Can Startups Learn Anything From Linux?
Linux is the world?s largest collaborative software development project. People from all over the world have influenced the Linux kernel code, and it runs on everything from mainframe computers to wristwatches. Linux, and free software development in general, provides some tremendous insights into what makes a successful project. Can today?s startups learn anything from the history of Linux?
The history of Linux proves that collaborative development speeds true innovation. If Linus Torvalds were left to work on Linux alone, there?s no way it would be the success it is today. A great many of the things that Linux does today are a direct result of people scratching their own itches, and then contributing their work back upstream to Linus. Many people focusing on their own little (and not-so-little) problems have made Linux the powerhouse that it is today.
It might not make sense for every startup to develop their project in public, but they can certainly avoid reinventing many wheels by using existing free software projects wherever possible. Many smart people are working all day every day to improve the building blocks of
innovation, and startups should be a part of that communal effort.
Certainly startups should focus on their own ?secret sauce?, but they can also participate in the larger free software ecosystem. For example, there?s no long-term competitive advantage to a startup if they make improvements to Apache, or MongoDB, or other ?plumbing? aspects of the Linux stack. Any such improvements can ? and, in my opinion, should! ? be shared upstream to benefit everyone.
In a similar vein, though, if there?s some home-grown technology that helps your startup but isn?t fundamental to its success, why not release it in order to leverage the global body of free software developers? Facebook releases free software. LinkedIn releases free software. Google releases free software. All of these releases are obviously used internally, but they?re not fundamental to the success of the company. I