Questioning Open Source Motives: Can a Corporation be Virtuous?

An interesting article about open source appeared last week in the ZDNet blog post: Open source as the villain in its own story.

I posted a comment, referencing our resent disucssions and recieved this challenging response:
“What does it disrupt? What "potential benefits to humanity" could it possibly have (disrupt) while it is "minimizing (disrupting) risk to shareholders", whose sole motive is making money (according to present Corporate business models)?”
My reply follows:
All excellent questions, especially since you know neither my company nor me, and since we live in a society in which capitalism has become “perversely commercial” and “pathologically mutated” (see http://curinghealthcare.blogspot.com/2008/02/us-healthcares-perverse-commercial.html).  
It’s no wonder many of us believe virtue is absent from all corporate business models, and that greed and ego are people’s prime motivators.

In our case, however, we’ve been struggling to survive for the past 15 years because we follow a business model whose mission is focused on helping make our world a better place by improving the health and wellbeing of all by bringing greater value to the healthcare consumer through better use of better knowledge.

Unfortunately, our insistence to remain true to this virtuous business model has, in fact, hurt revenue. That’s because our healthcare system is not built to bring value to consumers; it’s actually quite the opposite (see http://curinghealthcare.blogspot.com/2007/10/think-small-and-dont-rock-boat.html).

A primary reason we’re considering open source is that we believe achieving our mission can best be served by opening up our software worldwide through licenses that sacrifice big profits for the potential benefits of collaboration with international communities of consumers, clinicians, developers, and researchers.

One way we envision our technology helping poor nations is by providing an exceptionally cost-efficient architecture for sharing healthcare information. Instead of requiring continual connectivity to the Internet, high bandwidth communications, and expensive software systems with centralized data storage, all our disruptive technology needs is occasional e-mail over low bandwidth connections and a spreadsheet. For many regions of the world, our low cost, low resource consumption, peer-to-peer solution makes very good sense.

Bottom line: Making money it essential to any corporation (or else you’re out of business), but it need not be the sole mission of a company. True, with the way capitalism in our country has devolved over the years, it’s not easy at all to be a virtuous corporation; in fact, it can be very difficult, at least that’s been our experience. But I’d rather “go down with the ship” than to profit financially by sacrificing our ideals.
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