You’re probably aware of the open source software movement. It is freely available software that just about anybody can get access to, not just for use, but to learn from and modify the actual code. Open source software has been very successful, despite doubts from some in the technological community. Considering serious hindrances not found among its for-profit competitors, such as the lack of dedicated technical support, one may have just cause to wonder why the movement has fared so well.
Though the motivations for working on an open source project are many and occasionally unique to the individual developer, they are multitudinous. You like to code and you’re bored on a Sunday night. You want your name out there. You want to contribute because other people are doing it. Whatever the driving reason behind the individual, the fact is that they’ve all come together to work on these multitude of projects, many of which are becoming real competitors of for-profit brands. For example, one of the best-known media players (VLC) is open source. A free alternative to Microsoft Office Suite is almost up to par (Open Office). And Firefox maintains a steady hold over much of the internet browser market while Internet Explorer has lost much of its share over the decade.
Besides the motivation of the individuals, there is a market force at play here. If an open source project isn’t good, it won’t go out of business (it was free to begin with), but it won’t be downloaded as much. It won’t become popular, it will never go viral, and it won’t succeed in capturing much of the audience. This similitude of open source software development to the market dynamics of closed development projects makes it a viable alternative, and it’s no wonder, at least in retrospect, why it’s doing so well.