Open Source (OS) and Open Innovation (OI) remain two different concepts which sometimes seem to overlap but do not. In order to illustrate this, we will elaborate on this statement below.

OS but not OI

There are various Open source projects which exist and function without pecuniary benefit whatsoever. Such is the example of Project GNU, based on a strong ideology[1] and uninterested in creating any monetary revenue for companies. In order for an open source initiative to be overlapping with open innovation, it has to be in some way related to a business model. In other words, OS is OI only when it helps the advancement and success of one or more commercial undertakings.

OI but no OS

OI can take many different forms apart from Open Innovation. In fact, OS as OI seems to be a minority in the many manifestations of open innovation. An example in this sense is the case of Microsoft’s motion sensor for Xbox – Kinect. Less than a week after the official release of the product the device got hacked and started being exploited in a number of unimagined by Microsoft ways. The trend got enormous traction and quickly made place into various technology blogs and different social media (Twitter, Youtube, etc.). The open source community played an active role in this process by creating and popularising software instruments for control of the device (drivers) and for the development of simple Kinect applications (SDKs and libraries). At first Microsoft was not pleased with the unfolding events, but eventually decided to release its own official SDK toolkit for Kinect enthusiasts, developing non-commercial Kinect applications. The Microsoft Kinect for Windows SDK was the new-born alternative to already existing open source libraries, such as libfreenect and OpenNI, which were compatible with Linux and Mac OS apart from Windows. After a couple of years Microsoft announced a Kinect Accelerator programme aimed at supporting start-ups, advancing the implications of its motion sensor technology. Thus, Microsoft managed to circumvent the open source community and still tap into the potential of open innovation.

Neither OS nor OI

The high levels of modularity in the software development industry have led to the common use of independent software vendors (ISVs) for supply of external software technology on demand. However, certain technological giants have reached such potential to be able to meet the majority of their software needs with in-house resources only. Microsoft could yet again be given as an example of such downstream integration of products. The company, which started with the well-known operating system of Windows, now produces a number of subsidiary applications such as Microsoft Office, SQL Server, Outlook and OneDrive and thus minimizes its need of third party application providers. In the same manner, Nintendo is producing its own hardware alongside the company’s famous gaming software.

To sum up, the cited examples prove that OI and OS cannot be applied in a one-approach-fits-all manner and are not a universal model in ensuring a firms stable and exponential financial growth.



[1] Joel West and Jason Dedrick, The Effect of Computerization Movements Upon Organizational Adoption of Open Source, Social Informatics Workshop: Extending the Contributions of Professor Rob Kling to the Analysis of Computerization Movements, March 11, 2005.