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The Fourth Dimension of Open Source

Digg, a relative start-up, writes at its company blog that it is now looking to create a program compatible with the old Reader, and it seems natural to expect the Mozilla Foundation, which produces Firefox, to do the same. This brings us back to the second rule, the development incline, the idea that where the code lives matters.

The important business point is that this can work both ways. Investors may see cutting off open source as a sign of strength, even though a walled garden is as unstable as any other closed ecosystem. But what should investors think when a company goes the other way, when it opens access to code that was previously closed, when it explicitly invites outsiders in?

That's what Microsoft (MSFT) has done with its Kinect interface, as Fast Company writes,, making code supporting the interface open source under the Apache License.

Is this a sign of strength or weakness? Most would say weakness. But is this better or worse for open source developers? Obviously it's better.

I think this brings me to some closure on open source policy matters. I first saw the whole thing as euclidean, as a right triangle you could adjust to suit yourself. But it turns out that this is more like quantum mechanics, that there are at least four dimensions under which the rules of open source can be tweaked by companies hoping to seize its value and get some coder love for themselves.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and GOOG.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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