Writing on OStatic, Reuven Lerner (whose writing I've read in various places over the years) appears to be hitting the crack pipe in explaining how he wonders if Microsoft buying Yahoo would lead to Yahoo ditching open source projects.


That's what I thought. Here's what he says

Back when Microsoft announced its intention to buy Yahoo, many of us wondered whether Yahoo would be forced to get rid of its open-source projects in the wake of such a purchase. But after reading the press releases put out by Yahoo, in which they seem to indicate that they're aiming not only to survive, but to become a stronger and more profitable company, I have to wonder whether this might force Yahoo to give up some of its open-source projects.

While it's not at all clear who "us" is there (open source community? OStatic writers? Israeli developers?), the implication that Open Source is somehow more expensive could use a bit of support. But let's go on and look for it.

My reasoning is as follows: Yahoo is not as profitable as it needs to be, which means that they begin to shed low-margin business units. Yahoo has already indicated its willingness to give much or all of its advertising business to Google; this presumably means that everything is on the table.


While it's undoubtedly true that open-source software has many benefits, we have yet to see an obvious indication that development (and giving away) open-source software leads to higher profits. Indeed, while we cannot pin Sun's steep decline in the last quarter solely on its embrace of open-source software, the correlation seems too strong to ignore. Which means that if Yahoo is looking to restrict itself to profitable ventures, they might stop funding some of the open-source projects they have supported until now.


Hadoop is critical to many business operations within Yahoo, including Yahoo Search. Based on what the folks from that team have said, I find it hard to believe that getting on board with Hadoop was more expensive than rolling our own (again). And lower expenses often lead to higher profits, right?

And then there's PHP, another very important piece of infrastructure at Yahoo. It replaced a dozen other half-baked languages years ago. Maintaining a single server-side scripting language is far less expensive than a dozen that all suck more than PHP.

I could go on. But let's keep reading...

He then ends the article by saying the following, which really should have been at the beginning so that people wouldn't waste time hoping for a well thought out argument.

I should note that what I'm writing is pure speculation: No one at Yahoo has even hinted that their support of such projects as YUI and Hadoop will go away. And indeed, those tools are essential to Yahoo's future, which means that we can expect them to continue to survive.

I think there's a damned good reason that nobody has hinted that way: It'd be stupid to do so.

I've generally been pleased by the quality of writing at thinking on the GigaOm blogs. But this one really leaves me scratching my head. Was this supposed to be some kind of Open Source flamebait

Posted by jzawodn at May 05, 2008 04:56 PM

Reader Comments
# jr said:

Ok, let me see if I get this right.

Using software developed by highly talented folks that are not necessarily employees, and carries no fees or licensing restrictions, is more costly than buying seat licenses from a potential acquisition target (e.g. Peoplesoft) with the ever present potential that it's abandoned for undisclosed reasons by the licensing company with no recourse for you (far more than I care to list).

Yeaaaaaaaah... good idea that...

Hell, I use open source because I'm lazy and cheap. Why shouldn't companies do the same thing?

on May 5, 2008 05:50 PM
# Micah Sittig said:

In response to the comment above, there's no need to go setting up straw men here. I think the idea behind the "funding... open-source projects" argument is that it's not a good business strategy to hire people to work on software that has no profit-motive behind it, ie can be used by your competitors just as well as it can be by yourself. This argument has significant holes already bored through it, so let's not go making up new arguments that are obviously now what the original author was talking about.

on May 5, 2008 06:34 PM
# Deepak said:

I read that post, and re-read it. For a GigaOm post, it was really poorly written, with very little supporting information.

on May 5, 2008 07:47 PM
# Rasmus said:

Exactly how many people has Yahoo! hired to work exclusively on Open Source projects? The only candidates I can think of are myself, the YUI team and the Hadoop team. Except that isn't true for any of us. We all spend significantly more time on internal projects and consulting than we do contributing to the public code. And eliminating what little time we do spend on the public code would make us ineffective in our roles as internal experts on these technologies.

on May 5, 2008 08:47 PM
# Krish said:

Open source is the most abused term in the tech blogosphere. When GigaOM started OStatic, I was amused because I never saw one person who showed any understanding of the open source concept in the GigaOm network. This post is a result of people embracing open source just because they think it is hip.

on May 5, 2008 09:09 PM
# Rasmus said:

What's with these ContentLink links in my comment? And why only in mine? It makes it look like I added ads to my comment, which I certainly didn't, and I am not all that keen on them being there.

on May 6, 2008 12:00 AM
# Nik said:

"Maintaining a single server-side scripting language is far less expensive than a dozen that all suck more than PHP."

You guys wrote a dozen server-side scripting languages that all sucked more than PHP? That's a hell of a feat.

on May 6, 2008 01:43 AM
# Owen Byrne said:

I find I look at a lot of blogs differently after recently reading wikipedia's directives about "Weasel Words" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_words).

That one is full of them ("there is some speculation", "many of us wondered", "while it's undoubtedly true", "At the end of the day").

on May 6, 2008 06:34 AM
# davidk said:

Heh, what open source does for Yahoo is train its future worker bees.

People get old, get tired, and retire. Its life. A smart company will train its future workers before they even get in the door.

I know Cornell is teaching its CS530 course in Large-Scale Information Systems with Hadoop on Amazon EC2 systems.

Open source should be a clear indication of how smart Yahoo is by pouring money into open source software if educational institutions use them to teach. If competitors use them, even better (then you have people that might give back to make an even better product, and new, outside developers doing your dirty work for free).

The gold in open source tools (and which differentiates companies from one another) is how they're used.

on May 7, 2008 11:15 AM
# zedhex said:

Is there a scripting langauge that sucks more than PHP? all variable-variables, nonsensical syntax and confusion. Ahh, but it is easy for a half-educated noob to pick it up quickly...

The only reason that yahoo uses it is that the bean-counters have taken over, and in they typical short sightedness, they think that no licensing costs + cheap outsourced developers = profit. Then 5 years later they find that their software quality has taken a steep nose-dive and non of their projects finish on time. Profitability then collapses...., but the original proponents of this folly have long since moved on.

on September 18, 2009 02:02 AM
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