Comparing apples-to-toasters: how big is the FLOSS marketplace?

(Also published on p2pnet)

I was reading an interview that ITBusiness.ca gave of Novell CEO Jack Messman which spoke about their ongoing migration to the FLOSS marketplace. It made me think about the transformative changes happening in the larger software marketplace.

One of the statistics that people like to hear about with FLOSS is the size of the marketplace, seeking to compare it with the incumbent "software manufacturing" marketplace (sometimes called "proprietary software"). The problem is, while it is easy for our "software manufacturing" competitors to count boxes and claim that the retail channel is also part of their value-add (See the "piracy statistics" that claim declines in the legacy distribution channels are also a cost of their aleged "infringement"). They are counting how much "money making" that the vendors and distributors are doing, and ignore the larger marketplace that includes the users of that software.

With FLOSS you are talking not about a top-down marketplace, but a bottom-up marketplace where each piece of the puzzle is "saving money" by collaborating on the creation of infrastructure software (software that is useful to more than just a single customer). Whether you are a customer participating in the collaboration (a piece of the puzzle not factored in at all by the "software manufacturing" statistics), or vendors like IBM and Novell, the real value of FLOSS is the reduction in overhead costs. This reduction in costs shows up as increased profits for the organizations actual value-add products and services.

This is worse than comparing apples-to-oranges as at least they are both fruit. It isn't possible to compare the "money made" (which represents a cost to everyone else) with the "money saved" using a different methodology.

So what statistic should we be showing people? What is it that people really want to know?