Mark A. Lemley and Ziv Shafir: “Who Chooses Open Source Software?”

The authors attempt to characterize firms that choose open source software versus closed source, in order to investigate perception of open source versus closed source benefits. They narrow their study to customers of a particular company that manufactures biotech equipment for DNA analysis (Affymetrix
), and which dual licenses the software necessary for the functioning of their GeneChips products under both an open source and a proprietary license. Thus customers can choose between the two (very similar) versions of the software. The authors analyze publication data (in which the software used is identified) from 2007-2008 and find that 27% of academic users used open source software versus only 4% of commercial users (in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries). They also conducted a separate survey of Affymetrix customers and found that open source users were more likely to mention cost and modifiability as factors in their choice of software. Other reasons for choosing their version showed no statistically significant difference between open source and proprietary users. While this is not surprising, the authors do find “curious” the lack of difference in other areas, such as likelihood to modify the software and to release those modifications. “
While
 the
law
–
and 
the 
intent 
of 
the
 open
 source 
movement
–
draw 
a 
sharp 
distinction 
between 
open
 source 
and 
proprietary
 software,
 placing 
them 
effectively 
in
 different 
worlds,
 users 
of
 the 
software 
in bioinformatics
 appear
 to
 observe
 no
 such 
sharp 
distinction. (21)” Legally, the open source users are on shaky ground, as they appear to largely ignore the requirements of open source licenses that they make all modifications of the code publicly available. “Law may matter to makers of open source software, but it doesn’t appear to affect the behavior of software users.” (21) They conclude that users (at least in this industry) care little for the legal or ethical status of open source software, and merely select whichever tool seems best suited for a particular purpose. Therefore they recommend “a policy of legal neutrality with regard to open source and proprietary software.”

-ZH

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