Ben Galbraith made the following great point in his recent blog entry in praise of intelligent tools such as IDEA.
Maybe it's because I hope to sell software someday, maybe because I know how hard it is to write good software, but for whatever reason, I actually like supporting great ISVs by buying their product. I spend thousands of dollars on ISV products each year because I feel its the right thing to do.
IDEA vs competition from opensource options, is an interesting case study of the software market in general. One wants to support vendors producing great stuff, like JetBrains, Atlassian, and the like. But one also wants to support opensource/community projects, which likely present an important part of the future.
Even bastions like Microsoft and Oracle are at a loss, and what does that bode for our industry? Interestingly, Apple seems to have surpassed Microsoft in the OS game by coopting a solid opensource platform, and focussing their efforts on the GUI layer. IBM embraces opensource projects to provide products and services around those. Sun has opensourced its assets to drive hardware sales and professional support services.
Well, it was either that or let Red Hat help themselves to their OS and middleware markets.
If it wasn't for Eclipse and Netbeans, maybe Sun or IBM would have bought JetBrains and opensourced IDEA? Maybe in future JetBrains will opensource IDEA themselves, to drive volume for more niche products?
This prospect of a world where all prominent software is free and opensource, is disconcerting because traditionally a small startup business developed some software in order to sell it. But these days the trend is to build free-use websites and opensource software to drive other revenues e.g. professional services.
So maybe the future is that most startups will build on opensource software to add particular value eg. MyEclipse, or create opensource software to drive volume e.g. Terracotta, and generally provide complementary products and services around opensource software.
But hopefully there'll always be opportunity for small businesses to create great new software from scratch, and sell it, pure and simple? Later, you might find opensource equivalents snapping at your heels. But if you're competing against "free" then at least your product really has to be good, and you gotta keep making it even better, or die trying.