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Pragmatism, not ideology: Historical perspectives on IBM's adoption of open-source software

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  • Campbell-Kelly, Martin
  • Garcia-Swartz, Daniel D.

Abstract

We track IBM's approach to software production and commercialization between 1950 and the present. We find that in the 1950s IBM followed what today would be called an open-source model - its software source code was open, free of charge, and written collaboratively with its users. By the mid 1980s, all of these attributes had been reversed - IBM's software was closed source, sold or leased independently of hardware sales, and written without the collaboration of its users. More recently, the company has been in a state of transition, achieving a balance between free, open-source software and proprietary software that still generates 20% of its revenues. We interpret these radical swings in light of the substantial changes that have taken place since the 1950s in the costs and benefits of open source, bundled, and collaborative software vis-à-vis the alternatives.

Suggested Citation

  • Campbell-Kelly, Martin & Garcia-Swartz, Daniel D., 2009. "Pragmatism, not ideology: Historical perspectives on IBM's adoption of open-source software," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 229-244, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:iepoli:v:21:y:2009:i:3:p:229-244
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Engelhardt, Sebastian v. & Freytag, Andreas, 2013. "Institutions, culture, and open source," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 90-110.
    2. Harkonen, Janne & Haapasalo, Harri & Hanninen, Kai, 2015. "Productisation: A review and research agenda," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 65-82.
    3. Stefano Colombo & Luca Grilli & Cristina Rossi-Lamastra, 2014. "Network Externalities, Incumbent’s Competitive Advantage and the Degree of Openness of Software Start-Ups," Computational Economics, Springer;Society for Computational Economics, vol. 44(2), pages 175-200, August.
    4. Wen Wen & Marco Ceccagnoli & Chris Forman, 2013. "Patent Commons, Thickets, and Open Source Software Entry by Start-Up Firms," NBER Working Papers 19394, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    Keywords

    Open source Software industry IBM;

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