “mature horizontal software market”?

A. Any horizontal software market, 6 years or older, in which a single vendor has 60% or more market share for at least 24 months running. Desktop OS, desktop (MS Office) productivity, and infrastructure (server OS, app server, server database) are all examples.

Q. What is the relationship between innovation and OSS in the mature horizontal software market spaces?

A. Simple. For OSS to be successful in big markets, it must absolutely REFRAIN from innovation of any kind. Why? Because, for-profit market owners will quickly hybridize the innovation, “embracing and extending” the new (competing) feature in the for-profit offering. Then they will market it as if it was their own idea !!

Small startups will do the same thing. They have to, because their investors expect them to execute well in the hybridization of any competitor’s innovations.

Regarding new software markets….we have a system and a process for developing these. It's called pure capitalism. Initially life savings (equity), and a bank (debt) provides funding. Later, one man with an idea so big he cannot fund it in time to exploit the wealth potential will correctly go to a VC to finance the wealth-creation opportunity.

These investors supply large infusions of cash leading to an IPO if things work out. In developing markets, OSS can never compete against this efficient system of financing wealth-building in new software (markets).

The existence of fast-moving pure capitalistic finance is in part why my theorem works. Software firms that innovate and pioneer new ideas build operations that will rapidly hybridize any innovations from slower-moving opponents like OSS. For in-depth analysis on for-profit hybridization dynamics please see: http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/dalle2.pdf

Mezick's Theorem states that open source dominance is the last phase in the lifecycle of all mature horizontal software markets.

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