It's an Industry! Part 3:
A Conversation with Bernie Thompson of

May, 1999

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: A conversation with Brian Behlendorf of sourceXchange and Wayne Caccomo of Hewlett-Packard

Bernie Thompson is a frequent contributor to Linux Journal. (His articles about Making Money in the Bazaar appear in the June and July, 1999 issues of the magazine.) The conversation that follows took place on Monday, 17 May, 1999, after a much longer conversation with the sourceXchange guys, which comprises Part 2 of this series. is similar to sourceXchange in the way it creates a market platform — literally a marketplace — where buyers and sellers of open source developent can get together and do business. Where CoSource differs is mostly on the demand side. Bernie's market model seems more focused on ways for multiple companies to pool open source development funding in ways that benefit the whole market.

Or at least that's how I understand it right now. I'm sure subsequent conversations will correct all of our understandings of how this new industry works.

— Doc Searls, 20 May, 1999

Doc Searls: What do you make of and SourceXchange showing up at the same time?

Bernie Thompson: This has the classic symptoms of "an idea who's time has come." In fact, I believe many different people have come up with it independently, myself included. Things are starting to come to fruition now, and we're all starting to cross-polinate. Demand and supply inevitably get together. Our business is to help that happen.

Doc Searls: Where exactly did you get the idea?

Bernie Thompson: I'm a software developer by background. I spent the last few years writing display device drivers for IBM, S3, and Microsoft. What I found was that nobody wanted to write device drivers. They're critical, but they're not sexy; and developers would rather do sexy work. So lots of device-driver-type work has gone undone, especially with Linux, where no one company has been motivated enough to take on the job of developing the mundane but necessary infrastructural components that scaffold the construction of a whole industry. I saw first hand that a company like S3 isn't yet willing to spend the huge internal investment needed to write great Linux device drivers for all their products. Neither is IBM, Red Hat or any other vendor. But with a market platform like in the picture, it starts to become possible. The rubber finally starts to hit the road because the vehicle is there.

Doc Searls: And you want these guys to all get together?

Bernie Thompson: Yes. Here's the picture. Gathered on one side of this market you see customers — the vendors — putting up the funding for the first serious commercial Linux development. In the display driver example, we might see 50% from S3, 10% from VA Research, 10% from IBM, and 30% from the community at large — or some other ratios weighted by level of interest and commitment. Whatever the percentages, you now see the financial resources coming together to make things happen the old fashioned way: by demand waving money at supply, and supply doing work for that money. Markets will quickly develop, and discover their own pricing levels. Engineering departments will finally know what a resource really costs and what it can really deliver, reliably, in a given period of time.

Doc Searls: Tell me more about the pain this relieve on either or both sides.

Bernie Thompson: Users of Open Source had no voice before. That was the one pain. And writers of open source worked for free. That was another pain. We had to end that.

In a market, the loudest voices are the ones with the money. But in the open source market, money wasn't saying much at all. With, if something isn't working right for you, you have a table you can put your money on, right where the supply side can see it. Now you don't have to curse the darkness for lack of some feature, driver, script, or whatever. You can put your money on the table with 1000 other people who have the same needs. And the work will get done.

Doc Searls: Doesn't money have a bit of a taint in the open source community?

Bernie Thompson: Money exists as a unit of effort exchange. It's amazing to think that open source today works on the barter system. There's no money involved. If I want software written, I should work on it myself: I scratch my own itch, as the saying goes. But that system breaks down if I don't have the time, the expertise, or the ability to commit because I'm expected to split my time between hundreds of projects. Cosourcing lets us move beyond the barter system. That alone could really accelerate innovation, especially for un-sexy but essential software components. And it presents a much rosier financial picture for those who want to make a living doing work in the open source market.

Doc Searls: And the demand side gets what they want.

Bernie Thompson: A marketplace needs to work for everybody. works for both sides of the market and for the market as a whole. Here's how:

  1. On the demand side, open source becomes much more approachable.
  2. On the supply side, developers can work on their own terms. They choose the work to bid on, factor in their schedules, and set their prices for the work. The cooperative funding service builds a market for them. This system will enable a whole industry to be built around fulfilling open source software contracts.
  3. For open source as a whole, innovation increases and everybody hits fewer potholes in development gaps that plague key areas like drivers.

Doc Searls: What makes you different than sourcXchange?

Bernie Thompson: Let me first say that sourceXchange and can and should coexist. In fact, together we'll define a larger market for us both. For those of us who have thought about these ideas a lot, they're obviously cool ideas. But it'll take a lot of speaking, writing, and explaining to get the word out to everyone. And a lot of experimentation to get the systems right. and sourceXchange will end up helping each other as we both try to grow the market. It's inevitable. So those are the similarities.

That said, there are a few key differences:

Doc Searls:How long before this thing rolls out?

Bernie Thompson: Our limited Beta starts June 1. Our target date to launch is July 8.

Doc Searls: Final words?

Bernie Thompson: We believe this is the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of the software market as a whole. This is big stuff, and we're excitied to be a part of it.

Reprinted from Linux Journal